Kenneth Fenter,
The Ruin
(CreateSpace, 2010)

I really wanted to enjoy this novel because of the premise: a middle-school teacher indirectly experiences a Columbine-like shooting at the local high school. He knows some of the victims, was good friends with one of the teachers killed and knows the shooter. This experience makes him think back to when he was 14 and, after years of being bullied and not getting help from the adults in his life, came close to going on a shooting rampage himself. What did he do instead? How did the whole experience change him?

As I said, I really wanted to enjoy this book, but I did not. There definitely are good points to consider, but they are overwhelmed by the negatives.

First, the good. There is a fine story in this book, including a character study, a psychological drama, a coming-of-age theme and strong portrayal of what some children go through regarding bullying, rage and impulse-control struggles. The characters are described well, as is the setting. There is definitely an air of realism to the story.

But, while descriptiveness of characters and setting can be a strength, it can also become a liability if it is overdone -- and that occurred here. The story gets lost in the overwhelming amount of detail, and the pace grinds to a halt. I have read some big, very detailed novels that captured and held my attention, like the entire Mistborn series, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever and the Dune books. In this book, the detail simply caused me to get bored and keep drifting off. That was especially frustrating because the story buried in all of that detail was so compelling. Would Cliff, the protagonist, kill his tormentors? Would he kill his former teacher who inadvertently supported the bullying? Would he kill his father, who used corporal punishment if Cliff became involved in fighting or broke any rules at school? I felt like I was on an archeological dig searching for the story.

I also was a little surprised by the number of editing errors in this book. Given that the author is a retired teacher of language arts, it was odd to find errors of verb tense and agreement. Even if there was no professional editor -- and it was not clear whether there was or not -- I would expect author Kenneth Fenter to catch most of them himself.

This was Fenter's first novel, but he wrote three nonfiction books before The Ruin. It looks to me that he carried too much of the nonfiction style into this novel. If you want to learn about the Four Corners area of America's Southwest, the information is here. If you want to learn about the Pueblo Indians and the cliff dwellings they left behind, that is in this book as well. Excessively.

Who might like this book? If you are a very patient reader and the premise appeals to you, and you want to learn about America's Southwest and/or the Pueblo Indians and the ruins of their dwellings, you have found the right book.

book review by
Chris McCallister

15 October 2011

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