It’s not an easy thing to pull off a twist in a story. And there are two important ground rules that must be followed if an author wants to attempt this difficult literary feat. First, there has to be enough of a surprise so that the readers jump, but also enough hints so that the readers don’t feel the author is pulling a fast one. For readers will go back to see if they missed something in the telling if a twist works. You can’t just have aliens arrive on Main Street, unless there have been conversations about weird lights in the sky earlier.
Second, it has to be believable in the world already defined in the story. In other words, it has to be shocking but still work for the tale being told. It’s a careful balancing act. A great example of what I mean is the Red Wedding in George R.R. Martin’s “A Storm of Swords,” but I won’t say more about it here. It’s still too emotional for me.
In her novel “The Quick” new author Lauren Owen attempts a big twist. Sadly, it’s more of a belly flop than a graceful dive, leaving this reader feeling annoyed and wet from the splash. The story up until the big reveal is pretty interesting. It follows a young aristocrat in London’s privileged society of the 1800s. James dreams of being a poet and playwright, but spends most of his time fawning over his adventurous roommate Christopher. Because of their budding relationship, you can’t help but believe the story is going to be about the struggles of homosexuality in Victorian culture -- a fascinating premise, with even a few references to Oscar Wilde thrown in for good measure.
Disappointedly, that is really not what “The Quick” is about. The twist is groan-inducing, and also a little cheap, taking a book that began with promise down a well-trodden path filled with archetypes we have seen many, many times before. Once the story takes this tragic turn toward predictability, there is nothing left to surprise you.
I think Lauren Owen is a writer with a lot of potential, but in many ways this feels like a first novel with lackluster descriptions, a weak ending, and characters who need more fleshing out. I couldn’t help but feel that there might have been a checklist in Owen’s hands during the writing, making sure she was hitting all of the points that successful books seem to need these days in the market. She would have been better served following her heart and writing the book that began in the first hundred pages. Because of that initial creativity, I look forward to reading her next novel.
People always say that you shouldn’t ruin the twist in a story. I think that’s true, if the twist is part of the overall enjoyment of the work. It has to earn it. The publisher and writer went to a lot of trouble to hide the big surprise in “The Quick.” There is nothing in the book description or on the cover or in its first 100 pages to tell its audience that it’s actually a vampire novel. Far be it for me, no matter my disappointment with “The Quick” to ruin it here. Oops.
Scott D. Southard is the author of two novels. Starting September 1st, he will be taking part in a virtual blog tour for his book “A Jane Austen Daydream.” You can follow along online at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours or via his website "The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" at sdsouthard.com.