[ENG] "Say It Ain't So" by J.C. Henderson

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Say It Ain't So
J.C. Henderson
Ebook, aprox. 160 pages

A party, hosted by the enigmatic young playboy Thomas, will affect the lives of the many partygoers- including Paul, who comes to the party looking for an escape from his misery and hopefully, never have to face a single person there. But instead, he meets the lively and seductive Abby, who will take him through the party in such a way that changes his life forever.

Say It Ain't So is a tale of debauchery, the mysteries of physical attraction, and how personal pain can be the very thing that pulls us together, or tear us apart.

NOTE: This book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

With that out of the way, I’d like to add that I chose to read this book because the premise reminded me of the French movie Les Rencontres d'Après Minuit. I haven’t watched said movie yet, so forgive me if the comparison doesn’t stand (it probably doesn’t, since the movie is about an orgy) but still, now you know.

1. Plot
Paul, a young man struggling with the loss of his best friend, is invited to what I assume must be the local party central. His plan (The Plan, capitalised) is to get drunk beyond all means so he can forget his woes, but halfway through the party he meets Abby, and it all goes downhill from there. There are a handful of named characters, and 99% of the action takes place inside Thomas’s house. That’s it.

From my reading, what I understand is that the author wanted to write a character study above all else, by putting his protagonist in a unfamiliar scenario and then throwing all sorts of strange events in his direction. Now, I’m all up for loosely plotted character studies, assuming they have well-constructed and compelling characters to keep them afloat (part of the reason why I organise my reviews in four categories, so they can balance each other out), but this book didn’t really work for me.

I’ll explain why in the section below.

2. Characters
I’m always willing to excuse weak characters if the plot is strong; likewise, I’m always willing to excuse a weak plot if the characters are strong. I say this almost as a joke, but if the character is interesting enough, I will happily read their grocery list and give it a five-star rating – I’m easy like that.

What happened here, I believe, was that this book demanded a certain degree of empathy between the reader and the main character, and I... I couldn’t bring myself to feel anything for Paul. He’s a young man who likes to drink, but doesn’t exactly love the whole crowded party scene. He tries really hard to act “manly” in front of Abby, but he’s more than willing to be his usually emotional self around Thomas and Rick. He’s really not the kind of character I enjoy spending time with, and that definitely made this read a loss less enjoyable than it could have been.

The supporting cast is even messier. About Abby, I find it funny that the author himself states that she doesn’t look like a “hipster” – which is almost ironic considering that the girl he has, in fact, written is a well-known trope in “hipster” media, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. As a character, Abby exists to be nonchalant about nudity, smoke thoughtful cigarettes, and ditch the main character for some other guy who’s “got more of what she’s looking for” (that’s a quote, by the way). What is she looking for? Who knows. She’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, it doesn’t matter. She’ll come and she’ll go, and the hero will feel heartbroken (our Paul here chose to call her a whore) but invigorated by the whole experience. It’s not new, it’s not surprising, it’s not even interesting anymore – and there was nothing I liked about this relationship.

Rick is another complicated case. He starts off as a nondescript bully, but by the end of the book he’s getting drunk with our main character and telling him about his past. Where does the change happen? Why does he grow into a different person in the span of a few hours? Who knows. I most certainly don’t.

Then Thomas. Thomas is described, in the blurb, as an “enigmatic young playboy”, and I won’t even pretend those three words weren’t responsible for much of my interest in this book. But then, lo and behold, Thomas isn’t that enigmatic after all. He’s yet another character we’ve seen before – the young, filthy rich kid who doesn’t quite know what to do with his life, so he spends his money on sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll, hoping they’ll be enough to fill the void.

3. Setting/worldbuilding
Say It Ain’t So isn’t exactly varied in its settings. The story takes place inside Thomas’s mansion, and when the characters do step outside, it’s only for a couple of scenes (which would probably amount to minutes in-universe). Still, I like how the author has managed to portray the mansion as an entity, almost. There are hundreds of doors, some locked, some leading into futuristic bathrooms, some leading into dance halls, some leading into arcades and libraries. It’s vaguely disorienting, both for the main character and the reader, and I actually really enjoyed that.

4. Writing style
Let me just start by saying that I discovered this book in a Goodreads group, where it was listed as Literary Fiction. Now, I don’t know who decided to list it as such, but that’s beside the point. The point is that I started reading this with certain high expectations, no doubt reinforced by the cover (which is quite serious in tone) and the aforementioned categorization as Literary Fiction, so I wasn’t prepared to deal with... well, with what I actually found.

For starters, there are a few instances where the author momentarily forgets which tense he’s supposed to be using, resulting in passages written in half past, half present tense. Then, the way some of the sentences are structured feels extremely uncanny to me:

It was a luxurious bedroom if I’ve ever seen one; it had a television hanging from the ceiling that automatically came down when we entered the room, the entire ceiling was a mirror that reflected everything and the largest bed I’d ever seen in my life was in the far right corner.

And finally, I need to address the repetitions. Did we really need to read the word “ceiling” twice in the above passage? Probably not. But still I’d say the most obvious example was the repeated use of the expression “a bunch of” throughout the book. This isn’t something I’d usually notice, but it was simply too obvious – it’s not a pretty expression, it’s too casual, and it stands out every time it’s used.

So, time to wrap this up. I enjoyed the setting, had a few bones to pick with the writing, and thought the plot, being so thin, demanded stronger characters. All in all, it’s a solid two-star rating.

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