Dissident Reviews #11: Pumpkin Farmer by Michael Hughes
A glance at Michael Hughes’ Amazon reviews indicates he is either a hustler of the highest order or a little unscrupulous in the way he markets his books. He has managed to piss off a great many people.
“The author of this book essentially spammed me,” reads one review. “This book is a literary scraping of fingernails across a chalkboard,” says another. The situation on Goodreads is worse. Several reviews include accusations of “spamming”.
Hughes did not spam me, and I was very happy to read his book. It is billed as a psychological thriller, a genre I’m a fan of, and as an outsider with what appears to be few resources Hughes is the kind of writer I’m interested in.
So, are the many negative comments (among many positive ones) valid?
My answer is: partially, yes. One recurring critique is that the author takes too long setting up the story. I agree. As Fitzgerald said in letter to Hemingway, having read a draft of The Sun Also Rises: “You can’t play with people’s attention.” Get to the point.
It seems to me Hughes wanted a novel at any cost, and therefore included 25,000 words which did not advance the story—which really starts at chapter 14—in any way. Talk about playing with people’s attention.
From then on, however, things get better. Apart from a few bothersome quirks (such saying so as to; what is wrong with to?), Hughes is a good writer on a technical level. His descriptions are terse but effective. His dialogue is believable. He knows what needs to be said and what is best left to the reader to work out for himself.
It was about two hundred feet wide, bounded on both sides by bluffs that jutted out into the water. There were various rocky protrusions and nooks and crannies, but none of them were terribly cavernous. He figured that there was only about ten per cent of the beach's area where Ellie would truly be out of sight.
The story is not especially original but is gripping when it gets going. John is the good guy trying to save Ellie, the damsel in distress. Horace is the villain who may never pay the price for his crimes because of the leverage he holds over his victim. He is a bully par excellence.
Ellie’s fate reminded me of certain scenes in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. So did the retro California backdrop. I cannot elaborate further without giving spoilers.
In sum, there is much to commend this book. If it were roughly half the length I think it would be twice as good, and it is not bad as it is.
In this case, Hughes might not have needed to resort to whatever unorthodox tactics he employed to attract readers. He is a good writer, and I feel sure we have not heard the last of him.
Pumpkin Farmer is independently published and is available for purchase here.
About Dissident Reviews:
In this series, I review—in a spirit of objectivity and constructive criticism—“dissident” works, by which I mean works establishment publishing houses would overlook for ideological reasons. My motivations for doing so are to:
discover works from outside the mainstream, which I consider politicised and uninteresting;
network with like-minded writers;
promote work I consider good and offer what I hope will be useful critiques for that I think could be better; and
promote my own work.
I am an Australian writer living in France. I am the author of a three-novel series—the first of which is available here—and have had non-fiction published in Quadrant and Quillette magazines, The Australian newspaper and the Washington Examiner.
Authors are welcome to use quotes from these reviews (with attribution). If you would like me to review your book please get in touch via my Twitter page.