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By Jon McGoran. Forge Books. 384 pages. $24.99
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Jon McGoran’s “Drift” is described in the promotional literature as a “mesmerizing ecological noir thriller with a foodie twist.” In other words, McGoran has a balancing act to manage, and, in a few places, he does succeed. Ironically, what makes “Drift” work in some places is when McGoran steps away from the marketing angle of selling a novel and instead focuses on the novel itself. This, unfortunately, does not happen frequently.
The plot is standard thriller fare: Angry cop gets suspended while receiving the opportunity to live somewhere else for a while. While Doyle Carrick is on this “vacation,” he uncovers a dastardly plot that He Must Stop At All Costs. And, of course, there’s always time for romance, too.
This derivative plot is cloaked in an aura of originality, but unfortunately for McGoran, some subjects don’t lend themselves well to thrillers, and genetically modified organisms may be one of those subjects. Every few chapters, characters have to stop and explain different concepts and ideas to the reader in incredibly forced and sometimes eye-rolling dialogue. In one scene, a woman named Nola (and, as the only fully developed female character in the novel, she must have a romance with Carrick) explains: “They say I have something called MCS, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. … Some people don’t think MCS is even real. I’m not entirely sure myself.” And so on. The facts in these conversations come fast and heavy, especially in the first part of the novel, and it makes for a sometimes excruciating read.
The “noir” in “Drift” is also suspect, and we learn early on that Carrick is a breast man. In describing a blonde at a bar, Carrick notes that “[i]f she was wearing a bra, it wasn’t much of one .” Less than 10 pages later, Carrick meets Nola for the first time, where he sees, out of the corner of his eye, Nola’s bra on a clothesline. It is a “flimsy little thing,” set alongside “a few lacy scraps” which gets Carrick’s “imagination going.” Skip ahead another 20 pages or so, and Carrick meets an attorney, who has long legs, a short skirt, and “her blouse had enough buttons undone to show a little cleavage.” This is a continuing trend throughout “Drift,” and it should be funny, except it isn’t. It, like the conversation about GMOs, is irritating, and evidence that McGoran is trying too hard.
Where “Drift” does succeed, interestingly, is when McGoran steps away from the promotional aspect of his novel (I can imagine an agent typing the phrase “mesmerizing ecological noir thriller with a foodie twist” with great relish), and instead focuses on action. Although it is a far stretch to think that there would be so many shootouts and beatings surrounding GMOs and corporate control of the nation’s food supply, McGoran does describe them well, and those moments move the novel forward. Unfortunately, it then lurches back into the Grand Conspiracy that peppers so many thrillers now, and having the Grand Conspiracy be about GMOs doesn’t help much.
In the end, this is a first novel by someone who has a clear agenda. McGoran got it published, and good for him. Unfortunately, in the dash for a clear angle to market a novel, the process of writing a novel got lost along the way.
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