Matt Forney
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A Thousand Tiny Failures by Tony D.

thousand-tiny-failuresIt really hurts having to pan books like A Thousand Tiny Failures, but I don’t have a choice.

Tony D. sent me a review copy of this novel, his fiction debut, a couple months back. The Amazon description describes the book as “based on a true story”: it revolves around Sebastian, a schlub with gynecomastia who turns his life around by becoming a pick-up artist. It has all the ingredients for a good story: pointless sex, drug abuse and brutal introspection.

But none of the ingredients mesh.

It makes me feel like a jerk giving a poor review to a book I got for free, particularly from someone in this part of the Internet, but I have to call them like I see them. A Thousand Tiny Failures shows a lot of promise but ultimately falls short due to poor prose and weak storytelling. Since it’s Tony’s first novel, I’m grading it on a curve: if he takes these criticisms to heart, he may well be able to put together something truly great on his second try.

The primary problem with A Thousand Tiny Failures is the same one that afflicts the other writers of what I’m calling the “Vancouver school” of fiction, Robert Donlak and Jason Bryan. Donlak, Bryan and Tony all hail from Vancouver and their novels all have thematic similarities, revolving around partying, sex and dealing with existential ennui. And unfortunately, all of their novels have the same basic flaws:

There would be about one boyfriend every two or four years. That was the cycle. My mom would keep them around until they screwed up, acted possessive, or drank too much. I liked all of them. They taught me cool things like how to shoot guns, ride motorcycles, play guitar, chop wood, slay furry animals… that sort of stuff. She always liked the bad boys. They were long haul truck drivers, Harley Davidson enthusiasts, rodeo cowboys, street fighting champs, big game hunters, and Vietnam war vets. So it’s surprising I ended up so… nice. Remember this when talking to a kid: they watch, they learn, and then they forget. So your words and actions become their minds… their twisted little identities.

That’s the central problem with A Thousand Tiny Failures: too much monologuing. Instead of showing us the wretchedness of Sebastian’s life, Tony tells us in lengthy diatribes that sound like a botched collaboration between Holden Caulfield and Sam Kinison. The book comes off as incredibly didactic and preachy as Sebastian all but lectures us on the sanctity of the PUA lifestyle.

This is the inherent problem with didactic literature: nobody wants to be preached to. If you write a novel for the purpose of espousing a particular viewpoint or philosophy, it’s going to suck because you’ll end up gelding the story and characters to fit into your ideological box. For example, the reason why Atlas Shrugged is mocked is because it has no nuance to its characters: Rand’s heroes are flawless Übermenschen while her villains are impossibly corrupt fools.

A good story is more complex than “I’m awesome and all my enemies are big DOO-DOO HEADS!”

A Thousand Tiny Failures is also robbed of dramatic impact by its poor pacing. Tony constantly rushes you from point A to point B, denying his protagonist the ability to engender pathos in the reader. For example, the first chapter of the book repeatedly mentions Sebastian’s bitch tits and how they hurt his confidence and ability to talk to girls. You’d figure that per Chekhov’s Gun, this plot element would be revisited later on and play a role in the book’s later acts. But at the end of the first chapter, Tony tosses Sebastian’s man-boobs in the trash (literally) and doesn’t mention them ever again:

I bought a ticket to see a surgeon in Toronto, waited an agonizing month, flew there, and got my tits removed. That was it. The doctor anesthetized me and in twenty minutes had sliced out the swollen glands. He kept them in a mason jar and asked me if I wanted them.

“Uhhh, no, thanks,” I said.

The same pattern persists throughout the rest of the novel: Tony introduces countless plot elements only to discard them several pages (or chapters) later. Combined with his constant violation of the show-don’t-tell principle of storytelling, it’s almost impossible to get into the story. A novel like A Thousand Tiny Failures should immerse the reader like a convert in the baptismal font: make you feel sad when Sebastian fails, cheer when he succeeds, and otherwise get you emotionally invested in his story.

Without that investment, you’re basically just reading a bunch of gussied-up lay reports.

There are a few redeeming aspects to A Thousand Tiny Failures: Tony has a good sense of humor, and his quips had me chuckling every few pages. There are also some hilarious chapters which hit you with the gravitas of a man who’s seen and done a lot of crazy shit. But as a whole, A Thousand Tiny Failures is itself a failure: a noble failure but a failure nonetheless. That said, if Tony learns what he did wrong with this book, his next one might be something remarkable.

Click here to buy A Thousand Tiny Failures.

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  • Guest

    “a botched collaboration between Holden Caulfield and Sam Kinison.”

    That sounds pretty scary.

  • Guest

    I agree. Thanks Matt.