I struggle to review and rate books. There are so many issues to consider. One important issue is reviewing against expectations. Sales blurbs, and even author’s opening chapters that you read at Amazon or at a bookstore can convince you to buy a book thinking it’s exactly what you want to read. But when you read the book, often the author takes it in another direction you didn’t anticipate. Should you judge the book by your disappointment? Of course not. But that’s hard not to do.

Here’s my review at Goodreads for A Gift of Time by Jerry Merritt:

I'm giving this book five stars because A Gift of Time is actually very readable and engaging. However, the book greatly disappointed me. I'd only give it three stars if I rated it by my expectations, but is it fair to rate a book poorly because the author didn't write the one you wanted?

When I read the blurb that said it was about an 80-year-old-man who got to live his life over again starting when he was a 10-year-old-boy I bought the book immediately. I loved that idea. And for a while, the story pursued that angle. But then it quit being about the lessons of living life over and became an action-oriented adventure with a time machine. That might please the average SF fan but I found it just a series of plot cliffhangers with no emotional depth. Luckily, it does have an emotionally satisfying ending. I just wanted it to be a different book. It could have been another Replay or The Midnight Library, and for a short while, it was.

First, the positives. I listened to this book and Christopher Lane’s narration was pitch-perfect. He’s the kind of audiobook narrator that does voices for the different characters and all the characters in this book sound like Merritt’s characterization. An author could not hope for more. Merritt is also an excellent storyteller. Micajah “Cager” Fenton is an old man driven by regrets. Aren’t we all. He is given a unique opportunity to live his life over starting at age ten. And for a while Merritt gives me exactly what I wanted. Can you imagine knowing what you know now and being back in your ten-year-old body? Cager’s first realization is how self-centered he was as a kid, and immediately changes his life by caring about other people.

Can you imagine a whole novel about someone reconsidering every point of their life with mature insight? That’s the story I wanted. And Merritt followed that plotline for a while. Then it switched to other directions, mainly ones driven by modern action-oriented plotting. I don’t want to go into specifics because that would spoil Merritt’s story. And many readers will like these new directions. I just didn’t care for them as much as the original story.

Part of my problem is time travel. It’s extremely hard to write a good time travel story. If you haven’t read many, then A Gift of Time might thrill you. But time travel can make plotting pointless. As a reader you realize the author can get away with anything. For me, that feels like cheap manipulation. I also feel the same about thrillers, which this novel also becomes. Some people love Disneyland, but I don’t. It’s all childish pretending to me. Thrillers are just fantasies about gunplay. A Gift of Time works through several genres. I suppose I should warn people one of them is like Law and Order: SVU. There’s also a bit of Southern Gothic which I loved quite a bit, but what I came for was the Ray Bradbury literary Sci-Fi. I wished the whole novel had been just those two.

Like I said, is it fair to wish that the writer wrote something else? This is Merritt’s book, and most readers at Goodreads loved this book. So take my laments with a grain of salt, especially if you’re young and not old and jaded. I did race through this novel because it’s an audiobook version of a page turner, and I’m seldom hooked by novels nowadays.

JWH

2 thoughts on “A Gift of Time by Jerry Merritt

  1. *When I read the blurb that said it was about an 80-year-old-man who got to live his life over again starting when he was a 10-year-old-boy I bought the book immediately. I loved that idea. And for a while, the story pursued that angle. But then it quit…*

    In my never-remotely humble opinion, you “should” (or at least “should feel free to”) rate this book based on your disappointment. There is a contract made by the blurb, a mature person’s review/reliving of his life’s turning points to redress wrongs etc, that was not fulfilled. You did not get the book you were promised. That is a fair warning to give others, and you signal your dissatisfaction with the broken contract by your star rating.

    It’s an entirely different thing to say “he should have written the book I was promised” because that’s not for anyone but the author to decide. Your criticism of the book is based on the expectation raised by the sales come-on. I rated Ian Tregillis’s WITTER SEEDS a meager one star because I was promised “Alan Moore meets Alan Furst” and got Marvel meets Universal’s Dark Universe. I pointed out I wasn’t complaining about Tregillis’s writing…quite deft, in fact…but that I was promised one book and delivered another.

    Still got me royally chewed on, it did. I stick to my guns. Don’t promise what you won’t deliver.

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    1. I was thinking about being in fiction writing classes and how critiques work. Reviews are supposed to help readers make buying decisions, and critics are supposed to help writers. So in writing classes, you want to help your classmate produce a better story. The trouble is when critics turn into suggestions to write a different story. And that’s a problem for reviewers too.

      Yes, if Merritt had taken a different tack I would have enjoyed the book more. I still enjoyed the story, but I wanted an alternate history version of this story. So I’m really wondering is it fair as a reviewer to downgrade a story for this reason?

      You say yes because of what I thought was implied by the blurb at Audible.com. I just reread their page and I can see the novel I wanted in that description, but I also see the novel that I read. I just tuned out parts of the blurb. Actually, I think I just read the first paragraph and immediately bought the book. However, if I had read the next two paragraphs I don’t think I would have imagined what they implied, although now I realize it gives a lot of the story away.

      Liked by 1 person

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