Michelle Levigne

A recovering Trekker and Cleveland Indians fan, Michelle Levigne works full-time as a freelance editor. Current projects include the upcoming print version of her SF series, “The Chorillan Cycle,” from OakTara, Arthurian fantasy, “The Zygradon Chronicles,” at Uncial Press, and the YA fantasy series “The Hunt,” at Writers Exchange, Australia. Heavy influences in her life include Bill Cosby, Isaac Airfreight, and Marvel Comics. Website: www.Mlevigne.com.

Head-Hopping Is No Thriller

No Time for Goodbye
by Linwood Barclay

We’ve all had this dream in one form or another:

After something traumatic happens, you run away to either drown your sorrows in chocolate or take a long nap— or in the case of Cynthia Bigge, sleep off an underage drinking bout. When you wake up/come back, the witnesses to your trauma are gone. They’ve been erased, like those electronic copies of 1984 that Amazon quietly snatched from people’s Kindles without any warning.

For some of us, that would be a dream come true! For Cynthia, however, it is terrifying. Not so swift on the uptake (hangover), she wanders through the house and sees all the beds neatly made, no breakfast mess in the kitchen, the cars gone, and no gently scolding note from her mother—nothing. She keeps making excuses for why things aren’t the way they should be.

Up to this point, I can let the story carry me along and accept what’s going on, but, gee, if I were Cynthia, I would have gotten suspicious a little sooner. Of course, I wouldn’t have gone out drinking with an older guy when I told my parents I was studying with my friend. And granted, Cynthia is hungover.

Here, the story falls apart for me. Cynthia heads off to school, figuring her brother is there already, and he can tell her what kind of trouble she’s in—her brain is still fuzzy. As she walks, she thinks about what happened last night . . . and she recalls that her mother called her best friend’s house, where she was supposed to be studying, and remembers the phone conversation her mother had.

That was when Cynthia’s father grabbed the faded fedora hat he never went anywhere without, got in his Dodge, and started driving around the neighborhood, looking for her. He suspected she might be with that Vince Fleming boy, the seventeen-year-old from the eleventh grade, the one who had his license, who drove around in a rusted red 1970 Mustang.

Excuse me? Does anyone else see the problem here? We start the book in Cynthia’s head in “the morning after,” then as she’s walking to school, we get into the thoughts and actions from ten or twelve hours ago of people who are missing.

When Cynthia got home, after being yanked out of her boyfriend’s car, she shouted at her parents and went up to her room—no chance to sit down and say, “Oh, by the way, Mom and Dad, what were you thinking and doing when you realized I lied to you?” So how would she know?

This isn’t a Sci-fi movie about some hive mentality that lets you go back and see what somebody else thought and felt ten hours ago. Because if it were, the mystery would be solved. End of story.

I can understand people head-hopping from the mind of one person to another in the same scene. But, honey, I’ve never heard of head-hopping where you also had to time-travel. Sorry, major klank moment. Writing teachers and editors tell newbie writers never to head-hop, and some publishers’ guidelines say not to head-hop—one POV per scene, please. But the really big name writers can get away with it, and they do it quite skillfully so you don’t stub your toe, metaphorically speaking, and stop and think, “We’re in Scarlett’s head, but a minute ago we were in Rhett’s. What happened?”

What, my little novices may be asking, is POV (point of view)? You’ve watched M*A*S*H, right? In one episode, the camera is a wounded soldier—you see everything he would, the doctors and nurses talk directly to the camera. That is POV. You are in the story—and you’d be danged confused if suddenly the camera spun around and continued the scene through the eyes of a nurse standing behind the doctor talking to “you.” (Or, in some really weird fiction, you become the rat sitting under the cot.) That is head-hopping. If you want to switch to the nurse’s POV (or the rat’s), first close the scene you’re in.

The next chapter jumps ahead a few years. Cynthia is grown up, married, and the subject of a Cold Case–type TV show. Only now we’re in her husband’s POV. The rest of the book will be told through his eyes.

The following chapter retells the courtship of the narrator and Cynthia. Time-travel again. Feel a little dizzy getting yanked around from year to year and POV to POV?

Finally, in chapter five, we get a snippet of information about Cynthia’s parents, which leads me to believe her father was probably in Witness Protection or a former spy/government agent, and that’s why the family disappeared. Doesn’t explain why Cynthia got left behind—I think the author wants you to believe the juvenile delinquent boyfriend had something to do with it, which is why I don’t choose that option. Then, we settle into the present and get on with the story, and we’re going to find out—according to the blurb on the back of the book—that someone doesn’t want Cynthia digging into the past. Supposedly that threat is what makes this a thriller.

After the big klank and time-travel moments at the beginning of the book, how many people will finish the book and find out? Not me. I got as far as the travails of the narrator as a creative writing teacher. The fourth time I thought, “Get on with the mystery!” I decided to give up. I have too many other books waiting to be read or written. Knock me out of the flow of the story too many times, and I’m going to give up and go read something else. How about you?