Travis Klingaman,
The Battle Within
(iUniverse, 2007)

The story starts with a strange situation that appears to to be a tragedy, then quickly jumps back to the life story of Steven Brouschard, a young man who seems to have all the ingredients for success in life. Near the end of college, though, he has a torrid affair with a young professor, whom he romanticizes into the Great Love of His Life. When it ends badly, he descends into narcissistic hedonism, then experiences what he views as some type of epiphany: His life is going nowhere, and he needs to focus more on having all his dreams fulfilled.

Well, there is nothing unusual about such a realization, as most young people go through it, and usually a bit before Steven does. And, his conclusion seems to be to become more focused and more deliberate in his hedonism. Thereafter, the story keeps promising something wonderful, metaphysical, and marvelous. It really struggles to reach anything like that, and it meanders enough to put most readers to sleep on a regular basis.

While the author creates a protagonist who is developed well as a character, I found this character to be pretty unsympathetic and not someone whom I could respect or want to know. There are also a few basic flaws with the writing itself. The point-of-view keeps shifting, from a first-person narrative to a third-person, omniscient commentary. These shifts are abrupt and frequent, thus disrupting the flow of the story. The author, in his debut novel here, also tries too hard to create imagery and be colorful. A prime example:

Steven would often break down in the confides of his room and irrigate the grazing plains of his pillow in sadness.

I would use "confines" instead of "confides" or, better and simpler yet, "safety." The sentence, overall, seems forced, flowery and melodramatic. Why not go with "Steven often cried himself to sleep, in the privacy of his room"? This type of overstated, overdone word use is fairly common in the book.

After reading the back cover, I expected much from this book and was intrigued. After reading it, I was weary.

I do believe that, if the author relaxed and wrote in a more natural style, he has the makings of a good storyteller, but he needs a good editor. If Travis Klingaman reads this, I hope he sees it as constructive criticism. I think he has something to offer, but it is not in this book.

review by
Chris McCallister

21 June 2008

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