This novel received so much “bad publicity” that I’m reading it. However, I’m reading it from the perspective of an indie author and publisher and not a member of the larger publishing houses in this land. I am, first and foremost, a lover of a well told tale that develops a plot based on the characters and their “intelligent motivations” in the plot. In other words, if a character acts or responds in a way that makes me scratch my head and wonder why he or she said or did that, then that is a major bone of contention with me.
I certainly agree that the marketing people sold this book improperly, and they even admitted it. They even said that it was meant to be more of a “romantic adventure” than any kind of historical fiction piece. That fact is, most assuredly, the case here. I write much shorter (no more than 55K words) historical mysteries and legal thrillers, but I use many actual historical characters. So, this means that although I don’t cover as much ground, word-wise, I make up for it with my research into what exists about the actual characters and their lives.
In AMERICAN DIRT, however, the characters are all fictional, even though the locations are historically based. As I have read up to Chapter Eight, I can only comment up to this point. As I said, I am not a big publishing author, so I don’t have the same “marketing pressures” that poor Ms. Cummins must deal with. Increasingly, this a main sticking point with authors who “sell their soul to the devil,” so to speak, and become big-name commercial successes.
With this in mind, I will make comments about why I would not do something that Ms. Cummins does, but that doesn’t mean I am “right.” The commercial readers of certain genres “expect” certain things to happen in that type of novel, and the marketing gurus pressure authors to make certain they do happen. I am going to simply point out those instances wherein I believe the author may have been pressured to do something she may not have chosen on her own, or was convinced to do by somebody other than herself.
This doesn’t make it “factual,” as only a careful interview with said author (preferably after she’s had a glass of wine or two, or perhaps some sodium pentathol) could make what I suggest authentic. But, because I write my own plots, and I supply my own characters, I shall say what I might have done instead. Is that fair? I hope so.
I actually enjoyed chapters one through seven. However, I will comment, since this is a story that imagines what it would be like to have one’s family gunned down, one would give the reader a possible “heads up” on what the villain is like in some way, shape or form, before “lowering the boom” on the reader’s senses. Again, this is probably the commercial “editors” who stepped in and told Ms. Cummins the action must be described with heart-pounding, here-and-now actions, so the tension can be appropriately tight.
If I had been writing the novel, for example, I would have chosen a real drug lord (there are many from which to choose), done research on him/her, and then fit this character within the plot. What he or she says would then be “flavored” with the authenticity of historical research about this person so that perhaps somebody with actual experience running a big cartel or (gasp!) even known the character I am portraying, might go, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s good. We do it just that way.”
However, Ms. Cummins doesn’t let us experience this villain until he visits her in her bookstore in beautiful downtown Acapulco. This is why the “romance genre” accusations have erupted, and with good reason! The Romance Genre in fiction today happens to be the biggest seller. So, this is what makes me believe Ms. Cummins was probably pressured most concerning her plot and character development. When we meet the cartel leader, I almost wanted to kiss this guy! However, after having read the first two chapters describing the blood and gore of a cartel execution, I knew (as the reader) that this was “one bad hombre.”
This brings me to the most problematic chapter so far in this novel, as far as I’m concerned. In fact, were I a book club member, I might even bring some charts and a possible Powerpoint to illuminate my fellow readers! Chapter Eight doesn’t make any believable sense to me. The husband, Sebastian, asks his wife, after she has argued in support of a known drug cartel leader who has been terrorizing the community so much that she has to pay blackmail money for her own fucking bookstore. Suddenly, out of nowhere, this thug becomes an “intelligent, emotionally vulnerable, and funny (please!) guy.” So, the poor journalist husband asks her, “Are you in love with him?” WTF? Sorry about using that acronym, but that was my first reaction when I heard his question.
Husband actually tells her that she is “an intelligent woman,” and their marriage gives her the freedom to “have her own friends and privacy.” But then, this woman (I am saying to myself) shows no intelligence whatsoever? Sheesh! She worked in a fucking bookstore, for Chrissakes! Anybody knows that people gossip in any community about what’s going down. One would reasonably believe (as I did) that Lydia Quixano Pérez might have been privy to the gossip about these thugs. No. She knew nothing but the fact that this handsome bandito appealed to her on a personal and (yes!) romantic level. I kept screaming to myself, “you dumb bitch!,” during the bookstore scene, and when chapter eight happens, I lost all respect for her intelligence.
So, I would have had a corresponding run of chapters that featured the authentic daily rituals of a cartel leader, so the reader wouldn’t react the way I did after meeting him for the first time. You must be honest with the reader right away, or you lose credibility very fast. However, in a Romance, of course, the villain must become almost as attractive as your fucking husband. Commercial drivel from “marketing geniuses,” in this reader/writer’s opinion.
Perhaps anybody else who’s reading this book, or has already read it, might want to chime in? I, in point of fact, don’t trust the reviews posted on Amazon (shock, shock!).
If this novel gets REALLY BAD, then I may not even finish my review and save you from this torture of reading so much on a bloody blog post.
February 13, 2020
Well, the novel did get so bad I can’t continue reading it.
My “deal breaker” with the author happened in Chapter Eleven. I can abide a lot, but when it comes to stupidity shown by a character’s choices, I can’t continue. Especially when the book was marketed as being “researched for two years” by the author.
Lydia, the “intelligent wife,” is at an electronic bank teller in Mexico City. She wants to find out how much money her mother’s account has in it. She believes the cartel can find her location simply by using the electronic teller. Cartels may have that kind of reach in a small town, like Acapulco, although I doubt it, but in one of the largest cities in the world, it would not be possible. She should know this (the author). Also, when she sees that her mother’s account has $10,000, she simply leaves it there and has no ideas about what she could do with it to get out of the country! What about hiring a good immigration attorney, Lydia? Her entire family was gunned down in cold blood in front of her, and there were other witnesses at the scene. Even in the United States, under the Trump Administration’s asinine policies, she would satisfy the requirement concerning “fleeing from imminent danger” to save her life. But, no. Nothing of that nature even comes to mind!
Instead, she proceeds to wander aimlessly toward her destiny with “the beast” train.
Sorry. I had to stop reading. As a mystery author, I cannot abide holes in a plot so big you can drive a coyote’s truck through them. Oh, and there are actually some proficient coyotes she could have hired to get her out of Dodge, but that did not come to her mind either. I am certain there are thousands of emigrants who would love to have ten grand to get to freedom. She does, but she does nothing with it.
What a waste of good brain power. Weak plot, weak research, and (most of all) no common sense at work in this novel.