Some books are made for procrastination reads, and this is one of them. Bought and read in a single summery afternoon, it was the perfect excuse to sit outside in the first 80 degree day with the new Kindle.
It begins with Emily, a mid-twenty-something reporter who is waiting for an appointment to interview a doctor. As far as introductions go, it’s a mediocre one, showcasing Emily as somewhat of a judgmental snot–Jones should have skipped it and went straight to the biography info-dump when she’s grabbing a sandwich and checking the news in an internet cafe. The press is reporting a mysterious red rain that has been falling over Europe causing alarm and confusion. Just as she packs up to leave the cafe, it starts falling in New York City as well.
I admit, I’m a sucker for apocalypse survival stories, and in that aspect, Extinction Point delivers. Unfortunately, almost everything else about the story needs work, including characterization and writing style. Take Emily, a native Iowan who grew up in “a small backwater farm town” with a mere six years under her belt in the Big Apple. I’m a midwestern girl, born and raised, and have witnessed two of my best friends head to the big city. So believe me when I say that I did not find the lead character believable that I’m coming from personal experience. Almost nothing about her as a composite made sense to me; in bits in pieces, it was fine, but when you put it together, it didn’t jibe. An Iowan who longs to escape but doesn’t drive? Mr. Jones, most rural kids learn to drive long before legal age, especially if they want to get off the farm. He states she doesn’t drive because she could “bike everywhere in ten minutes.” Have you ever been through a midwestern winter? You don’t bike anywhere in an average low temp of 14 to 18 Farenheit. That is not normal teen behavior. New Yorkers not driving, I get, as NYC has one of the best mass transit systems in the country. I know two New Yorkers that never learned to drive until they hit college. But rural kids? Nope. Rural kids that end up being lead reporters for the local paper? Double nope.
Then there was this little oddity: “he had no problem with her use of ‘language,’ as her mother would call Emily’s ability to swear like a proverbial sailor. Dating was hard enough in this town; finding someone to put up with her inordinate knowledge of cuss words was even harder.” Mr. Jones–have you been to America in the last decade and talked to anyone under thirty? I’m pretty sure “cussing,” as you so archaically phrase it, isn’t a problem in dating.
Then there were the New York details themselves. “The owner of the building was big on security, so every apartment was equipped with a peephole that gave the occupant a fish-eye view of the corridor directly aside.” That’s not “big on security.” That’s New York. Heck, that’s America. Why even describe the reason for the peephole anyway? She has to look out it; that’s its only significance. Don’t waste time on something that doesn’t matter and will only point out you don’t know what you are writing about. Likewise, the description of office blocks, with “here and there was the occasional small store. Within walking distance, a hungry office worker could find a coffee shop and a florist, and just across the street from her place, a small corner convenience store that kept a stock of canned goods, newspapers, and candy.” They’re called bodegas (or more racially, ‘Korean groceries’) in New York, so every time they were referred to as “the convenience store,” or “the little store” it felt overly explanatory, and again, ignorant.
But that was just the beginning. I didn’t believe Emily had the drive or hustle it takes to be a junior reporter at a major city paper–when deciding between work and a sandwich, she chose the sandwich–and she had to remind herself to photograph the red rain. I really, really didn’t believe her reaction to [spoiler: the boyfriend’s excruciating and messy death]. She was able to move on within a day [spoiler: moving his body!], and her grief was limited, especially for a violent death. Granted, she may have been in shock. Except she frequently wasn’t. I saw someone I didn’t know die in a way that was strikingly similar, and I was traumatized for a week–and I’ve been in the medical field for years.
Here is the clinching craziness: at a newspaper meeting, the newspaper manager states: “The paper is officially closed until this all blows over. I’ll see you all then.” Hello? Have you seen the media in America? Close down? Not bloody likely.
Writing was overly bogged down by details, particularly in the beginning. I understand that part of survivalist stories is that the reader is hoping for a survival blueprint, but this was too much detail even before the event. For instance, Jacobs lists four other stories (and their implication) that Emily reads before getting to reports on the red rain. When her boyfriend wants to know what food is in the house, Emily actually lists it.
Then there is the plot point of when her reaction to the disaster included calling the White House and the FBI. I stopped a minute in shock. I worked in emergency services for a decade, and I’m pretty sure calling either of those agencies never, ever comes up as part of problem-solving on the individual level. It was an oddity that made more sense when I found out the author was not American. Believe me, Jones, the only reason Americans call the White House is to voice opinions on the social policy of their choice, not because they expect solutions. Just a little incongruity that stuck out.
Language itself needs some work. There was genuinely odd imagery: “trying to ignore the cramps in her legs that felt like a dog nipping at her ass.”
Now that I’m writing it all down, I realize there was quite a bit that bothered me. I haven’t read a lot of indie fiction, but I’d guess it was middling for the type–could have benefited from a few more readers and re-writes, but there are some interesting bones here. Jacobs does develop an ominous tension and his attention to detail makes coping with the fallout intriguing.
Ultimately, I read this in the best possible environment for this type a book–a warm, sunny day after a long winter that put me in the best possible mood, and led me to forgive many character and writing faults in favor of a moderately interesting plot. Quite honestly, I suppose it was a two stars read. Not terrible enough to quit, but not awesome enough that I didn’t wrinkle my forehead a few times, or turn the pages rather fast so I could finish and get inside. Besides, I was getting sunstroke.