ApartFrom by Constance A. Dunn

Ms. Dunn’s book follows three people struggling with their regrets. They rapidly lose touch with reality, and the results are predictably tragic. The author does a good job of setting the mood, but the balance between the philosophical and narrative elements of the novella is uneven. The supernatural elements only serve to confuse things, and too many long sentences of questionable grammatical merit don’t help. What could have been a fascinating study of one aspect of human emotion is instead a vaguely disturbing series of inexplicable events that aren’t particularly gripping.

First, the novella is more concerned with presenting the philosophical angst of the characters than it is with telling a story. What matters here is how they feel, the hints the reader is given as to why they feel that way, and the submission to their own despair that is the ultimate result. I enjoyed how writer gave just enough information to communicate what was wrong with these individuals, but otherwise the narrative was weak. There was no natural progression between events, and the characters had little or no agency. They felt more like pawns on a chessboard the author was using to make a point than actual people.

Second, there are too many strange things going on in the book that have absolutely no explanation. Now, this sort of thing certainly appeals to some readers, but I quickly lose interest when I realize it’s going to be impossible for me to determine why things are happening in any given scenario. It’s why I just trust physicists when they say that I’m not going to fly off the face of the Earth rather than enquiring into the matter myself. The supernatural elements in this book are just forces of nature shoving the characters towards their inevitable dooms, but they’re so amorphous that it’s impossible to develop a sense of dread or anticipation. Because of that, the strange happenings only serve to confuse things and dilute the point the author was trying to make.

Finally, there are issues with the writing itself, one that every single author bumps into at some point in their careers. The first is that there are too many run on or otherwise grammatically incorrect sentences. The second is that the author focuses so much on describing things that I got a great picture of the tiny details but could never get the gist of the characters or the world as a whole. Periodic tunnel vision can be a great way to set a scene and illuminate one detail that really brings the scene home to the reader, but done too much it becomes tedious. Third (and this is a sin I’m particularly guilty of myself), the author uses too many commas, which aid and abet her in constructing ungainly sentences.

The theme of the story is a good one: sometimes, bad things happen and the regret from those is more than any single person can handle. It marks them for life. Unfortunately, a supernatural muddle, uninteresting characters, and technical issues undermine what the author sought to accomplish. It’s a shame, because she does a good job of describing the small details and setting the mood. This one is a 2/5.

If you’re interesting in giving it a read (and it’s a short one) you can pick up a copy here.

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