The Watcher by Joshua Pantalleresco
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Building on a long history of narrative epic poetry, this tale follows a young human slave in a dystopian society as he makes his moves to escape the oppressive non-human regime. The interesting premise fights to play through the poetic structure, or lack thereof.
Traditionally, epic poetry is purely narrative with the speaker telling the story of a hero. The structure of the poem, whether it chooses to adeptly utilize rhyme or not, often employs rhythm providing momentum for the poem. In the English and Norse epics, the mid line break [caesura] also built a sub-structure into the poem. Rhythm and [optional] rhyme aided in memorizing the tale.
This tale is free verse since it opted for first person stream-of-consciousness rather than third person narrative. It also opts to eschew all punctuation to achieve the desired POV. That forces all structure onto the line breaks and stanza breaks to reflect the phrases. There is no win from this structural arrangement.
The stream-of-consciousness limitation to the narrative compromises the world building of the tale without third party characters introducing outside concepts. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, the narrow POV is meant to be highly filtered. But with such a tantalizing recent history lingering in the shadows of the tale, one could hope for a wider lens. Characters in the know, such as the speaker’s parents, are silenced by their effective absence.
With everything else stripped away [other characters, context, structure and even punctuation] the reader solely relies on the speaker and the interesting if sparse illustrations by Florence Chan. The speaker fails in consistency. Verb tenses flip from present tense to past tense and then double back again without a subsequent change of subject or time period. Either the speaker is giving the immediate tale that the reactionary rhetorical questions and present tense verbs would imply, or he has gained at least the limited understanding and context provided by the passage of time. Both cannot happen at once, and yet confoundingly here they do. And even the very passing of time is made contradictory. In the scene “The Hunt,” the speaker claims an “after-the-fact” advantage that time provides: “patience was the key to those early days / the times were tough / I had no idea what to look for . . . I’ve tried killing [the stag] every day since I came here . . .” After this the first successful hunt scene plays out in the present tense, despite the opening passage being after the tough times of unsuccessful hunts.
Perhaps the tale is relying on the missing graphic structure that illustrations can provide. Such as in Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga graphic series where scenes play out in the present tense, but the ultimate narrator is also able to apply meta commentary in the past tense from a far future POV. If that is the case, it hasn’t been established here.
I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
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