Friday, July 16, 2010
Oblivion Road by Alex McAulay
Courtney Stanton thinks she's on just another ski trip with her friends -- until a horrific car accident strands them all on an isolated Colorado road during a blizzard. Frightened but alive, Courtney and her companions discover an abandoned vehicle nearby, and seek help. But the vehicle turns out to be a prison van, with the inmates missing, and the guard's dead body in the front seat.
Soon after, a stumbling figure emerges from the snow, a handcuffed refugee from the van. He says he's been in prison for selling meth, but that he once served in the army. Dare they trust him? He pleads innocence about the guard's murder, warns them about the other fugitives, and promises he will help guide them out of the wilderness. But as the group begins a nightmare trek across the frozen landscape, they start to get the feeling he hasn't told them the entire truth, and someone -- or something -- is secretly watching their every move.
I received this book as part of the Other Shelf Tours, and I requested it on pure cover appeal alone -- and since we all know how this typically works out for me, I'll just hold out my hand to be slapped now.
I don't know why I don't learn. I sort of don't know what to say about this book. It's not that the writing was awful, per se, it's just that I was completely indifferent for a majority of the book. This is a suspense novel, and it should have been riveting. These kids are stranded in a brutal environment with an apparent truckload of maniacs on the loose, and horrible, absolutely horrible, things are happening to them -- and I didn't care. McAulay never made me feel like Courtney or her friends were real, and even though they were in near-constant danger, I never felt as though they were -- I never had that tension that you should have with this type of book, the tension where you jerk upright and hunch over the book, or literally sit on the edge of your seat in some weird mimicry of the events, as if you may get up and run or fight or whatever the case may be. Courtney's narration was sort of apathetic and disjointed, which is maybe a realistic shock reaction, but which doesn't lend itself to the excitement of a suspense story -- and this feeling carried over even into the parts where Courtney claimed to be terrified. I found myself apathetic in the same way, at one point calmly thinking, "Yeah, ___________'s going to die," and moving on like it was nothing. I should care is a main character is about to bite it. I have to put this on McAulay -- you can't just say there's terror, you have to prove it. Make me terrified, make me give a damn. If brutal, horrific things are happening and I feel nothing more than mild disgust, that's an issue.
There did come a point near the end of the book where I started to feel a little more tension -- when Courtney is finally faced with the decision to confront the situation and be active on her own -- and from then on it was more enjoyable -- but in a 300 page book, to become invested in the last 50 pages is unacceptable. That's 250 pages of wasted potential. And even though I felt the tension then, it was too little, too late. But that point it was too close to the end for me to care who made it out alive, if anyone. I was over it. That budding tension should have happened in the beginning and been built upon throughout, so that by the end I was ravenous to know what happened. That's what a thriller should be. If this hadn't been a book specifically for review, I wouldn't have made it past 50 pages. I don't even know that I would have made it to 50 pages. If I don't care enough about the characters by then to worry when they're in imminent danger, then it's too late to make me care.