"Terminal Island" Book Review
Written by Michel Sabourin
Published by Night Shade Books
Written by Walter Greatshell
2012, 264 pages, Fiction
Released on December 4th, 2012
Terminal Island has annoying flashes of both talent and potential. Unfortunately, it's also full of convoluted plots, unsympathetic characters, jumbled imagery, and a lack of cohesion. Henry Cadmus, the protagonist of the story, comes back to an island he briefly lived on when he was a child to find his mother, who moved back there and has not been heard from since. Henry has cloudy memories of his time there in his youth, and struggles with recovered memories while dealing with the mystery of his disappeared mother. He knows something bad happened to him there, but he can't quite remember what it was.
And that's actually one of the major issues I have with this novel. Not so much that he's recovering memories of tragic and horrible events from his childhood, but that those memories don't really amount to anything tragic or all that horrible that they need to be suppressed. What amounts to some school bullying (although granted it's on a life threatening scale) and some weird locals with secrets is hardly enough to explain Henry's state of mind in the beginning of the story. Also, if you have what you know to be bad and troubling memories of a place, do you really drag your wife and small child there for an ersatz vacation? That's what Henry does.
In any given work of prose there should be at least one character worth rooting for. Henry is not it. He comes off as whiney and feeble for a character written as a war hero and PTSD survivor. He can deal with the horrors of war, but can't deal with getting beat up by little girls as a child? It doesn't ring true. His wife Ruby is written as loving, supportive and take charge and alternatingly shrill, shrinking and ultimately useless. Even as motivation for ensuring Henry will care about his family's safety, the daughter, Moxie, is as one-dimensional a character as I've read in some time. If the daughter's name is a nod to Penn Jillette's child, Greatshell gets bonus points, but not enough to raise him to the next level. Her character exists, but not much more can be said than that. She is not fleshed out at all, and even feels wholly forgotten at points. The characters never act with any sense of urgency a parent would feel in similar situations.
As I stated, there are flashes of great storytelling in the novel, and times when you get that nervous excitement a good book can bring you, but not enough to sustain the whole experience, which says a lot in such a short novel. Most of the story feels like a chore more than anything else. Honestly, if I weren't reviewing it, I doubt I would have even finished it. I think that if it were revamped and repositioned, it could make a highly visualized movie by someone with a certain eye, like Rob Zombie, but the story gets muddled and the "twist(s)" are neither shocking nor particularly twisty.