When I cracked open the pantry last week to search for a new meal, I found this interesting box sitting off to one side. ‘Magical realism’, it said and that alone piqued my interest. It was a genre designation I’d never heard about before. What is it? Is it tasty? Does it go good with a nice cup of coffee? It was time to find out, so here we go with The Last Gathering, subtitled When Tragedy Takes a Twist Through Time!
As I cut the cello tape on the lid of this meal, please recite the Starving Review creed:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible
What Gathering boils down to is a contemporary tale with one particular supernatural twist. The core metaplot is quite sound, revolving around the concept of how one tragedy can create a domino effect through an entire community. In addition this interesting concept is backed by some well-crafted characters, with quite a bit of time and detail spent in fleshing out and building up this entire community. You can see how the dominoes fall when they do. Likewise, the supernatural element, when it appears, is handled well, even if its appearance is quite abrupt (something of a problem as we will talk about later). However, there are unfortunately some stumbles in the recipe that suck the flavor out of the dish.
I am about to sound like a broken record again but pacing, pacing, pacing! That is the primary problem with this meal. The actual conflict, while hinted around vaguely, doesn’t even start until over half-way through the book. Instead, we have increasingly larger dashes of characters and various bits of community minutiae that, while they do flesh out the cast of characters more and more, passes the point of ‘informative’ to ‘overload’. While having extensively characterized, er, characters is a good thing, characterization is just another ingredient in the recipe. It has to be balanced in the right proportions with the other ingredients, not piled on to the degree that it overpowers the meal.
What I’m trying to say is that the characterization could have been slimmed down a fair bit and not hurt the plot or the depth of character at all, while making the entire story flow much better. This early bloat also leads to a certain mood and thematic whiplash, especially when the extent of the tragedy is finally revealed. What seems to be building to a story about dramatic and familial tensions turns into something far darker and more extensive when the other shoe finally drops.
The final little niggle, not enough to take a mark off but worth mentioning, is that the recipe over all needs a good polish and edit. Perhaps it’s just this Starving Reviewer’s occasional OCD urges but it is distracting from the narrative when I feel the need to grab a red pen on every single page, even with my own imperfect grammar.
What this wraps up into is that The Last Gathering is a meal with a very solid concept that falls apart under its dense, excessive exposition. As with most of the meals that I have problems getting down, there is a strong spark of potential here and there is a story very much worth telling in the filling of this pie; it’s just hidden under a lot of dense crust. Given a bit of time back in the kitchen with a more balanced recipe, Mr. Monfort could turn this into a real wonder. Until then, though, it is what it is, despite its potential.
FINAL VERDICT: ** (A good filling at its heart, but way too thick of a crust to get there!)