Texas has a long history of very wealthy landowners controlling not just their land, but the way of life for the local people in the area. Some have acted like benevolent dictators while others have seen themselves as gods who should have every whim catered to without question. John Magne IV certainly fits the latter category.
The current patriarch of a family that has always gotten their way over the decades is faced with a dilemma. Not only are his grown children less than helpful in keeping things going but he sees his empire beginning to crumble. Loans are coming due and the local banker is getting a bit big for his britches. But John Magne IV has a plan to deal with all of it. He wants to drill for natural gas as he believes a field lurks beneath his land in the Laguna Madre. The resulting financial windfall, if the gas is there, will restore the family’s financial footing and increase their power base considerably.
To make it all happen, he will need help and return on favors and deals he has made over the years with politicians and regulators as well as the money men. As he puts the wheels in motion on plans he has made, so do others with their own plans either is support or against John Magne IV and his interests. The result is an interesting read with shades of Greek tragedy and hubris that spans a number of interrelated characters and generations of family members.
While the read is interesting and the attempted tale is grand, this novel could have been so much better. A slick marketing package does not make a good book. Instead, it creates an illusion of what the book will be and when the book fails to reach the marketing hype, disappoints the reader. Such is the case here.
More than any thing, a strong editor would have been able to cut back on some of the overwriting of dialogue and scene as well as streamline the work so that it moves forward at a better pace. Despite the often cited blurb found on all promotional items, book jacket, etc. the author does not have a “crisp writing style.” The novel drags at numerous spots and the pace throughout work is uneven with sudden starts and near stops.
Dialogue sections are most often the problem throughout the novel as they frequently read unrealistically, both in terms of stilted prose as well as going on much longer than normal human conversation. They are also used as info dumps and serve to bring the action to a virtual standstill. At the same time, the narrative sections provide some of the best writing and serve well to move the story along. Not only do they do that, but especially in the sections detailing the region, showcase the author’s clear experience and appreciation for the natural beauty of the area.
The result is a rollercoaster of a read that serves to disappoint in that the author tried to do so much. This is a grand book in terms of various storylines covering various generations with numerous small subplots. Several of such should have been eliminated which would have resulted in a radical structural change but yet a much better book. Like many books that are released though publishing houses where authors share the financial costs of publication, this novel could have been and should have been so much more. It certainly never lives up to the hype of the promotional materials this reviewer received, nor does it ever answer the teaser questions posed in the materials. Taken for what the novel actually is, this work becomes an average read at best.
Laguna: A Novel
By Michael Putegnat
Kevin R. Tipple © 2006
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