Review: "Don Juan in Hankey, PA" by Gale Martin

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Wednesday, February 29, 2012

At January's Prose in Pubs, Gale Martin read from her recently published book Don Juan in Hankey, PA. That night, she elicited boisterous laughter and applause from her all-too hysterical characterization of Leandro Vasquez, the chauvinistic gaucho-turned-opera-star and hope of  the floundering Hankey opera house.

As Martin read, I was rolling with every instance of humor and wit. It was unfortunate, then, when the book did not live up to my expectations.

There is a great story within Don Juan and some incredibly interesting characters, but the problems I encountered with the book detracted so much from the good that I found it hard to read at points and, at other times, slow and plodding.

What I believe suffers Don Juan the most is premature publishing. It seems that very little time was spent revising and editing the manuscript to tighten it up. Just when the flow of the story becomes comfortable and you settle into the world of Hankey and its opera house misfits, the writing becomes profuse. Martin has a tendency, throughout the book, to over-explain for the reader. A small example:

"He's a major talent," Oriane said brightly, like a piccolo introducing a lively motif to advance the drama at a faster pace." (p.72)
Describing Oriane's voice by comparing it to the piccolo could have been beautiful. A perfect image of the small, chirping voice I had already imagined the character to posses. Instead, the image is smudged with direct instructions of what a piccolo does. This is the type of writing which constantly pulled me from the pages and the world of Hankey. I kept asking myself, "Why did she tell me this?"

For me, the overwriting outweighed my enjoyment of the book. It had me skimming at times, something I've rarely done. There were also a few discrepencies in the story line which confused me, prompting a reread of certain areas to see if I had, initially, read them wrong. Again, it is simply due to the fact that things were not tightened up prior to publishing and this, for me, significantly tarnished the novel for me.

It's not that I experienced no enjoyment while reading Don Juan. On the contrary. If you clean away the loose passages and overwriting, you're left with a good story which lends wit and whimsy to the world of opera, a form of art and expression more often associated with stuffy, upperclass blue-hairs. Martin's characters are all interesting in their own regard and you get quite a sense of who they are without the extra explanations throughout.

Simply put, I wanted to really enjoy Don Juan. I wanted to laugh through the entire book. I thought I would be following Martin's reading at Prose in Pubs. But it just fell short. And disappointingly so.

There are laughs. There are great passages throughout the book and the premise of the story is a great one (though I could do without the ghost angle) and, for that, I congratulate Gale Martin. Hindsight is 20/20 and suggesting to tighten up the manuscript is a bit of a moot point now, but it's what I wish Martin had done.

Maybe I should simply place a significant burden of blame on Toddie Downs's editing, or lack there of. Here's to hoping that Ms. Martin will find an alternate editor for her planned follow up to Don Juan, Ms. Manon in Hankey, PA.

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Don Juan in Hankey, PA is available in both paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com. You can read more about Gale Martin at galemartin.me.

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