A great-sized monster of ingratitudes

A lakeside community deep in rural Canada may just be deep in something else as well. Long reputed (against an overwhelming paucity of evidence) to play home to a Loch Ness-style tourist draw, Deer Lake has started washing up with bodies – the first of them being the very man who abandoned his life and family to uncover the truth of “Deery” once and for all. When his estranged daughter comes to town to handle his affairs, she also comes to a different conclusion: this wasn’t the work of a prehistoric monster, it was murder!

Joining forces with a strangely recreational local and her father’s band of fellow obsessives, she sets out to discover the real truth of what’s going on – setting herself on a collision course with an unscrupulous pornographer, a slew of unstable hunters, and boatloads of photographers eager to snap a million-making image of the beast…

…and maybe the beast itself

I went into Andre Farant‘s Deer Lake with no expectations and overall I was pleasantly surprised. The cast of characters are amusing and varied, a few a little OTT, but most of them small-town-believably quirky. The writing slides between their points of view in a way that could be clumsy but in this case worked quite well, mostly due to slightly snarky asides which help flesh the participants out into amusingly flawed personalities in ways nicely separate from the foreground story. There’s a faint sense of mockery to a lot of what goes on (one line that made me laugh out loud) and the story as a whole feels like a tongue-in-cheek homage to those good old corny pulps of the 70s and 80s (at least, it does to me). So, that’s all in its favour.

However, there were other unexpected things rising to the surface that weren’t as welcome. For a start, it ends on a slightly flat note. Not the big finale, which is basically fine, but the wrap-up-the-ramifications check-list has a Brad went to university, got an “A”, and married the girl who chugged the whole keg feel to it… followed by similar notes for maybe a dozen other characters, some of whom I’d forgotten the names of by the time it came around. And forgetting who people were wasn’t only my problem: in what looks like a case of late stage rewriting and not enough proofreading, a home-made map is created by one character only to be referred to as the work of another all through the rest of the book.

This is the major drawback of Deer Lake – it looks like no-one read it between the writing and the publishing. Without exaggerating, it felt like every chapter contained at least five mistakes: most distracting from the flow were editing errors (like “They ran to Mark’s his car”) or author blind-spots (invariably noting the time as “quarter passed“, not “past”, for example), but there were also plain typos or spelling errors with dismaying frequency.

A handful of slips across an entire book isn’t the end of the world, but when every other page has one it is impossible to ignore, and threatens to ruin the reading experience. It’s testimony to how much I enjoyed the story that I made it to the end. Also, perhaps, because the errors didn’t rear their heads immediately. If pages one through ten had been that way, I’d probably not have pressed on.

Deer Lake is silly fun, engagingly written, but is made to look unprofessional for want of a little care and attention after the hard work was done. Far better than many a self-published novel in my experience, it ends up looking like just another amateur effort – and that’s a pity, because the story deserves better.

Footnote: I just bought a second-hand copy of The Wordsworth Dictionary of Quotations, hence the post title. “Major props” to the first comment correctly crediting the source… and I’ll know if you Googled it. Just don’t ask how.


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