Living with your Past Selves by Bill Hiatt is my latest entry in The January Project. I picked this up on a free day and it embodies the opportunities and risks in self-publishing like few other books I’ve encountered. Read on as I try to explain what I mean.
This novel, aimed at teen readers dips into the Arthurian legends and Welsh mythology and pulls them into the modern era, but defies easy genre classification. Although magic appears in the form of witches, spell-casting and shape-shifters, I wouldn’t call this paranormal, nor Magical Realism. Fantasy seems the best descriptor to me, but I don’t read a lot of fantasy.
There is so much to like about this book – the concept, a modern day teen discovers he is the reincarnation of Taliesin and that someone or something from his past life is trying to destroy him, is fresh. There are some terrific moments of dialogue between the teen characters and even the football players are allowed to have depth. I noticed one typographical error in the entire 600+ book, which is significantly less than this blog post will have.
And yet….. Something was off in this book and I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe the long paragraphs full of introspection disengaged me. I tried to see them as part of the fantasy world building, but some paragraphs extended over two pages and the ideas got lost within them.
Or maybe I’m not used to being inside the head of a teen-male character. Plenty of books for the middle school audience feature male narrators, but I’m not aware of so many for teens, except Catcher in the Rye. Tal resists his hormones too much for him to be confused with Holden Caulfield, but when he does, we get a page long paragraph about why he’s trying not to be insulting to women. I was more insulted by the cardboard female characters than by Tal’s page long discussion of why he tried not to look at boobs.
What pulled me out of the story world the most was that I couldn’t ground the story temporally. Living with Your Past Selves felt dusty. Tal’s friend Stan is a computer wiz who designed the mayor’s website, but it works plausibility wise, but none of the teens have a cell phone. If you have a group of twenty odd teens, you will smart phones. They will take selfies, they will take video unless they are characters in this book. The author took such time with building the mythology but nothing explained the lack of normal teen behavior.
I checked when the book was released. 2012. These kids should be comparing their iPhone models, instead this technology isn’t mentioned until half-way through the book and then once. The author could have handled this so much better. If the manuscript were an old one dug out from a box beneath the bed, then put a date at the start like “Fall 2000.” Another option would be to keep the present day, but have the town’s magic cause it to be a cell-service black hole.
Authors will make their own choices. That is their right as artists and content producers. Living with Your Past Selves is Mr. Haitt’ book, not mine, but as a reader, I couldn’t buy into this particular story world. Sorry.