It’s that time again for one of my book reviews for the Popsugar Book Challenge. After my last review, I was approached by an author, Ann Benjamin, who asked me to review her novel, Room 702. I thought it was a great idea to include a self-published author in my list. As a struggling writer, I feel it’s important to support new authors, so I opted for Room 702 to be my “book with a number in the title”.
This book presented an intriguing concept. Our perspective on the story is from a single hotel room as various people move through it. This brings us many characters and stories; some of which intertwine and develop while others will only appear in isolated flashes.
The book starts off with an unfortunate and overly detailed description of the hotel room that reads like a giant advertising brochure. There are pages and pages of unnecessary detail—even down to the brands of toiletries. These all basically just tell us that this is a super-fancy pants hotel suite in a super fancy pants hotel. As readers, we’re going to spend over 300 pages in Room 702, so there will be many opportunities to describe the bedspread or the mini bar. A shorter, simpler description could have described the luxury in a more compelling way.
We get introduced to a lot of characters and stories, some are successful, many are not, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why some storylines receive more attention and others don’t. My favorite was one of the smallest, where a gay couple is supposed to have a romantic weekend and instead get ill together. It’s a short flash, but the dialogue and scenario felt far more authentic than some of the recurring stories like the NBA basketball player who receives counseling.
Unfortunately, the unique construct of the book is what ultimately makes it unsuccessful. It tries to be too many things all at the same time – quirky romance novel, spy thriller, ghost story, and literary drama. To make the ordinary moments more compelling you need super tight dialogue and a knack for lovely prose and while Benjamin’s writing is satisfactory it doesn’t have the heft to make those quiet moments sparkle. And because we are constantly being introduced to new characters, there is a ton of exposition which slows the book down. With this type of setup, the characters need to shine through actions and dialogue otherwise we’re reading page after page of backstory.
After reading through the many different types of stories, I felt that the author was most at home with the more romantic exchanges (particularly the lighthearted and comical ones). In my opinion, this is where the writing and story seem to have the best flow and I’d love to see Ms. Benjamin focus on that type of tone.
I appreciate the level of effort that went into this book and I think Ms. Benjamin had a wonderful concept that just needed a lot of editing and revision. I commend her for attempting a book that would be difficult for even the most experienced and talented of writers to successfully complete.
Don’t let a unique concept or idea hold your writing hostage.
As a writer, you’ll be struck by great moments of inspiration that push you to do things like write your entire story in 2nd person or decide that having 10 different first person narrators will be awesome. You have to temper that unique idea with staying true to your characters and your story. Sometimes those great, wonderful ideas can hold you back and no matter how amazing they *could* have been, or how much time you spent fleshing them out, you just have to let them go.
Because of the myriad of characters and stories, it was too hard to find a quote that felt like it jumped out at me. So instead, I’m going to grab one from Robert Browning that highlights the great aspirations of this book. “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
If you’re looking for another book with a number in the title and a unique construct try Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.
So what are you currently reading for the Popsugar Book Challenge?