Sunday, November 19, 2006

Noble's Gold

Author: W.C. Craddock
Publisher: Inkwater Press
ISBN: 1-59299-219-6

Sam Noble, a low-level government employee approaching retirement, has started writing the novel he always dreamed about. Unsure what he should write about, Sam takes a friend’s advice and begins writing random passages that he intends to stitch together later (p. 29). Drawing from sources in science, history, religious studies, economics, and various other disciplines, he contemplates the role of gold as a treasured substance and as the basis of monetary systems. Over a period of several months, Sam cranks out his book and emails chapters to an old wartime buddy, blissfully unaware that their correspondence has drawn the attention of American intelligence agencies. In an eerie coincidence, Sam’s book contains parallels to the clandestine work of a government committee. Their mission: to assess the feasibility of mining an extraterrestrial source of gold that will expand and stabilize the American economy. These agents must establish whether Sam is a terrorist, a spy, an average citizen or a harmless kook. To protect the government’s interests and ensure that Sam’s book will never be printed, they covertly buy from him all publishing rights. Shortly afterwards, a nuclear explosion in Jerusalem sets off an international crisis. This compels the American government to discard secrecy and immediately pursue its extraordinary economic plan. As the story closes, the world embarks on an international, interplanetary race for gold and Sam takes his book money and retires to a quiet life in Brazil.

Throughout Noble’s Gold, Craddock utilizes the technique of embedding one story within another. Unfortunately, he does not employ this device effectively. In order for the method to succeed, both storylines must engage the reader. Moreover, the reader must be able to discern clearly which of the two is the principal storyline. Since neither characteristic is present in Noble’s Gold, the book – totaling 801 pages – suffers from a serious lack of coherence. I will discuss these points in turn.

First, Sam’s novel, the embedded story-within-a-story, is a rambling mess. Early on, it appears that his main character, Duke Mitchum, will be engaged in an interesting scheme to avenge himself against the corporate employers who made him the scapegoat for their failures. Unfortunately, this storyline is abandoned. Instead, Duke’s quest for the information he needs to carry out his plan is merely a ploy that allows Craddock to fill hundreds of pages with essays on a wide range of topics: history, religion, geology – almost anything goes. The problem with this is that readers generally do not expect novels to be comprised almost entirely of essays. Rather, they expect characters to act and interact. They expect a plot to move forward to a conclusion. And they expect conflict, climax and resolution. Action, interaction, plot, conflict and resolution are woefully absent in this storyline. While the essays in this book may be interesting (more on this later), their form is poorly suited to be the primary substance of a novel. Thus, this storyline is an abysmal failure.

Second, Sam’s story gets scant attention. This story, summarized in the opening paragraph of this review, forms, at most, 30% of the book’s content. Moreover, since most of this material also takes the form of essays rather than character action and interaction, the reader may be excused for being uncertain whether Sam’s story is, indeed, the primary storyline.

Several hundred pages into the book, the government agents who have been investigating Sam conclude that he is merely a badly educated hayseed, with limited writing skills, who happened to come dangerously close to uncovering the truth that they themselves are researching. This device, in conjunction with the previously noted advice from Sam’s friend, allows Craddock to disingenuously acknowledge and justify his book’s weakness. This is astonishing! Surely Craddock, if he were truly interested in writing a novel, did not require several hundred disjointed pages to make the point that Sam is an untalented wannabe! It seems that Craddock’s novel is not intended to be a story at all; it is, rather, a cloak in which to garb the essays he wants to publish.

Since Sam Noble hardly ever appears in this book, and hardly ever acts, and hardly ever speaks, it is difficult to develop any interest in him. Considering the book’s excessive length, surprisingly little attention is given to developing his, or any other, character. In fact, this book has stunningly few characters. To say that all of them are bland is a gross understatement. Like Sam, they say little and do less. Consequently, the book is bereft of either dialog or action. It is peopled with a handful of characters who rarely interact and even more rarely do anything. Furthermore, on those few occasions when they do speak, they don’t have conversations. Instead, they usually speak in lengthy paragraphs and lecture each other.

In addition to the unrelenting dullness of the characters and the ghastly dialog, the story does not engage the reader because there is no action. Note, for example, this insipid account of the American government’s surveillance of Sam’s home:

“On a couple of occasions, federal agents were almost caught inside Noble’s Vienna small townhouse where they had entered under ‘sneak and peak’ to poke around, by Noble and his wife, but had managed to duck out the back door in the nick of time” (p. 736).

Are you kidding me? Where’s the confrontation between the irate citizen and the government agents who have violated his home and his civil rights? This scene (a term I am using loosely here) is ripe with potential for both plot and character development. Sadly, neither occurs at any point in this book. The entire tome is written in the same dry, quasi-academic style as this sample passage.

Finally, I must note that few of the ideas contained in Noble’s Gold are uniquely Craddock’s. For example, his discussion of early Christianity is remarkably similar to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code account. It is not plagiarized, but the correspondence is undeniable. If you’ve already read Brown’s book, you needn’t bother with Craddock’s. Brown did it first and he did it better. And he did it within the context of a novel that actually works as a novel. Unfortunately, Craddock’s work does not succeed as either a collection of original essays or as a novel. My advice: keep your money in your purse and leave this one on the bookstore shelf.

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