Thursday, November 18, 2010

Total Oblivion, More or Less by Alan DeNiro - A Review

In Alan DeNiro's debut novel, Total Oblivion, More or Less, the world we know - Facebook statuses, text messages, 24-hour cable news, interstate travel, trustworthy friends - is gone.  In its place is a Midwest invaded by Scythian armies and wasp-fueled plagues that may not always kill you, but will definitely change you.  Welcome to this new world Macy Palmer, a sixteen year old girl who is traveling on a boat with her older sister, her wild brother, her sick mother, and her falling-apart-at-the-seams father and the not-quite-family dog, Xerxes.

Interspersed between the first person POV of Macy are interludes that delve into Macy's family's thoughts and actions.  For instance, Grace, Macy's mother, fears the worst after she is infected with the plague.  We learn that Sophia, the older sister, was attending college to be a midwife before the Scythians invaded.  Ciaran's fate is revealed through transcripts.

But this is hands-down Macy's story.  Total Oblivion is classic bildungsgroman.  Through various adventures downriver - including a wooden submarine, an albino, a talking dog, wargiraffes, and a constantly shifting landscape - Macy discovers her strengths and weaknesses and a reaffirmation of her love for her family.

Macy dreams big and so does Alan DeNiro: sometimes the prose is purely absurd and out of control.  The first two hundred pages read smoothly, if at times, as aforementioned, a bit absurdly wild, but the last third of the book feels incredibly rushed.  This is because the first two hundred pages are more travelogue than story and the last third suddenly turns into a story.  Rather than take his time to flesh out the ending, DeNiro throws it at the reader.  What's worse is that it's pretty predictable.

Total Oblivion tries to find its heart and, though Macy is an intriguing sympathetic character, the story falls short.

Final Verdict: Enjoyable enough that I didn't want to mash frogs with a hammer.

--Dustin J Monk

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