I’ve reviewed another book by Gary Llama in a past issue of Razorcake.And just like the last book, An Index of Around Me, there’s a lot of promise here, but it doesn’t quite deliver. The story seeks to be one of redemption and focuses on the main character’s attempt to find some purpose in spite of a job he hates. He ends up finding it in his wife and daughter, and contrasts this search with tales from his past experiences with depression.
While Llama claims this book is fictional, from what I remember of his past work, I can’t help but think much of this is autobiographical. That being the case, why not just make this a memoir? And if it’s a memoir, there needs to be a lot of expansion. There are so many teases in A Fictional Tale of Things that Llama never fully explores: suicide, gender identity, and his wife’s bi-polar disorder, for example. These subjects are thrown out to the reader for a few pages here or there and then never addressed as themes throughout the narrative. Even if this truly is fictional, there should be more character development in regard to these issues. Otherwise they should be dropped entirely.
One subject Llama does cover in A Fictional Tale of Things is the issue of depression. I understand what depression is like and respect that this is coming from a place of personal experience for the author, but I couldn’t agree with some of his views on the issue. One point in particular really struck me: “…the one thing us with ‘mental illness’ have in common is that we’ve all been to psychologists, while those deemed as sane, have not.” Not all people with mental illness have been to psychologists and some people deemed as sane (by whom?) have been to psychologists. If the author is going to make claims about depression, it’s important to be able to back them up with either fact or experience.
As is often the case with self-published material, there is a lot of copyediting work that needs to be performed. There is poor grammar and a fair amount of misspellings. There are incomplete sentences and the general flow of the narrative is often jerky and abrupt. This can work in some cases (see Michael Fournier’s Swing State), but with A Fictional Tale of Things it is distracting and doesn’t help to create a voice for the character. As I’ve stated in other book reviews, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having someone with writing experience review a manuscript. To not do so is unfair; not only to the reader but to the material in which the author has invested so much time.
Regardless of whether this is fiction or memoir, what Llama needs to be asking himself is: Why is he writing this? There are so many fascinating aspects to his character’s story and I wanted to know more. But the lack of editing and a well-thought out narrative really killed this for me. –Kurt Morris (Gary Llama, PO Box 7019, Richmond, VA 23221)