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Success Stories

by Ian McLachlan


ISBN 1 4137 0212 0
Published by Publish America, 2003
194pp, paperback
Retail price $16.95

Open Book

Review by Chris Williams

The author of this novel can really write. He puts beautifully crafted characters, who are well rounded and live for us, in believable situations, which he spends time creating, imbuing with detail and bringing alive. He then gets them to act in perfectly realistic and believable ways.

He turns a phrase with the best of them and his use of metaphor is quite pleasantly startling at times, almost getting a "gosh, I wish I'd said that" reaction. So why then, when I got to the end of this novel, did I decide it was less than it could have been?

It's because, although I could admire the skill and craft that had gone into it, I couldn't work out the why of the finished article. In this novel we have two completely unconnected stories and a third that is connected, but really could just as well not have been.

The first story concerns Stephen, who is in a home for the elderly. He is clearly fully in control of his senses at the beginning of the story, although worried about "going". This is the term used in the home for those who are losing their senses and approaching the end. Stephen is, as are all of McLachlan's characters, exceedingly well created and we get to know him well as the novel moves forward (I almost said "progresses", but I don't think it does). Stephen spends a lot of his time remembering and his wife and daughter are strong in his memories. Also his brutish son-in-law and loved but not really known grandson.

This grandson is Jason, whose is the second story in the novel. His story is totally divorced from Stephen's. He, a teenager, has gone to Italy to lose his virginity. We follow his, rather hopeless, efforts to do so. There is much business regarding Italy and the Irish bar where Jason works. There is also another "Steve" in his Italian life and one who may, it is hinted at the end of the story, have a stronger role to play in Jason's future life than his grandfather.

In Italy, Jason also comes across Claire, a twenty-three-year-old English teacher working in a local school. This is the third story and again comes across as almost independent. Claire is a romantic who is desperate to find her perfect man and she fixes on Jason. She is, however, too shy to really do anything about it and we sense that this has happened to her many times before.

So there we are, three stories. Stephen has a brutish son-in-law, Jason has a brutish father, Claire has hopeless yearning. They do not connect. Maybe that's McLachlan's point? If so, it's not a bad one to make but I felt that I wanted more. This is, make no mistake, the work of a fine writer. I look forward to reading him again sometime in the future. I just feel he needs to find a story to tell. When he does, look out.