Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Book Review - Edgar Cantero's The Supernatural Enhancements

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: August 12th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Ambrose Wells killed himself. In the same fashion and at the same age his father had thirty years earlier. At twenty-three A. knew nothing of his distant American cousin. Or that Ambrose was rich. Therefore it all came as rather a shock to him to discover that he is the heir of a wealthy estate in Virginia. Axton House and all it's contents, including a butler, are his. A. takes his friend Niamh as his companion on this adventure. A waifish fifteen year old punk with a proclivity to silence. Upon arriving at the rambling house they are struck by the enormity of what lies ahead and by the deep-seated knowledge that the house is haunted. But they aren't people to run away at the first signs of something spooky, such as the butler mysteriously being AWOL. Instead they think logically. They install video cameras, audio recording devices, they keep diaries, dream journals, they keep their Aunt Liza constantly informed of all their activities, because Axton House isn't going to claim them like it did Ambrose and his father before him. Therefore they look into Ambrose's life, his hidden rooms, his mysterious maze, his secret cyphers, his codenamed friends, and try to find the connecting thread. What was Ambrose hiding? Obviously something valuable or important enough for someone to attempt to break into Axton House. Could it have to do with the rumors of a secret meeting that happens every year on the night of the winter solstice? The solstice is fast approaching. They have forty-eight days to uncover the secrets buried with the dead. Will it be enough?

The way The Supernatural Enhancements is written as a collection of diary entries, straight up back and forth dialogue from audio recordings, receipts, scrawled notes from Niamh, letters to Aunt Liza, at 368 pages it's a surprisingly fast read. It's like popcorn, you just keep reaching for that next handful. I devoured this book in three sittings and at each subsequent sitting I felt the quality ebbing away. That immediacy, that need to finish was going out like a riptide and it wasn't coming back. Despite what you might think every time I pick up a book I want it to be a new favorite, a book that I will recommend to all and sundry. Books are almost more exciting before you read them because from that moment you pick them up at the bookstore and take it home and put it on your shelf it's nothing but potential. You don't know how good or bad it's going to be, and that's electrifying. But once the reading commences? The critic in me can't help but keep a running tally of how I think the book is going. Before I forced myself to put aside The Supernatural Enhancements that first night because I was barely able to keep my eyes open it was solidly four stars, perhaps more. The next day, new elements were introduced, the narrative started to wobble, but it could pull three stars still. On my final day, I just didn't care what happened on the eve of the solstice. Turning a lovely Gothic haunted house story into what this book became? Sorry two stars.

All that self-aware humor. All that meta goodness, the video cameras, The X-Files, all of it came to naught. Because I can't shake the feeling that all the different narrative techniques were used just to use them, because in the end all of these devices and nothing untoward was caught on camera? There was no "proof" of anything so what was the point of their stay in Axton House? Yes, there's the outcome, but that was all too hasty, too messy, that didn't fit with the methodical that came before. The book just didn't know what it wanted to be. Was it the story of a haunted house or family secrets or secret societies? What!?! It was too all over the place and at some point I felt the book shifted from self-aware to smug, and that didn't sit well with me. The references, the jokes became too personal too much for the author's amusement, as did the luxuriating in the narrative techniques. Just because you think something is the funniest thing ever doesn't mean that it is. Naming the secret society members after Scooby-Doo villains? Seriously? And the reader will only know this if they bother to decode the cipher at the beginning of the book which also admits to "[stealing] from many others. I apologize if I was not explicit enough." And that right there is the book's downfall. Too much of the other, not enough of the original. The second A. and Niamh entered Axton House I was strongly aware that I recognized the house, it's because it's the antebellum mansion from Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte. When a Sinéad O'Connor song starts playing, I was actually astonished that Cantero didn't think that everyone would make The Wonderful Wizard of Oz connection. But he was too busy "stealing" to realize that each reference took the reader out of the book and took something away from his narrative.

But then again, this is a man who thinks it's perfectly fine to have a twenty-three year old man sharing a bed with a fifteen year old girl. Because fifteen is a girl. Not a woman. Not someone who is old enough to make her own choices. I know nothing actually happens between them in that bed and A. is basically an asexual cipher himself, but just what the fuck Cantero!?! Though minus the literal fuck. This is not cool. Just because the girl is constantly seeking something more physical to happen between them making her the aggressor doesn't make it acceptable. Though looking online, because I do try to always backup my rabid attacks, Cantero is from Spain and until the law changed in 2015, otherwise known as a year AFTER this book was published, the age of consent was thirteen. Thirteen!?! Seriously!?! My head hurts just thinking of myself at thirteen and if I was capable of making these big decisions, and I really don't think I was. Yes, I do know many of my classmates were sexually active around then, but with a twenty-three year old? No. Hell no. It was with their peers. And while Niamh gives off a very powerful all-knowing "girl with the dragon tattoo" vibe, that never once takes away from how young she is. In the #MeToo era with these seismic shifts everything from film to literature is going to come under even more scrutiny. Yes, this book is four years old, but I'd like to think that people are good and have moral compasses and that they would go, hang on, this relationship is just weird. Yes, it might have been to unsettle the reader, but for me it was a major problem that I couldn't get past.

The stealing, the Lolita of it all, all these disparate elements brought together, led to the book just ending in a shambles. It's like each and every decision Cantero made took away so much that by the end when the secret society is having their meeting and they all die, oh sorry, spoiler alert, I didn't care. PS you won't either. Who are these multitudes of Ambrose's friends and who are their killers? Nothing is made clear and everything is just a jumble. Our leads go to the house, meet some people, have a party and leave? That is the barest summary of the book and for me there wasn't enough atmosphere and too much thrown at me in the end. There's only so much of hurry up and wait I can take and I was desperately waiting for this book to become just the slightest bit Gothic. Yes, I know I picked it up in the horror section, but a haunted house, by it's very inclusion, indicates that something Gothic is going to go down, and instead this was just a mishmash of things it could have been and things that were better before they were incorporated into another persons work. Is being original that hard? From a recent argument I was involved in online, apparently yes. People don't want to be original they just want to take the best of the work of someone else and claim it's an homage or parody. I do not think those mean what they think those mean. But I think the final straw deals with Aunt Liza. Liza is an abbreviation of Elizabeth, so I have MANY opinions on this topic. Here are things you can and can not do. Elizabeth can create Eliza, Liza, Beth, Liz, Lizzy, but NEVER Betty. It's like that whole John/Jack thing. NOPE. And spare me from people who think that Elizabeth spelled Elisabeth can be abbreviated into Liz or Lizzy. There is no fucking "Z" Elisabeth Moss! Yeah, so maybe I internalized everyone calling her Lizzy at the awards shows the past few months a little too much. But it's been a burden my entire life and it was the final straw for this book.


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