1 out of 4 stars
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Guardian of Deceit, a novel by William H. Coles, centers around the life of Darwin Hastings, a 17-year-old medical school hopeful. Orphaned as a child, Darwin was staying with his aunt in Philadelphia until her most recent medical diagnosis upended both of their lives. With nowhere else to go, he was forced to move to New York and live with his wealthy cousin Luther Pinneli. This “luxurious” lifestyle was anything but what it seems, however. After becoming Luther’s personal assistant, Darwin struggles with trying to juggle his tedious medical school agenda with his eventful social life and Luther’s relentless demands. This is a journey of discovery, love, and morality that will leave readers pondering its lessons long after the novel has been finished.
First off, I was slightly skeptical to pick up this novel after having read the blurb. It appeared to be more of an incoherent conglomerate of random events and people than it did an actual story. The only reason why I pushed past my feelings of uneasiness was because of the implication that the storyline was supposedly centered around a young man’s search for love, a concept that I adore. Now that I’ve finished the novel, however, I can honestly say that my initial skepticism was completely justified. Only a mere handful of pages into the story, I found myself constantly rolling my eyes in annoyance, or rubbing my temples in frustration, with how the characters and scenes were being depicted. It seemed as if the author was trying to establish the exposition by cramming in as much background information as he possibly could in between paragraphs. While I understood the reasoning, the placement of these bits of information disrupted the flow of the dialogue and translated into really abrupt and awkward diction.
In addition to this, the more structural aspects of the novel were quite interesting as well. There were several paragraph indentations that didn’t really make much sense to me. Usually, I assume that such indentations serve to indicate a change in narrative, scene, time, etc. but in this novel, that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes it just seemed as if the indentations were simply separating a complete thought, which resulted in me being confused and disconnected from the story. This, in conjunction with the multitude of controversial and sensitive themes that were discussed—murder, race, virginity, molestation, sexual abuse, physical abuse, malpractice, exhibitionism, sexuality, etc.—made it difficult to keep track of what the main focus was supposed to be. (I would love to get into specifics, but for the sake of not revealing any spoilers, I will refrain from doing so here.) While I give the author credit for attempting to tackle so many complex topics at once, I felt as if the storylines were extremely underdeveloped as a result. Rather than being treated as passages that were supposed to evoke empathy in the reader, it felt like these scenes were presented in order to increase the amount of scandal. More often than not, the writing was quick, brief and uncomfortable, and failed to allow the reader to develop any sort of real connection with the characters.
Speaking of characters, I would like to discuss the protagonist, Darwin. My most pressing problem with him was that he was very inconsistent. Throughout the novel, he constantly went back and forth between being this confident, assertive individual, to being this meek man who seemingly couldn’t stand up for himself. There was one spot in the book, though, that was a nice change of pace. It felt more flushed out and relaxed than other parts of the novel. It was a scene with Darwin and Helen where they were conversing about the differences between love and lust in relationships. This was, without a doubt, my favorite part of the novel. For once, I felt like I actually got to see a glimpse into the personalities of the characters, and they became more human to me. This was a stark contrast to the many other characters in the novel who seemed to serve more as stereotypical depictions, rather than as actual people. The most prominent example of this can be seen through the actions of the women. I had such a strong negative reaction to how every single female character was presented in this novel. Either I was irritated with their lack of self-confidence or incredibly bothered by their blatantly rude disposition. It was such a turn off for me that I, quite honestly, almost stopped reading the book after the first couple of chapters. I also was extremely frustrated with Luther’s character as well. He was written as this illiterate, famous athlete who not only had zero respect for women but constantly manipulated those around him into indirectly supporting his terrible habits. It just didn’t seem necessary to me.
Whether or not Coles intended to create this novel as a satirical representation of the influence of stereotypes is beyond me. If that was his intention then I, again, give him credit for trying to tackle so many different themes in one novel. However, I felt that the overall execution was not as effective as it could’ve been and thus detracted from the messages that the novel was trying to convey. For those who like binge-watching drama shows where the conflicts just seem to disappear rather than resolve, this might be a book you’d enjoy. If that’s not really your cup of tea, or you prefer more developed and intriguing stories, then I probably wouldn’t recommend this novel to you. One thing I can definitely say with confidence, though, is that this book was anything but predictable. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t something I could relate very much to, so I’d have to rate it a total of 1 out of 4 stars.
Guardian of Deceit
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