Phosphorus


Phosphorus

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

After finishing this book, I can tell what it was going for, and the idea could work, but I can’t say it worked here for various reasons. For a brief summary, Oscar is a normal guy with a wife and two kids. He wakes up, is told he was in a coma and that his family is dead, and he keeps falling asleep and switching where he is. Sometimes he wakes up with his wife and kids, sometimes he wakes up in a strange world with a man named ‘Balder’ who claims that he’s an old friend, and that Oscar had an accident and has just woken up.

That could be a compelling story, but there are several problems that get in the way. The first thing that struck me was the writing style. There are errors, but I’m talking more about how trains of thought inside the text don’t add up with each other, and it makes it confusing.

“I don’t know how to put this, so I guess it’s better to just get it out…Lizzie and the kids – they’re gone. They couldn’t handle the grief after your accident – nobody has seen them since.”
“What are you suggesting? Are you suggesting my family are dead? …”

If this continued on and he had misinterpretted what was said, I would have written it off as Oscar being confused because he just came out of a coma. However, Balder’s reply is this:

“I’m sorry I had to break it to you this way, but that’s the hand you’ve been dealt my friend. I can’t express how sorry I am for you.”

So, a couple things about this. When I read what Balder said about the family, he mentions not having seen them since, and them not being able to handle the grief. To me that suggests that they simply left, not that they’re dead. If they’re dead there’s no reason to say they haven’t been seen. He would know they haven’t been seen because they’re buried. Nothing about the statement says, “They’re dead” to me. But not only does Oscar jump to that conclusion, but he’s also right. I have no idea how his family died. My best guesses are that they all died from grief, or a plane landed on them while they were leaving.

This also had no impact for me. After pages of Oscar waking up, this information is dumped very quickly. I’ve never seen these characters, and they haven’t been built up. He goes into a long paragraph about how he can’t believe they’re dead that just doesn’t work. People don’t generally say things like, “I will see her glistening smile” or “I will touch her soft skin and kiss her once more”, and there’s nothing about the way he speaks later that suggests he has an eccentric way of talking. This is how someone tries to write a nice sentence, not how someone speaks, and it feels that way when I read it.

These are problems that continue throughout the book. People don’t react in normal ways, everyone talks oddly and the focus goes on the strange things. When we do meet his wife, his sandwich gets more of a description than she does. The narrative even jumps from third to first person, which should be deleted:

She was certainly less than average looking I suppose you could say.

Oscar breaks the alarm clock and his wife gets really mad about this. I know it could be inconvenient to lose an alarm clock, and if you’re tight on money it sucks to have to buy a new one, but they’re not all that expensive. They never sounded so strapped for cash that they couldn’t afford little things.

She doesn’t talk like a person, either. Here’s what she says about the broken alarm clock.

“What is wrong with you? Now I must go and buy another.”

It sounds so unnatural. Unless the clock had sentimental value attached to it, I don’t get why she’s so mad about it. And the book never says there’s anything special about it.

This leads to another problem. The characters not being likable. I found myself agreeing with most everyone but Oscar. Oscar goes to work late, complains about his younger co-worker and how she’s mean to him. But, at the same time, she not only showed up to work on time but got everything ready. In this scenario she’s completely in the right. She’s there doing her job, and even though he’s only a few minutes late, he’s still late.

It’s really hard to figure out some things about this book because it’s full of holes. He works at a tiny coffee shop, where the only employees we see are Oscar, Ruby, and their boss, Kevin. Oscar is a few minutes late and this upsets Kevin enough to immediately send him home. He sends him home the next day, too, for being late. Can their business really afford to send employees home for the entire day because they were a few minutes late? It’s certainly something a boss should reprimand an employee for, but this seems like overkill.

On top of that, this entire book takes place over the course of about three days. We learn that Kevin had been planning on promoting Oscar because of what a great job he did. He’s a little late twice. And for that Kevin fires him. I can see why he would re-consider promoting him, but fire him? How extreme his reaction is suggests that this isn’t the only issue Oscar has ever had, but the fact that he was going to promote Oscar for doing so great suggests that Oscar has been a model employee and then had a somewhat bad couple of days. Who would fire an employee who has done an amazing job that quickly?

This book is too short for that kind of reaction. If it went on longer, and this was happening over weeks, I can definitely see a boss tiring of it and seeing that it’s a pattern. Two days could mean anything. For all he knows the guy just lost someone or hasn’t been feeling well. It’s too soon to take such an extreme turn on how he views an employee – particularly for doing something that is bad, but certainly not unforgivable.

Then there’s Oscar. When he first wakes up and is told he was in a coma, and learns his family is dead, he almost immediately just goes back to sleep. He sees mechanical animals and flying pigs, and only somewhat asks anything about it. For example, he learns about pigs because he feels like eating bacon, not because he asks about the weird animals. It’s frustrating waiting for him to ask about obvious things, and instead he’ll stay quiet, follow Balder, then fall asleep somewhere.

I couldn’t like him. He complains about Ruby using her looks to try and get the promotion, and yet she’s there early getting work done and she works hard. I agreed with her character more than his even though she’s supposed to be bad. He goes to work late, and when he gets sent home for some reason he drinks and falls asleep, and that’s mostly what we see of him. He doesn’t pick up after himself or get anything done. He does very little, so it’s no wonder his wife is mad.

His wife does nonsensical things too, though. I can see why she would be upset, but when she’s worried that her husband might lose his job, and they need him to have that job because they have two kids to support, it isn’t the time to let him sleep in because she’s upset. Be upset, but kick him until he wakes up and goes to work so that your kids have financial stability.

Just like with his boss, she gets angry at him very fast. If this is the first time he’s been late to work and had issues, I’d expect more sympathy. Instead she acts like this is what he always does and she’s fed up, but other things suggest he’s been fine and this is unusual for him. She even implies that he’s not like the man she married anymore. It’s been two days. Why are people having this much of a reaction to tiny little things over the course of two days?

Even when he’s in the ‘other world’, Balder doesn’t make sense many times. At one point he complains:

“Oscar, you’ve been having mad dreams lately – you keep on like I should know them all inside out – like I was really there. It’s all absurd. Just your imagination I’m afraid.”

I don’t remember if Oscar even mentioned his dreams to him before this, but if he did, it wasn’t to the extent that warranted this response. My response was, “Wait, he’s barely talked to you. Did he even mention his dreams?”

Later he says:

“It’s not as if you haven’t seen it all before. We’ve been friends for some time now. There’s nothing I could show you to shock you that you wouldn’t have already seen before…”

He says this to a man who has woken up from a coma, whom he knows has amnesia, who was just shocked by what he saw. Why would he say this? It makes no sense for him to tell the person suffering from amnesia who was just shocked by what he saw that he’s seen it before and nothing he can do can shock him.

To top it off, when Oscar does get fired for being slightly late two days in a row, he throws coffee at and punches Ruby for some reason. Ruby is probably the only likable character in the book. She shows up to work and does what she’s supposed to do.

In the end he jumps off a bridge, and it ends with him seemingly waking up, suggesting that the ‘accident’ that put him in the coma was jumping off the bridge. This doesn’t explain where he met Balder if he didn’t know him when his wife and kids were alive, and he’s been in a coma the entire time. It just didn’t fit together.

Sidenotes were also in the middle of sentences.

He remembered that for all the joy he was experienced (confusion aside) that…

…and hurried (as quickly as he could) home.

Plus there was one particular thing that confused me.

He was beginning to wonder if now might be a good time to book a one-way flight to Switzerland. He’d much rather lose his body than his mind.

Wait. Are people in Switzerland losing their bodies? I don’t know if this is a reference to something, but I’m confused.

I get what the book wanted to do. A guy is going back and forth between two lives, gets pushed over the edge and ends up causing his own accident and putting himself in the coma. But it escalated too fast over very little. There was no reason for the characters to have such extreme reactions to such small problems. Too much time is spent on the wrong things. There’s pages dedicated to the main character waking up, then almost no time spent on the fact that he just learned his family is dead. He just goes back to sleep. It doesn’t add up in the end.

It’s disjointed and the way none of the characters feel natural makes it awkward. The idea could work, but it would really need to be fixed up. This feels like a rough draft of a script, where the author has gone back and changed his mind about several things, but hasn’t updated the rest of the script yet to match up with the changes. I would suggest the author re-read it a few times and do some re-writes, making sure the facts in the story match, taking out notes from the middle of the text, and possibly speaking the dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds like something a person would say. It would also help to make character reactions more reasonable. If Oscar is only going to make small mistakes, then the book should probably be longer in order to explain why the other characters are tired of him.

I give it a 3/10.

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