I consider myself to be a storyteller of sorts. I also consider myself to be a teacher of sorts. Because of these two passions, I relish the instances in life when I get the opportunity to combine the two and teach someone something about storytelling.
One such lesson I’ve had the repeated opportunity to espouse to my often involuntary student base is the immensely important lesson of how not to begin a story. More times than I’d like to admit, I’ve heard people begin their stories with phrases like, “This is the funniest thing you’ve ever heard,” or, “The craziest thing happened to me today,” or even the seemingly innocent, “You’re not going to believe this.” The problem with opening a story with these or similar phrases is that it inevitably sets the storyteller up for failure. The reason is that he has unwittingly put his hearers in a position where they will almost always be disappointed by what follows. Unless he happens to have the absolute craziest or funniest story a person has ever heard, he is likely to disappoint. I can almost hear Uncle Ben teaching Pete the lesson: “With great recommendation comes great expectations.” The higher you bill the story, the greater the expectations of your hearers. So I recommend people avoid any premature billing of a story at all. Just jump in and let people respond without coaxing. Ignore this advice, and you deserve the disappointed looks on the faces of your audience.
An unfortunate tragedy occurs when a storyteller experiences this kind of disappointment in his audience at little or no fault of his own. I believe The Charlatan’s Boy, by Jonathan Rogers is just such an example. I am usually one to trust a friend’s recommendation in life. Be it restaurants, movies, or 80’s thrash metal bands, I usually trust a friend’s approval to the point of at least trying it. I believe a great fault of my own is that I often take those recommendations by my friends and equate the item recommended to my feelings toward my friend. Basically, my thought process goes like this: “I like Bob a lot, and Bob likes this band a lot, so I must like this band a lot too.” The unfortunate result is that I unwittingly break my own rule and set myself up for disappointment.
This book came highly recommended by the brothers Peterson, two authors I treasure. Andrew Peterson, in addition to being my favorite recording artist of all time, has authored two books (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and North! Or Be Eaten) that quickly became my favorite books of modern times (which I highly recommend despite my previous rule, knowing you won’t be disappointed). And A.S. Peterson, Andrew’s brother, caught my attention with his first work, The Fiddler’s Gun, and won my heart with his masterful second book, Fiddler’s Green. So, when I saw that these two guys were throwing their weight behind endorsing The Charlatan’s Boy, I was pretty excited to read it for myself. I equated the Petersons’ works with what I expected from Rogers, and I apparently expected too much.
Please understand me on this: I enjoyed The Charlatan’s Boy. I really did. I just didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I would. Here’s a breakdown of some of the good, the bad, and the ugly:
The work was quirky. Rogers’ whimsical style was refreshingly entertaining and relatively unique. I can honestly say I’ve not read anyone whose style I can really equate with him. The closest I can do is agree with the back cover and compare him to the matter of fact, down home storytelling of Mark Twain. But even that isn’t a great parallel. In terms of unique style, Rogers scores high marks.
Another pro was Rogers’ amusing use of paradox. A reader can’t help but love a world where ugliness is revered, even longed for. Props to him for creating a world in which even I could excel.
I also enjoyed mentally traipsing through a fantasy world that was creative enough to keep me interested but close enough to my own world not to require heavy explanatory paragraphs in order to purvey a decent mental picture. The lack of emphasis needed to explain setting should have allowed for a much heavier leaning toward character development. This is where the bad comes in:
Character development was slow. I think this was largely due to the fact that there was very little serious conflict throughout the book. Grady never really encounters anything that made me really fear for him. Because of this lack of serious conflict, it was difficult to connect with him emotionally. Grady never really overcame any impossible odds to catapult him beyond the realm of normalcy and into the realm of a deeply developed character.
There was also a lack of ‘hook’ moments throughout the book. Usually, a reader wants to read on from one chapter to the next because of some new twist or revelation near the end of each chapter. These twists and revelations hook the reader into investing in what happens next. For the most part, Rogers’ ‘hooks’ were weak, or altogether missing. The lack of ‘hooks’ made for a difficult read.
All that being said, I still enjoyed the book. Because of the high recommendations and subsequent lofty expectations, I think it would have been very difficult for me to really enjoy the book. But if you are a fan of quirky fiction, then you will probably enjoy reading it. Just try not to let my recommendation ruin your ability to really enjoy it. I would hate to set you up for failure or disappointment.
[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”]