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Reading Challenge: Promises and Authors That Keep Them (or Not)

Five promises.

An author promises the following:

1. Character

2. Voice

3. World

4. Problem

5. Event

I covered character in the previous blog when I broke down the protagonist we find in Jake Baker of The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson. For this prompt of the challenge, I’ll be digging into the other four on the list. As a reminder, I’m only partially through this book, so all of what I’m saying is based on the first 60 pages. I’m doing that on purpose because I don’t want my perspective tainted by knowing what the result of everything is, so we’re all going on a journey together through this challenge.

Why are these five promises important? It’s all part of what hooks a reader and keeps them engaged. Someone is going to be more encouraged to continue reading when they have a character they can connect with, told in a voice that appeals to them, set in an interesting world, where there’s an apparent conflict that needs to be resolved. The event can be part of the problem or separate.

Think of Katniss in the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Right away, we know she’s our main character, it’s told in first-person in the present tense. The world is a dystopian future of ours. The problem? Her sister’s name is pulled in The Reaping, so she volunteers as a tribute—now she has to deal with those consequences. The event is the annual Hunger Games. It comes together pretty quickly in the example of Collins’ book, other books aren’t so obvious.

Let’s see what The Saturday Night Ghost Club (TSNGC) reveals.

The voice is told from the first-person point of view. I discovered pretty quickly that this story wasn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill coming-of-age story right out of the gate. I won’t spoil it, but the first section is one of the more interesting ways I’ve seen a novel opened. That aside, this story is being told secondhand through adult Jake’s perspective. It’s as if he’s talking to someone about what happened during this particular summer, but he’s a skilled enough storyteller that he doesn’t let the reader know what young Jake doesn’t know.

The act of withholding information so blatantly is an interesting choice. Adult Jake breaks the narrative to “check in” with readers:

“It was one of those moments when the world doesn’t make sense, but later, when you see events in their proper light, understanding sinks in.”

It’s as if Jake is reminding the reader everything being relayed has happened and there’s no changing it. No matter how many times he retells the story, how he “chooses to remember” it—what’s done is done. Jake seems to be haunted by this year.

The world, that’s a fairly easy one. Davidson is pretty generous with that information. This story takes place in our world, but in the 1980s in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Jake refers to it by its nickname Cataract City. He describes it as a “place stuck in time,” that’s “perma-tacky” with its dated architecture and tourist trap stores.

The problem? That’s a little trickier. I could make an argument that Jake’s loneliness is a problem, but I don’t think that’s quite right. The thing about these promises is the author typically reveals them within the first few pages or chapters and my instinct is to look for something obvious. But in this case, I think it was something tucked in toward the end of the first few pages. The idea that a secret doesn’t want to stay secret, that truth always wants to be known. There’s a darkness in that knowledge that brings a heaviness to this story—what truth is chasing Jake Baker?

The event, the only thing that makes sense is the forming of the Saturday Night Ghost Club, or what the characters do right before that moment. They almost happen simultaneously, but the club sounds more concrete.

This is part of my struggle with TSNGC, this narrative is a sloooow burn—to me. There’s something important about this summer and the forming of the club, that’s why the author has picked this specific block of time to tell the story. There are only 211 pages in this novel and I’m more than a fourth of the way through and I’m not certain about where this ride is taking me. Not to say I’m not enjoying it, but there’s a lot of reading between the lines I didn’t anticipate.

What about you? Do you like it when the author reveals these promises right away or do you enjoy going on the journey eve if you’re not sure where it’s taking you?

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