By Jessica Veter
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Mid-life crisis has hit Robbie hard. Not only is he completely incapable of connecting with his teen-aged children, he’s also just been laid off from his job of 11 years. A bad situation turns weird when, having broken into his former company in order to steal their client list, he jumps into a cardboard box to hide from night security. Somehow, the box transports him to another world, Reveloin, where a beleaguered people welcome him as if he is Arthur returned from Avalon. Reveloin, haunted by ghosts which attack its people at night, and patrolled by hunters who collect people for the ghosts by day, is a land at war. The only way for the land to be restored is for the rightful king, Robbie himself, to travel to the ocean, cross the water and claim his throne. Robbie, with no memory of who he is or where he comes from, puts his trust in the beautiful and tragic Sacerdui, and follows her into the wilderness.
Robbie spends the novel flipping back and forth between this world and Reveloin. In this world, he’s unemployed, unhappy and out of touch with his wife, children and father, so he spends as much time as possible trying to figure out how to get back to Reveloin. In Reveloin, where he conveniently has no memory of reality, he is the most important person in the world, has adventures and is crushing on the mysterious Sacerdui. It’s the fantasy of anyone who’s ever felt misunderstood and out of place.
That the travel from one world to the next requires a particular box is interesting, and the way Robbie spends most of his time in the real world lugging his box around with him and hiding it from his wife is sweetly naïve. And, face it, even adults have times in their lives when they’d rather visit fantasy land than face another day of ‘ho-hum’.
But I feel the book is the victim of ‘easy-outs’ and poor editing. What could be easier than Robbie falling for Sacerdui while conveniently not remembering that he has a wife? Moral quandary solved! But, it felt like a cop-out. Imagine if Robbie had tried to figure out how to have his cake and eat it, too. It would make Robbie a ‘real’ character the audience could connect to and it would raise the stakes in the novel.
Also, a good part of the way into the book, it is unexpectedly revealed that the wife is dying of cancer and could keel over any time (good thing Robbie already has Sacerdui lined up in Reveloin). As a plot point, the wife’s illness forces the audience (and, one would hope, the protagonist) to consider priorities, but as the illness is never referred to before chapter 16, it comes across as something the author thought up as he was writing (it’s called ‘writing by the seat of your pants’. Creativity works like this for many writers. In a novel, however, those ‘seat of the pants’ moments need to be blended smoothly into the flow of the story in subsequent drafts).
Those drafts are also good for ferreting out incorrectly used words. Your father cannot stand ‘anonymously’ in your kitchen unless you’ve never met him before; there’s no way a 50-foot-long centipede can trample the ground ‘inconspicuously’ (also a centipede does not have thorax); and being ‘famished with anticipation’... besides being ungrammatical, is it even possible? I see errors like this more and more as new publishing options become available for authors, and would argue that writing the story is only half the work of creating a novel. Editing is the other half.
It’s a shame, because the premise of the novel is interesting, and the issues raised in it (family, relationships, loyalty, illness and death) are pervasive. But The Man in the Box leaves so many questions unanswered that the novel ends unsatisfactorily. Why the box? How does it happen? Why does it happen for some people and not for others? What happened to Reveloin? Will Robbie be arrested for break and entry, trespassing and theft? None of these questions are answered, and it left me feeling unsatisfied.
Great title, decent premise, but that’s not enough for me. One star.
About the Reviewer: Jessica Veter is a novelist raised in rural
. Having escaped to Ontario Toronto, she spent the 90’s over-educating herself at York University and then the . Once she accepted that there were never going to be any job listings in The Globe and Mail headed “Medievalist Wanted”, Jessica went to University of Toronto . There, she met her husband and they lived in Japan England before returning to with a son and a greyhound. Now in rural Flamborough, Jessica and her husband raise 3 boys, 6 chickens and are owned by 1 dog. You are welcome to visit her at www.jessicaveter.com. Canada