December 3, 2008

Book review: "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," by Danny Gillan

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Will You Love Me Tomorrow
By Danny Gillan
Discovered Authors / ISBN: 978-1-90510-863-3

Regular readers know that when it comes to self-published work or books by basement presses, I like to be as fair as humanly possible in my reviews, to cut those books as many breaks as possible, and to try to ignore as many of the typical problems as possible that arise under such circumstances, mostly because I was a self-publishing writer myself when younger so am sympathetic to the cause. But I have to admit, I have to plainly admit, that just like everyone else, occasionally a book of this sort will arrive here at CCLaP and end up just annoying the living f-ck out of me; and the irony is that it's usually not the quality of the writing itself that will trigger such a reaction, but rather a particular aspect of the book for which I feel the author should've known better, a problem that in my opinion can be plainly seen by anyone with two open eyes and a working brain. Perhaps the book in question is just way, way too long; or perhaps it's filled with characters I want to slap around instead of root for; or perhaps there are holes in the story's logic that one could drive a truck through; whatever the reason, the fact is that it's rarely bad writing itself that will set my literary nerves on edge, but rather elements that in my opinion could've been easily avoided by any writer who is simply paying attention.

Will You Love Me Tomorrow, by Danny Gillan

And thus do we come to the unfortunately behemoth indie-rock saga Will You Love Me Tomorrow, by British author Danny Gillan, published by the UK basement press "Discovered Authors," one of a growing amount of "we help unsigned books get to market" services suddenly starting to sprout up online these days. Because to be fair, Gillan himself is a competent writer, turning in a story here that would've made for a fine 20- or 30-page piece; but this book is unfortunately 400 freaking pages, pages with small type at that (estimated at 120,000 words total, the same size as a typical Stephen King doorstop), a length that doesn't even begin to be justified by the wafer-thin plot trying to hold it together. And that's what p-ssed me off about this book more and more, frankly, as I laboriously made my way through it this week, wading my way through just pages upon pages upon pages upon pages of inconsequential drivel, waiting impatiently for the next minor story development to reveal itself. "Gillan should've known better than this," I kept angrily thinking over and over while reading this; the fact that it exists in this form anyway is what moved me from mere disappointment into outright resentment.

Because like I said, the storyline on display here is actually not that bad, and if handled in a different way could've made for a cute and revealing look at the problems that inherently come with trying to mix art and commerce. It's the story of struggling Scottish musician Bryan Rivers, who right in chapter 1 ends up killing himself, after a night of heavy drinking ends up clashing badly with his ongoing clinical depression, resulting in a spur-of-the-moment slacker suicide that says loads about the shiftless nature of the pensive signer-songwriter in question. And that, needless to say, leaves behind a real mess for his longtime girlfriend Claire, as well as lingering guilt among his former bandmates, all of whom had given up artistic pursuits years ago to instead settle into comfortable middle-class existences, leaving Rivers as an increasingly despondent solo musician, still desperately sending out demo tapes to anyone who will listen, snarkily listing "The Kitchen" as his recording studio to hide the fact that it's literally his kitchen.

And as a matter of fact, one of these demo tapes just happens to land in the hands of a brand-new major-label A&R rep named Jason Clements, mere days after Rivers' suicide; and in full Confederacy of Dunces irony, Clements ends up falling in love with the demo and convincing his bosses to greenlight a contract, well before learning that the musician in question is in fact now dead. Of course once they do find this out, the higher-ups at the label end up with dollar signs flashing in their eyes; they smell an opportunity for a major publicity stunt, while Rivers' friends smell the stench of corporate weaseldom, and with Clements in the middle trying to please them all, even while dealing with his growing attraction to Claire (owner of the songs in question, one of the only things of value that Rivers left behind for her). Add a wacky extended family, lots of jokes concerning sophisticated London versus the backwater Highlands, a resulting CD that becomes a much bigger hit than anyone was expecting, and a surprisingly tender love story fueled mostly by grief and loss, and you essentially have Gillan's book in a nutshell.

Yeah, not a bad little story, right? I agree! But unfortunately, as a 400-page epic, such a story starts rapidly falling apart; because once you establish this tension between Rivers' friends and the record-label execs trying to make a profit off his still-warm corpse, what do you have left? Not much, it turns out; and Gillan unfortunately tries to fill this gap by introducing literally scores of minor characters -- including half a dozen family members, half a dozen former bandmates, the entire office staff of the record label, and a lot more -- and then having them sit around for dozens of pages at a time making small talk with each other. And the truth is that such a thing simply doesn't make for compelling literature, and in fact can easily backfire like it does here and end up frustrating the reader more and more with each flip of the page; for example, there are entire chapters in Love Me Tomorrow that consist literally of a character sitting around with his friends, recapping to them the entire conversation he had with a different group of friends in the previous chapter. There are entire chapters like this; and after awhile, that was enough to make me want to buy a plane ticket, actually fly over to the UK, and somehow track Gillan down at home, just so I could grab him by the shoulders and shake him violently while screaming, "YOU DON'T NEED TO REPEAT ENTIRE F-CKING CONVERSATIONS YOU JUST WROTE TEN PAGES PREVIOUSLY! I JUST READ THIS F-CKING CONVERSATION TEN PAGES AGO! STOP REPEATING ENTIRE F-CKING CONVERSATIONS JUST SO YOU CAN FILL MORE F-CKING PAGES OF YOUR 400-PAGE F-CKING BOOK!"

Unfortunately, Gillan is guilty here of an extremely common problem among beginning novelists, of thinking that the blasé ins-and-outs of actual daily life can simply be transcribed and make for compelling literature; because the fact of the matter is that literature is supposed to be a truncated form of real life, a story that feels real but that skips over all the boring mundane crap that actually happens to us on a daily basis. There's at least 50 pages of this novel, for example, devoted exclusively to the "saga" of Claire trying to find a new home for a dog she can no longer afford to take care of; but unless that dog has something to do with Rivers and the main plot on display, I just cannot even begin to possibly muster up the energy to give a sh-t about its fictional fate, and in fact barely give a sh-t about such things even when they're happening in real life to real friends.

This seems obvious to me, which is why it gets me so angry; it seems obvious to me that readers don't want to sit around for ten pages listening to a bunch of interchangeable minor characters discuss what kind of beer they like best, or where they should all go to dinner that night, and that an author is insulting their readers by devoting this much space to these kinds of trivialities anyway. And that's the ultimate irony of this book, that if Gillan had simply written the story this plotline deserves, he would've most likely ended up with a nice tight little novella I would've actually enjoyed; because like I said, his actual writing skills aren't bad at all*, although admittedly get too heavy on the Scottish slang at times. But by stretching this story out to a length that the plot can't nearly support, Gillan is instead forced to insert dozens of pages of empty filler; and that sadly makes the book nearly unreadable, a real shame considering that this story deserves better. Beginning novelists, please let Love Me Tomorrow serve as an important lesson, that bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to full-length books; and here's hoping that Gillan will learn this lesson too, and next time turn in a book that at the minimum is half the length of this current one, if not a third or more. His writing deserves such a thing, and so do his readers.

Out of 10: 3.3

*Now, that said, there is a specific writing problem on display here worth mentioning, which concerns the well-known dilemma of a literary character who's supposed to be an artistic genius; because if part of a novel's plot hinges on the idea that people repeatedly go nuts for the artistic work of a particular character, for God's sake you should never ever EVER actually show any of this supposed artistic work that the other characters are going so nuts over, like Gillan does here by beginning each chapter with lyrics from Rivers' supposed songs. Because seriously, a major part of this novel's story relies on the idea of the entire British press spontaneously going crazy over the quality of Rivers' songs, with supposedly a whopping 63 media outlets contacting the record label out of the blue on the very first day of the CD's release; but after sampling the lyrics for myself, there's simply no freaking way you're going to convince me that such a thing would actually happen in the real world, not when the songs in question include such lines as, "I need another beer to help me think / And you're screamin' in my ear about how much I drink," or "The Candyman is coming / Selling sweetmeats for the soul." No freaking way you're convincing me of that.

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:56 PM, December 3, 2008. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |