Shake Things Up: A Work In Progress by Brad Cotton

Title: A Work In Progress

Author: Brad Cotton

Genre: Literary Fiction

Where I Got It: Free ebook copy in exchange for review

Score: 5 out of 5

So.  On Monday morning my internet stopped working.  Just DIED.  A technician came to fix it, and about three hours later was still flabbergasted as to why it wasn’t working.  He left.  I spent the night without internet (and those who know me know that that’s like  not breathing for twelve hours!).  The technician came back Tuesday, and it was two pm before he finally got the internet working again.  By then I had gone approximately thirty hours without internet, and I was definitely feeling the withdrawal symptoms.  The point of all this is, however, that this period of internetlessness left me with some free time.  During which I read all of A Work In Progress in two or three sittings.

And let me begin by saying: this is a good book.

A Work In Progress, by Brad Cotton, is about a writer named Danny Bayle.  Now, Danny Bayle’s life kind of sucks.  Four years ago he wrote a mediocre novel and hasn’t written much of anything since.  His girlfriend of five years, Carah, has left him and moved to France.  His grandfather, who was like a father to him, has died.  And he’s barely done anything in months but mope, and drink, and complain about his inability to write.

Then, one day, he decides its time to take control of his life, try new thing, meet new people, etc.  He starts a casual relationship with a woman.  Joins a support group for depression.  Makes friends with an artist named Katie.  And even decided to take drum lessons at one point.  Of course, none of this makes his life easier, exactly, especially when Carah starts calling from France out of the blue.  But it certainly makes his life a whole hell of a lot more interesting.

So, what I like about this novel… you know what, let’s start with what I didn’t like:

There are a couple summary exposition passages that feel a tad awkward and unnecessary to me, but this only happens a couple times, and doesn’t really hurt the story at all.  The other thing that bothers me is more of a problem, but still not enough to really hurt it:  I get the feeling that despite the fact that Carah dumped Danny and ran off to France we’re still supposed to like her, or at least sympathize with her to some extent.  One more than one occasion, in fact, Danny comment that the whole mess might have been his fault because he took her for granted.  But you never really get any sense for HOW Danny might have taken her for granted, whether this is a true assessment of their relationship, or why we the readers should have any sympathy for the woman who broke our “hero’s” heart.  We get some hints, and she seems nice enough in their phone conversations that its not completely out of the realm of possibility, but some more concrete evidence from their relationship would have helped me along here.

Now, on to what I liked:

Pretty much everything else.  The characters, all the characters including the many secondary characters, were well-written and well-rounded.  The best secondary characters: Casey – Danny’s best friend; Katie – the 19-year-old artist Danny befriends; and Mrs. Tierney – the owner of the sorta-kinda foster home where Katie lives.  These characters are interesting, fun, and eminently likable.

And then there’s the main character, Danny Bayle.  This is a character that I think many people, especially fellow writers, can relate to.  I know I certainly did.  And that’s not to say that I’m a guy, or that I’ve published a novel (mediocre or otherwise), or that I’ve ever been in a relationship for anything close to five years, or that I’m a drinker or have ever had weed (Danny does a lot in this book, whereas I thankfully skipped that lesson in my high school and college education).  But, I could very easily relate to the writer who is trying so hard to write and not getting anywhere, who is lonely and completely dissatisfied with his life, and who desperately needs to change things, find new outlets, meet new people, and really shake things up.  I feel like that all the damn time.

I think at least one or two things about this character should appeal to most people.

As for the plot, well this is literary fiction, so of course its extremely character-driven.  In fact, it doesn’t feel so much like a plot with clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, as it does a momentary camera focus on a point in Danny’s life when a series of somewhat unrelated events and people all conspire to make Danny the person he was meant to be.  And this is a good thing.  Because real life is not like a well-planned clearly-defined plot.  It is, of course, verisimilitude and not fact, but this book does a very good job of mimicking real life.  It’s one of those stories that makes me want to ask how much of it is based on the author’s life, even though I know that from a craft perspective that’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to ask.  You’re supposed to take a story on its own merits, not as some kind of extension of the author’s biography. Still, a story that feels this real kind of makes it impossible not to ask.

In other words, folks, this is a very good book, that you should definitely check out.  I really really enjoyed reading it, and I think you will too.

Here’s a link to Brad Cotton’s website, and here’s where you can buy the book on Amazon: A Work In Progress.

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