Reader Review: Discontents: The Disappearance Of A Young Radical – James Wallace Birch
Discontents: The Disappearance Of A Young Radical: ★★★
As soon as I received an email from author James Wallace Birch, I knew that his book was one that was going to capture my attention. He made the story sound interesting and captivating from the get-go without giving away the details of the plot or the characters themselves, and so I knew the read would be one that I wanted to experience for myself. As a fan of books that look into society and the issues that the world has faced throughout different time periods, I knew that I would be happy to read and review the book after the author described it as ‘contemporary fiction’.
The story follows Emory Walden, a seemingly lost reclusive who doesn’t know all that much what he’s doing or where he’s going. Whilst the narrative alludes to a past of secrets and thrills, we follow the main character as he takes on the role of trying to fit back into a society that he doesn’t agree with. A secret graffiti artist, writer, and all around social activist, Emory finds himself pairing up with Fletcher Spivy to wreak mayhem against the societal forces he wishes to bring to their knees. The only issue is; can Emory trust the promises that Fletcher is making, or is there a more malicious plan at work?
Firstly, I really like how the book is introduced with a ‘publisher’s’ note that somewhat summarises the premise of the book without giving away too much information. It captures the reader’s attention from the very beginning and makes the audience want to read on to explore the story that’s being alluded to, which is very effective for general readership. The introduction, prior to the actual beginning of the story, works to grab the reader’s attention and their interest and gives them the necessary drive to continue reading to explore the story that’s hinted at and the life of the character who’s mysteriously mentioned.
Likewise, as the story actually starts off and introduces you to the protagonist, it’s interesting from the start as there are obvious details to the background of the character and what he’s done. He’s mysterious – we don’t know his story or why he’s ended up where he is, doing what he’s doing, and so that makes the reader want to learn more about who this person is that we’re meant to be connecting with. In that sense, the audience does want to get to know the character and the details regarding his life, and this prompts them to read on further. Along with having an obvious backstory that’s yet to be revealed, from the beginning of the book, there’s a very specific tone that’s created by the main character. Not only does this give the reader a good look into the mindset of the character himself, but it also sets the nature of the novel quite nicely. In that sense, the tone is continuous and doesn’t jump all over the place. You know you’re reading the book from the perspective of the protagonist due to the specific personalisation of the monologue itself, and this works to further transport the audience into the novel’s environment. The monologue feels realistic because there are obvious characteristics and traits that are portrayed in the way that the character ‘thinks’ and the way that he is described to ‘carry himself’ through certain situations. This means that the character is well-developed and has obviously been constructed to quite an in-depth extent to give the reader the full experience of getting to know his story.
One of the elements of the structure of the book that I found myself really enjoying is the way that the dialogue doesn’t detail every little thing that’s being said and noted by the characters. Whilst the conversations are detailed and in-depth and give the reader a good sense of tone/environment, there are some points where the author just summarises how the conversation continues. Instead of showcasing every interaction between a group of characters, the conversation is overlooked through the monologue of the protagonist as he reflects the interaction. It’s been a while since I read a book that takes this refreshing take and moves to alter the way that characters interact with each other, and that’s one of the reasons why I found the novel captivating. It was nice to be able to experience a somewhat new take on the way that the development of a relationship between characters develops.
The author also definitely knows how to create imagery through the use of in-depth descriptions and the inclusion of little details that often go overlooked in a scene. For example, I loved the character’s inner-monologue description of the diner that he works in and how he summarises what his work consisted of. Due to the fact that the author included these little but ever-so-vital details makes the scene seem all the more realistic. The reader’s attention doesn’t lack, and they’re able to create a vision for where the setting of the book is taking place.
However, I did have some issues with the introduction of Fletcher Spivey’s character as he seems very pompous. At some points during reading his dialogue, I felt like he was just regurgitating what he had read in a thesaurus. Though, saying this, I definitely was able to pick up on the fact that the character was meant to come across as pretentious and thinking of himself highly in that manner. He’s meant to come across as patronising, but some of the elements of the dialogue were rather played up to the extent where it actually did make it difficult to read through certain interactions and, instead of just making the reader roll their eyes, it works to confuse the audience.
As I said earlier, the character of Emory – the protagonist – has a specific tone of voice and has been well-constructed to seem like a three-dimensional person rather than just a trope. He has a very distinct view of himself, the world, and the people around him, but this isn’t something that I necessarily enjoyed. I wasn’t able to take a liking to him as a character from the start – and this only digressed as the story continued. Again, I was easily able to pick up on the specific type of personality that was being created for the character through the monologue, but I didn’t enjoy some elements of his personality. For example, using phrases such as ‘hideous girls’ in reference to people he’s slept with and the continued use of body and slut-shaming somewhat put me off of Emory as a character. I felt that, as his story progressed and the reader actually got to know his background more clearly, he also somewhat becomes more pretentious and his ‘true colours’ are revealed more clearly. There was also one point during the book where he uses the phrase ‘my life organ’ which, honestly, did make me cringe and pause reading for a moment as I felt there were occasions were similes and metaphors were overused.
Again, though, this speaks for the development of the character, and not the personal views of the author themselves.
As the second part of the book really got underway, the narrative and the action definitely picks up the pace and becomes a lot more riveting. Whilst the beginning half of the book works to establish the character and his current situation, the second part showcases struggles that he faces and begins to introduce the plot-twists that make the reader want to read on and explore the story even further. Due to the fact that the narrative escalates – quite quickly at that – it definitely becomes more of a thrilling read, and I found that I really enjoyed that. Without giving too much away, I think that the development of the ‘torture’ of the main character was very compelling to read because, along with being descriptive of the settings and scenes themselves, it makes the emotions and fear of the protagonist very evident. In that sense, it’s very emotive and, at some points, overwhelming for the reader to experience. Though, because it’s paced quickly and there doesn’t ever seem to be a ‘lull’ in the narrative of the second half of the book, the reader’s attention and interest are maintained throughout.
I was actually taken off-guard by one of the biggest plot twists of the book as I found that, throughout the development of the first half of the novel, I really got to like the character of Renton. In this case, I think the author does an excellent job of making the audience take a liking to a character that they least expect is going to ‘crop up’ in that type of plot twist. Like in most of my reviews, I try not to spoil the book or give away the biggest elements of the narrative, but I was definitely surprised by the way that the story rather comes to a close as it nears the end of the novel. Renton felt like a real person – he felt well-developed and I found myself continuously wanting to learn more about his own storyline and background. I suppose I was right to expect there to be more to his story that the author was initially letting on, and I think that the construction of that plot point was done very well.
Continuing on with the progression of the second half of the book, I like how the novel came to an end as it felt like the story of the main character had been told in the way that he was trying to get it across. Like the ‘publisher’s’ note at the beginning of the novel states, this is a story that the character wants to get out for people to read for themselves and get a better idea of his side of the narrative. He wanted to explain the situation from his perspective, and that’s very well achieved. However, at the same time, it still feels as if there is more mystery to be revealed. Whilst it draws to a close nicely and rather shuts that ‘chapter’ of the character’s life, it still feels like there’s more potential for the story to continue and for the life of the protagonist to develop further.
The last thing I want to point out that did work to trip me up is that there are the occasional spelling and grammar errors. Whilst the author notes at the beginning of the book that there are indeed likely to be some mistakes, there were some instances that I was somewhat tripped up by a spelling error. However, this is more so to do with the fact that I was captivated and involved in the book, and so the slight errors rather threw me off balance rather and didn’t work to ruin the reading experience at all. Which, in that sense, goes to show the success that the author has achieved in grabbing and maintaining the interest of the audience.
I want to thank James Wallace Birch once again for getting in touch with regarding the review request and for allowing me the chance to read the novel. It really was enjoyable to experience a different take on the genre and to experience a writing style that differs from most of what I currently read.
Thanks for reading this short review and I’ll write you later.
If you’re a fan of mystery thrillers that look at current-world issues within society and isn’t afraid to be frank and honest, then this is a book that you should check out.
If you want to explore well-developed characters with specific personalities and bold outlooks, whilst also not knowing what twists the story is going to throw at you, then this is a read you should experience.