The cover of Mark Wildes' To Yesterday must rank as the best I've seen on a self-published book. Not only is the photograph absolutely gorgeous, but the choice of typeface and the general layout are superb. It would stand out a mile in a bookshop display. In fact, you'd be tempted to buy it purely for the pleasure of holding such a beautiful object.
It's a shame, therefore, that a similar level of attention wasn't lavished on the content. On the very first page, I found this howler: "She made due with her isolated life" This told me immediately that proof-reading had been carried out, not by human beings, but by that dreaded and highly fallible mechanism, the automated spell-check facility. My suspicions were confirmed as I came across error after error: "palate" spelled "pallet" and "palette" in the space of a few lines; "the soul purpose"; etc, etc. The expression "holly shit" occurs several times and has nothing to do with Christmas.
One might argue that the blame lies with the author for not being able to spell in the first place; but authors (including some of the world's greatest) have been having that problem for centuries and have placed their confidence in editors and publishers to put it right. So the responsibility has to sit squarely with Writers Club Press and iUniverse. They have, to put it colloquially, spoiled the ship for a ha'porth of tar. Another disservice they have done, to book as well as author, is to perfect-bind it - not a clever idea with a volume this thick. When I was halfway through, the spine collapsed and the pages started falling out.
Insofar as I could appreciate the story with these distractions, it was an unusual and involving one. Mark Wildes is another of those brave men - there are more of them around than we realise - who are unafraid to tackle the romantic genre. He approaches it with panache rather than caution: his style is self-conscious, his phrasing occasionally clumsy. Some of the physical descriptions, in particular, had me very confused: "he grabbed her hips to lift himself off the bed". Just imagine the bruising! On the other hand, Mr Wildes has put a lot of effort into his use of metaphor, and there are times when it works well: "An escape from the mental institution of memory ... it was finally the right divergence from a long jagged path."
Despite being in the same age group as Janice Gaither, I felt little empathy with her. She is a woman who has drifted self-pityingly through life, wrapping herself comfortably in past sorrows, spending her time and money entirely on her own gratification. At the outset, there is no obvious reason for a younger man to be attracted to her, unless he is the kind of man whose sole interest is a woman's looks. The personality change she undergoes after meeting Travis Manren is too complete to be believable.
For me, one test of a good plot is how early the reader can guess the ending, and in this case we are definitely kept guessing. The three-way meeting at which Janice's destiny reveals itself came as a total surprise to me; and the surprises don't end there. If there's one thing I dislike about the narrative, it's that phenomenon known as the "bouncing POV". Early in the story, we see events from Janice's viewpoint. As time goes on, four other characters take a turn. This is too many, and the way it is done is too random. The focus of the story becomes diffused as a result. The long debates lose direction, and the point is not clearly made even though the dialogue is realistic.
Mark Wildes has a good stab at contrasting the attitude of the two men with that of the three women, putting himself in their individual places. I found, however, that the contrasts in the personal histories of the main characters failed to resolve themselves into any clear differences in personality, nothing that scratched the surface to any depth. Raymond was the only one who left his mark on the reader.
There's a book within the book: the mystery of the lake where Janice and her intimate circle rekindle past happiness. The decision not to conclude with some things left unsaid may have been a mistake. The philosophical/psychological rumination that dominates the last 150 pages adds little to the novel as a whole. Some passages are reminiscent of "Pseuds' Corner", and the effect is barely alleviated by the shocking revelation of the legend of the lake. The presence of truisms like "Men would always be men, and women would always be women" actively detracts from the message the author is hoping to convey. In the end, despite its eerie moments, this is a feelgood story, a story of renewal and repair. It might have been better not to try and delve so deeply into what lies beneath. The supernatural must, by its very nature, remain unexplained.