One of the great joys of the self-publishing boom enabled by Amazon and their like is that anyone and everyone can publish a book. But the downside, as reviewers will tell you, is that people often don’t realize that there’s more to a book than just writing it. Yes, you may have a good story, but books need polishing – they need editing, shaping, and crafting, to let the story really work.
Which brings me to Stephanie Boddy’s Aviophobia, which takes an okay enough story, but falls apart under some painfully bad writing that should have been edited out by a professional. (Boddy thanks an editor in her acknowledgments, which is a bit baffling; this book feels as though no one has looked at it before getting it out there.) There are plentiful misspelled words (“decent” instead of “descent” is maybe the most common one that stuck with me, although the chapter that ends with the dramatic phrase “We have too” instead of “We have to” confused me for far too long); if that’s not enough, there are some run-ons, comma splices, and even a slew of dangling modifiers (my favorite, from page 95: “Skipping breakfast the morning before the flight, which was now more than twenty-four hours ago, her stomach growled.”), all of which combine to make the book frustrating and sometimes incomprehensible.
More than that, there’s even weird structural issues – for instance, the opening chapter cuts between multiple perspectives, only to leave them all behind after the first chapter and never go back to them again, instead suddenly focusing on one character. There’s a marriage in a state of flux that’s never entirely satisfactorily explained, strange emotional reactions, and just plain confusing segments that feel disconnected from the novel as a whole. (For instance, there’s a scene where our main character goes to bed next to what she assumes is her husband; the narrator tells us that her husband actually comes to bed later, after the other figure leaves…and this scene is never explained or followed up on.)
And that’s a shame, because Boddy’s story isn’t that bad, following a small group of people who find themselves left behind on a plane where most of the passengers disappear. From there, Boddy lets them off the plane and into a strange world that feels mostly deserted, and perhaps haunted by shadowy figures they keep catching glimpses of. There are some nicely moody moments here and there, and Boddy has a nice sense of how to build tension around the appearance of her creatures. But if you’re suspecting that you know where this is going, well, you’re probably right; Boddy’s story goes in exactly the way loads of stories before it have gone, and doesn’t bring much new to the table that we haven’t seen before. (More than that, she ends up with a story that doesn’t always make much sense, and seems a bit silly by the end of it all.)
There’s an okay book somewhere in Aviophobia, with some interesting ideas here and there, a character arc that has some promise, and a few nicely used scares. But the bad writing is overwhelming, the grammar problems ubiquitous, and the book just generally in need of an editor to come along to shape this into something more successful.