Thursday, May 12, 2005

Review of Chasing Pace by C.B. Forest

ISBN: 1894494-86-5
Baico Publishing
$22.95 C$, 17.95 $US
315 pages

Unlike most books I read, I was a bit privy to this book’s journey to publication. First time Ottawan author, C. B. Forrest, spent a few years shipping the thing around and, at one point, finding an interested publisher who couldn’t decide whether it should be written in 1st or 3rd person had the author re-write it into 3rd before deciding it was better in 1st and then going out of business. After another series of submissions the book was picked up by a small press just across the border in Quebec and published, after conversion again, in 3rd person. If anything, this highlights how editors, for the most part, should focus on publishing, rather than nit-picking the instincts of the author.

Anyway, knowing all this and receiving a complimentary copy of the book via a friend in Ottawa, I set into the novel. Here is the review:

Chasing Pace is, superficially, about a small town Canadian journalist in his forties, Ben Canon, who has never really amounted to anything. Recently divorced, even more recently unemployed and an alcoholic/self-medicator who boards with an 80 year old ‘captain’ Ben suddenly decides the best way to spend his severance cheque and solve all his and the world’s problems is to drive down to Miami to find the star of a short-lived children’s television show from his youth: Commander Pace. Along the way he runs into a blind barber, a corrupt cop, a cop who’d rather be a Buddhist and a one-legged stripper who all, in some way, help him come to grips with his own demons.

Overall, Chasing Pace is a good read, mostly for the reason that the plot keeps rolling and never really goes where you expect it to go. The characters, as well, all stray far enough from stereotypes to keep them interesting, as well. Chasing Pace is by no means a ‘book you can’t put down’ but is definitely a book you keep wanting to come back to.

The book, however, seems a lot like a Frank Kapra-corn film but with strippers and alcoholics. This is mostly good, however, the scenarios and characters often wade a bit too close to cliché/corn – strippers with hearts of gold, small town corrupt cops, citizens uniting to thwart the mean-spirited schemes of the town’s own Mr. Potter-type and open a drug clinic… Yet, no character is without his quirks/problems and stay far enough away to avoid being too cliché. In some ways, these are like Kapracorn characters updated for the new millennium and for this reason remain interesting.

The end of the novel is satisfying, however, despite avoiding the clichéd happy ending, wraps up a little too cleanly and not exactly believably. Ben Canon comes to terms with his own personal problems finally; however it’s not clear why this happens, exactly. It’s accepted, but the connections and the catalyst to the events in the story aren’t quite solid enough. I’m certainly not against polemics or saying something in a story and give points to this book for its efforts, however, the points it does make come dangerously close to being preachy (on somewhat tired topics – manhood, war, death, life) near the end. [Another weird thing about the novel is that virtually every character seems to have been involved in a major war (Korea, WWII, Vietnam, Yugoslavia…), yet totally independent of the plot. Ben Canon’s obsessive attachment to his long dead grandfather is also a bit difficult to understand.]

Overall, however, Chasing Pace is an enjoyable novel, better than most you’ll find on the corporate bookshelves. It isn’t snobby and it takes the risk of saying something. The writing and plotting are incredibly, incredibly tight and the storyline intriguing. If you’re looking for something with a solid plot, interesting characters, unpretentious, tight writing while providing something other than the tired same-old then Chasing Pace should satisfy.

Review by Leopold McGinnis