Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review Week - Anthony Caplan's "Savior"

The week has gotten away from me and here it is - Saturday.  My intent was to post this review yesterday, however outside obligations (and the arrival of my print copy of Running) served to conspire against me until suddenly it was nearly two o'clock in the morning.  My apologies to you, oh patient readers, and to Anthony Caplan, today's featured author.

So after the well deserved self-flagellation, let's journey now to Central America, the beaches, the surfing, the danger - until we transplant north into the vast reaches of the tundra in Canada.  It's a long trip so let's get started.

Book Blurb:
Savior is a thriller with dystopian and/or science fiction elements. Al and Ricky, father and son, are on a surfing getaway in Guatemala, the perfect place to bond and reconnect after the death of Mary, the woman who held their lives together. But when they run afoul of the Santos Muertos, a criminal gang intent on global domination, Al is kidnapped by the Santos Muertos and carried off to their compound beneath the Canadian oil tar belt in northern Alberta, where Ricky must find him and rescue him.

The book artfully draws together Ricky's quest to find his father and in the process save the world from destruction, and Al's story of resisting torture and brainwashing at the hands of a criminal death cult. At a deeper level, Savior is a portrait of the deep bonds that allow a father and son to find faith through sacrifice and love for each other.

My Review:
The opening of Savior immediately sets a tone of incredible stakes and overwhelming odds.  Al has been imprisoned, tortured, barely clinging to his sanity - and for what?  A tablet?  A code?  A calculation?  He pretends to know nothing.  He tells them nothing.

All to do what any loving father would do - protect his 15-year-old son.

Ricky seems listless, directionless, unfocused until placed on a surfboard.  It's then he becomes the competitor, a conqueror of the waves as they threaten to overturn and crush him. Father and son rarely see eye-to-eye as the disconnect between them over the years grows.

Until they need to find a way back to one another after Mary's death - wife and devoted mother who held her family together.  Now the glue is gone and the pieces threaten to shatter.

Al's confinement forces him to think back over the course of his life with Mary and their desperate attempt to have a child.  When the miracle occurs and Ricky blesses their lives, Al cannot wait for the day when his son is old enough to hold a football.  He dreams of the day when Ricky becomes the next Roger Staubach.  But after all of the Little League teams leading up to high school, Ricky drops the bomb on his father and proclaims he doesn't like football and isn't trying out for the next season.  Al explodes all over his son - and the resultant picture is a despicable, ugly one.  When Mary dies, the angry father realizes he has one shot left to be the father Ricky needs.  Thus a surfing trip to old Guatemala haunts in memory of Mary.

At the surf shop of Coconut Juan (I love that name!), Ricky spies an ancient tablet and is intrigued by the symbols and markings.  After repeated negotiations, CJ reluctantly passes ownership of the relic to Ricky.  Their lives change almost overnight as the Santos Muertos, a group bent on worldwide domination, seeks out the necessary key among the runes of the tablet - now in Ricky's backpack.  After Al is captured, Ricky seeks only to be reunited with his father before he becomes an orphan adrift in an ever changing world.

The first half of Savior is told from Al's perspective while imprisoned.  After the initial powerful opening, we then meander through the musings of Al's life with Mary, the birth of his son, and recount the events in Guatemala leading up to his capture.  We get some of the tension and angst between father and son as Al attempts to surf as a way to connect with Ricky.  There were a few hints toward the coming of the Santos Muertos, but I found it strange that a parent would be so lackadaisical about a real threat in a Central American country and not whisk his child out of harm's way.  Instead Al is bound and determined to stick to his predetermined schedule and subsequently takes Ricky even closer to potential harm by trekking up into the mountains.  This is where Al is captured, leaving Ricky behind to track down dad.

Thus we spend the majority of the remainder of the novel in Ricky's perspective as he worms his way home and then northward.  This is where the story lost any semblance of steam or connection to reality for me.  Ricky wanders, and wanders, and wanders.  There is neither a sense of urgency nor emotion as he encounters scary folk, is captured by the supposed "good guys", and takes up residence in a commune where he spends a month or more just hanging out eating pot brownies, and losing his virginity to an older woman.  There is no reaction to what is done to him.  No questioning.  No turn-on.  All concern for his dad is lost in the fog.  Even his girlfriend, who used her car to get them that far north to the commune, ends up shacking with an older dude - and we still get little to no reaction from Ricky.  Each subsequent stop and camaraderie connection along the way feels simply like a means to an end.  There is no study of the tablet the bad guys are after (it pretty much gets lost in the shuffle until - voila!), yet in the end he just miraculously "knows" - I'll leave it at that to avoid spoilers. 

The novel never felt like the thriller it is specified to be except at the very beginning.  Very little action, no sense of urgency, and almost no sense of motivation by anyone (bad guys included) coupled to make this feel more like a rambling Pilgrim's Progress meets stoned surfer dude.  Characters were overall wooden and lacked emotional depth for the most part.  I got to the point where I just wanted to finish the story and move along.

I realize that for some years now there has also been a push in the literary world to abolish quotation marks and dialogue tags.  For literature, fine.  For genre novels, this doesn't work.  The reading process should be fluid and seamless to keep the reading racing forward.  The lack of quotation marks and dialogue tags in Savior bogged this process down.  Ordinary readers will likely not put forth the effort to wade through a book without these accepted and clarifying standards.

I would give Savior two-and-a-half stars.

Purchase at Amazon

Author Bio:

A former journalist with the Associated Press and United Press International in Mexico and Central and South America, Caplan currently works as a high school teacher in New Hampshire. The inspiration for Savior came while on a family holiday. His previous titles include Latitudes - A Story of Coming Home, Birdman and French Pond Road.
and on Twitter at:
and on his blog where he posts occasional rants on the weather and the vagaries of sheep farming and raising children at:

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