How does an author sell over a million copies of his novels without ever learning how to write a convincing line of dialogue? Welcome to the world of Amazon Publishing and self-published direct-to-Kindle ebooks. Price your work cheaply enough and enable One-Click™ purchasing, and you may be the next Blake Crouch.
So why did I read not one, not two, but three of Crouch’s excruciating “novels” set in a fictional town in Idaho? Crouch’s books were the inspiration for the recent FOX television show Wayward Pines. Compared initially by reviewers with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, the M. Night Shyamalan-produced series caught my attention with the very first episode. It had, as they say, “great potential,” as did the central idea of Crouch’s trilogy. Part nostalgia, part science fiction, part post-Edward Snowden surveillance-state paranoia: In different hands—say, Ray Bradbury’s—this story could have been a delight. (Indeed, something about the premise calls The Martian Chronicles to mind.) Instead, it feels like a missed opportunity, because no one will now be able to take this particular twist on a postapocalyptic world and do it right. (Shyamalan had a chance, but he diverged from his source material only in frustratingly inconsequential ways, and hewed closely to it whenever he shouldn’t have.)
The only thing to be said for Crouch’s dialogue is that it is no worse than the other elements of his writing—plotting, pacing, grammar, spelling. Amazon.com has pitched its direct-to-Kindle imprints as the future of publishing; if Crouch’s trilogy is any indication, that future looks about as bright as that of the residents of Wayward Pines.
First published in the September 2015 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.