Far Arden

By | Monday, May 19, 2008 Leave a Comment
I read Far Arden on my (slightly extended) lunch hour today, and I've been trying to think of a good hook to hang a review around. My first drafts had references ranging from Jack Kirby to The Mosquito Coast to Mummenschanz. But nothing really seemed to fit as a reasonable analogy to Kevin Cannon's book.

See, the problem is that Far Arden doesn't lend itself to comparison very easily. That's why I started by trying to make connections to other works which don't compare well to anything else. Seriously, how do you tell someone about Mummenschanz? Believe me, I've tried many times and I always break down and just show them a video.

"OK, they've got these mask made out of clay. And... Here, just watch this."

Here's another one: try explaining Andy Kaufman. Not possible.

In Far Arden, there's this story about a guy named Army Shanks and he's sort of a pirate, but not really. And he killed his nephew's dad. Sort of. But his nephew doesn't really know about this until he's made into a fox-boy. And Shank's love interest, who causes no end of consternation for his ex-wife, is actually an unwitting assistant and faux girlfriend of a hapless agent of his long-time nemesis. And there's a treasure map that doesn't lead to treasure. Which is fine since it gets destroyed anyway. So they all follow a golden narwhal instead, and everybody who was dead no longer is. Except they are, and they help to kill everybody else. Except Shanks because he was using an oxygen tank after being pulled from the deathMRI. Oh, and a circus performer named Anger wrestles a polar bear.

Now, most of you would read that and say, "What the effin' 'el is he talking about?" And those of you who have read it already are just nodding and saying, "Yeah, that's pretty much the gist of it."

See what I meant about trying to explain the unexplainable?

Now, as crazy as this sounds, the story makes complete sense as you're reading it. Which, given the overall storyline, is pretty impressive in and of itself. But Cannon goes for extra credit by following everybody's stories more-or-less simultaneously, which leads to a lot of scene changes. And he manages to pull it off so expertly that, even with all these storytelling challenges in his way, he's deftly breezes through all of them and lets the reader become immersed in the tale. I was well over half-way through the book before I even began to realize just how elegant and unobtrusive all the storytelling elements were; that's how well they were executed.

The character of Army Shanks is a one that readers can really sink their teeth into, I feel. At no point does he come across as a cliche or some sort of amalgam of other character archetypes you're familiar with. He very much seems like a real individual with a multi-faceted personality. He's a man with all the personality conflicts and defects and emotional confusion that make us human. And even when he surprises you by bringing a dead fish to a party at the governor's palace, it doesn't seem at all out of character. The other characters, for the most part, are all also real with their own conflicts and confusion.

The story, in its entire 378-pages, is posted on Cannon's web site for free. I understand, though, that he's looking for an established publisher, but has in the meantime printed 100 copies himself which, I believe, he's still selling for $20 a pop. It's a very nice package, and well worth that, I think. Do yourself a favor and take some time to read this. And do Cannon a favor by buying a printed copy of it.
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