Sometimes you pick up a story for various reasons. Sometimes it has a interesting and eye catching cover. Sometimes the "jacket" information speaks to you and says, "Hey, this sounds pretty interesting. It's probably worth your while to eventually give it a read." Sometimes reviews will build up a story and make you feel pretty sure that you have a winner, even before you read the first page. Thomas Scopel's Twitch has be the triple threat on those accounts at first glance. Great cover art, interesting, but not really too much to give away what is coming from inside the novel, and not one to give you a red herring to make you assume what the story is about while having nothing to do with it in reality. Great description, definitely more than enough to make someone want to invest in buying a copy. Then four great reviews that make comparisons of the novel against Shelly's Frankenstein and classic episodes of The Twilight Zone.
Well I know better than anyone that having plenty going on on the outside of a book does not necessarily equate to a good story. Believe me, like so many others I have bought dozens of dogs over the years and felt robbed. Critical acclaim is of course often the opinion of the reviewer, though usually on target, sometimes a reviewer will talk up a story based on their opinion alone, while others (such as in this case) leave one wondering if the reviewers even read the story at all.
Okay, before I go any further let me say that Twitch is not a totally awful novel. In fact it starts off hot, a testament to Scopel's imagination and story telling ability. The problem is that he only truly shines in the first chapter. I think seeing that this book had so much potential and went south so quickly actually made me feel double disappointed, and more than slightly robbed. It was almost as if Scopel was doing his best to cram an epic story (1,000 pages +) into the space of a 250 to 300 pages, and in turn greatly sacrificing the quality of the story.
Twitch starts out as the story of McB, a man who spent nearly his entire childhood in an orphanage, now the owner of a traveling carnival, and his latest acquisition, Twitch, a creature of unknown origin, an armless and legless torso which usually only looks out at the world with a single white eye. McB feels a kind of kinship and sympathy for the creature after seeing him in a competitor's show, and the creature's former owner warns him that once he felt the same way, but once he had Twitch in his show things began to change and he assures McB he will someday feel the same. Chapter One is a very interesting character study, and it leaves the readers hungry for the main course. This is the kind of chapter most writers aspire to write because they know that once the reader makes it through they're hooked. I finished up and moved on, waiting to see the story of the sympathetic Carine and his new attraction unfold.
Unfortunately that never happens. For the rest of the novel McB and Twitch's relationship is only commented on third hand, enough to let you know that he takes a genuine interest in the creature as a person, but not enough to truly build a real feel of what their relationship is like, or what McB thinks and feels for Twitch as time moves on. Instead of following what the reader will feel is the heart of the story after reading the first chapter the novel quickly devolves into episodic chapters where in slasher film style various characters who are totally unlikeable are introduced and given a brief background for the express purpose of being killed off in some horrible way. Most of the deaths are nice and bloody and hearken back to some great scenes penned by Stephen King and William W. Johnstone, however bloody and violent deaths do not a great story make. Death at the carnival comes to a quick climax as the carnival catches fire, costing the lives of douche bags and innocents alike.
From there the story, now at the halfway point and still at least retaining the ability to hold the reader's attention to want to know what comes next, becomes a complete train wreck. The story shifts back to the creature's origin, and is revealed to be the product of a rape of a witch by a religious zealot in 1692. For the last half of the story the reader has to trudge through from the mother's point of view, through her late childhood, to her marriage to a local doctor and convincing him she is a worthy assistant, to the assault on her, then her trial for witchcraft and imprisonment, to the creature's birth and finally to her execution and Twitch eventually being sold to a traveling carnival.
In the final chapter the reader is taken back to modern times and the aftermath of the fire. There we see McB looking over a medical report made some 30 years before on Twitch, which is meant to offer some insight on what his condition is, which really only speculates that the creature is very old, or at least will live to be very old. The despondent McB checks a final time so see that Twitch has perished, before taking a gun and doing himself in.
Okay, yes, the last little bit of the story makes it seem hopeless, and leaves the reader wondering, what was the point? Honestly, in my opinion, the point was lost on the first half of the novel being scenes of death to some people who probably deserved it, instead of focusing on what Scopel seemed to be building on in Chapter One, the story of the carnival owner and the freak he feels a kind of kinship with. I think if this had been a well defined concept in the story, and if no time was wasted on going back to explain Twitch's origin and instead focused on building just a bit more on the characters who become victims of Twitch's revenge instead of simply making them into gory death fodder, this would have been a much more well rounded story. Presented that way the reader would have surely gotten from the first chapter to the last chapter without wondering, What The Fuck?
There are a few other drawbacks that help to keep this story from attaining a higher rating than it actually does. The contemporary part of the story takes place in 2009, but the characterizations and attitudes within the story, as well as the presentation of the carnival setting, seem more well in tune with the 1960's or 1970's, mid-80's at the very latest. A glaring mistake dates the last chapter in 2010 instead of 2009. A traveling carnival in the 1692-93 part of the story is pretty much out of place in the late 17th Century as carnivals really did not take off until later in the 18th Century, and the sideshow and ten-in-one did not really take off until the 1920's. The story and characterizations of the 1692-93 characters are flat, and I was reminded of Elizabeth Lloyd's Witch Child, which trudged along from beginning to end and really went nowhere at all. The sinister clergyman, who should come off as a dynamic character seems to be a pale rehash of any other corrupted or fallen religious character portrayed in any number of period pieces (Arhtur Dimmesdale, any version of the Reverend Trask from any version of Dark Shadows) with a dash of Salem's historic Cotton Mather thrown in for good measure.
Now this is the point where I'm sure you're betting that I'm going to tell you to avoid Thomas Scopel and Twitch at all cost, however I'm not going to do that. For all that is lacking and for all of the places that it fails Twitch is not totally unreadable or unlikable. Despite the loss of focus this novel is a worthy read because you can still get a glimpse of Scopel's genius, and I am sure that upon reading this story you will reach the same conclusion, that Scopel can tell a deep and entertaining story, and probably will deliver best seller worthy works as long as the focus remains on the story of the characters as opposed to focusing on the horror elements and perhaps unnecessary history. I give Twitch Three Stars and hope to see more from Thomas Scopel in the future and watch as his story telling progresses.
You can find out more about Thomas Scopel by visiting his website and his blog. He has quite a few other works of varying lengths out there, and I myself an looking forward to checking them out.
Twitch is available for eBook and download:
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Twitch-ebook/dp/B005CWGFKK
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Twitch-ebook/dp/B005CWGFKK
Amazon Germany: https://www.amazon.de/Twitch-ebook/dp/B005CWGFKK
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/twitch-thomas-scopel/1104299298
Even though I didn't think that Twitch was the greatest it is definitely enough to make me look forward to Thomas Scopel's future releases, and at $0.99 it is definitely worth the price to get a glimpse at a writer in progress.