First things first; I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve tried writing this review several times. Starting, reading and deciding I was being too harsh then beginning again only to decide I was being too lenient. A Thousand Miles to Nowhere was a difficult book to get through, not as difficult as many, but certainly not the gripping read I would have expected from a apocalyptic book of survival.
Let me start with what I liked about the book. Author David Curfiss has a good handle on dialogue and for the most part the exchanges flows back and forth between the characters without too much of a hitch, even presenting what could have been uneven bits of verbal exposition without it feeling too contrived and the characters themselves are a broad enough group and portrayed as nicely distinct from one another.
The story carries a rather large group of protagonists so keeping each with a distinct voice and character illustrates that Curfuss seemed to have a good handle on who they were and had done some good work not allowing them to infringe on each others territory.
Personally I tend not to like large casts so this was something I appreciated greatly, never did I get confused between characters with superficially similar characteristics or get myself muddled as to each of their motivations or reactions. This made the journey a far more pleasant one than it might have been without such careful effort.
Scene settings were also equally well conceived, not bogging down the pace with unnecessary description or geographical scene-setting and relying instead on the characters themselves to provide understanding of the surrounding through their actions. I tend to appreciate nicely detailed descriptions of the world the characters inhabit, but I didn’t miss this while working my way through A Thousand Miles to Nowhere, which I think illustrates that Curfuss managed to provide what was necessary for me to get what I needed without me noticing his scene-setting frugality in the process.
Unfortunately for me it wasn’t all good.
There is a difference between showing a characters emotional side and allowing them to wallow and whine in it; and for me A Thousand Miles to Nowhere allows just that. I quickly became tired of hearing the lead character blame himself for things that were not even remotely his fault. He appeared to be a character living in the distant past of an emotional child rather than a hard-nosed soldier of the future; this made me wonder why anyone would listen to his guidance, I don’t think I would.
Ultimately the characters inner-world wasn’t interesting enough to offset the meandering storyline. Either A Thousand Miles to Nowhere needed to have a stronger story or it needed a stronger internal narrative for its lead. I’ve read many novels where the story was entirely character led, novels with little or no plot which relied solely on the fascination the reader had with the protagonists (or antagonists); and in truth this my favourite approach. But the lead of A Thousand Miles to Nowhere spends all his ruminating on self-recrimination, hate or a personal death wish and none on the varied and obviously positive values of those around him, even when one of his friends reveals they are pregnant our hero shows no interest.
If I were trapped in a hellish future with this man I’d take the first opportunity to put a bullet in his head, not out of hatred or irritation of his self-obsession, but because it would ultimately be a kindness to all concerned. This is what – for me at least – led to the books failure in spite of the many achievements of its author, as its hard to get past the simple fact that I wanted the lead character to die almost as soon as I met him.
Would I read something else by David Curfiss? Yeah, I think I probably would because, in my view at least, the prose he produces is pretty good taken line-by-line and if he hadn’t concerned himself with the inner-emotions of his characters (or produced inner-emotions that weren’t so defeatist and self-obsessed) he would’ve probably produced a book I would’ve enjoyed quite a lot.
It seems to me that a book has to concern itself with plot-driven story or character-driven story, and if its plot-driven you need a compelling plot and if its character-driven its needs compelling characters. Unfortunately, in my opinion at least, A Thousand Miles to Nowhere has neither.
Please bear in mind that my opinion seems to be in the (vast) minority on this one, so there’s a good chance I am simply not “getting it”; so I guess if the reviews you read interest you then you should find a copy and see for yourself, which – in truth – I would always think would be the correct course of action.
I mean; the only review that matters is your own, and the only person who knows what you might like or not is you. So if you got this far in my review you should probably see for yourself, you wouldn’t want to miss out on your next favourite author if I’m wrong would you?