Monday, February 13, 2012

A Night Below New York by C. Jayee Cohen

Title: A Night Below New York
Author: C. Jayee Cohen
Length: 2647 Kindle units
Rating: 2.5 stars

The Plot

Sahara is starting her first semester at Irving College in New York where she plans to major in Paranormal Studies. This turns out to be more of a challenge than she expected when she is assigned a roommate who likes to have loud parties at all hours, frequently with Rex, the cute basketball player from down the hall. To escape her unbearable living situation, Sahara takes a job as a nanny for a family who live near the campus. But when her charge disappears into a closed subway station, Sahara uncovers a world unlike any she’s ever seen.

The Good

The depiction of college life from the view of naïve and studious Sahara was quite realistic. The story made me have flashbacks of my own college roommate experience. (Her goal in life was to download every 2pac song from the internet. My goal in life was to not have a nervous breakdown. We didn’t really get on.) The situation was somewhat exaggerated, and Sahara could have done more to try to communicate with Esther, but introverted teenage girls out on their own for the first time in their lives are unlikely to have mastered the fine art of communication. (God knows I still haven’t.)

The story itself was pretty interesting as well. It focuses on the concept of fictional realism, or the idea that fictional realities actually exist. After a quick google search, I was surprised (and a little horrified) to discover that some people actually believe that this is true. But even assuming that the existence of fictional realities is, in fact, a fiction for the purpose of this novel, it’s an interesting direction for a story.

The Bad

Before I write blog posts, I often divide a book up over the course of a few days. On my first night reading A Night Below New York, I read a detailed description of Sahara’s journey to college and her problems with her roommate. On the second night, I finally began the plot of the novel, but it was not until the third and final night that anything paranormal happened at all.

As I was reading it, I thought, “Huh, I guess this is really a short story that the author tried to lengthen into a novel, but really most of this could be cut.” But then, when I got to the end of the book, the story hit a cliffhanger point and the ominous words “To be continued.” I would best describe my reaction to this as “perplexed.” Why would an author cram the entire plot into the last third of a very short novel and then stop writing? Would it not make more sense to cut out the extraneous stuff at the beginning and just write one novel? I’m pretty sure that the answer to this is “Yes.”

The book also had the perennially irritating first-to-third-person narration switch. It was especially problematic because the chapters were short enough that the book seemed choppy. Not only did I have to constantly switch whose scene I was in, but the different points of view made the constant transitions even more jarring. The book would have been better served to have been written exclusively from the third person.

The Romance

This is something that you will rarely hear from me, but I think A Night Below New York would have been better if the romance had been cut entirely. Sahara is in love with Rex because he’s cute, even though they have nothing in common, and he’s kind of a jerk to her. This is fine in and of itself except that it causes her to have painfully clichéd despair over how hopeless her crush is. But given the occurrences of the first two-thirds of the novel, it really is not reasonable to expect that Rex will reciprocate her affections any time in the near future.

Of course, I formed a lot of this opinion when I believed that I was reading a short story that had been expanded into a novel. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I will just say that as far as romance was concerned, I believed that the story was going to finish right up until it didn’t. I don’t understand why, if the story was going to continue, that the romance did not progress at a more convincing pace.

Will I read more?

There were a couple of times as I was reading this book that I cringed and thought, “Wow. This is the worst book I have ever read.” This was really not a fair thing for me to think. The narrative was superior to some of the books I’ve given 1 or 1.5 stars to, and I actually enjoyed the last third of the book when I got into the actual plots. Well, minus the romance. But enough of the circumstances evinced negative emotions that I probably will never find out what happens after that last “To be continued.” Alas.

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