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Night Man, Sneaky and Mean

By Nicole Fuscia | Books | July 28, 2009 |

By Nicole Fuscia | Books | July 28, 2009 |

Do they still make those Choose Your Own Adventure books? The ones where you would read a couple of pages, and have to make a choice, and then turn to another specific page based on your choice, and so on and so forth, until you died? I always died in those books. Quickly. Apparently I am not very skilled at choosing my own adventures. I need my adventures dictated to me.

When I opened Jordan Weisman’s Personal Effects: Dark Art, I kept thinking that it was a Choose Your Own Adventure for grownups. There’s the novel, sure, but it comes with all kinds of bonus features - photos, documents, notes, phone numbers, websites; everything but a pet monkey - designed to augment the story. The problem with the book is that it needs to have enough heft to entice a reader to check out the extra goodies, but it just falls flat, like a mental patient out of a 4th floor window. It’s less of an adventure than a grind.

Zach Taylor is a mild-mannered art therapist at Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital, a dungeon of a place built into an old brownstone quarry on the outskirts of New York City. He has a hipster douchebag younger brother who makes up nicknames for people and places that don’t need nicknames, a gorgeous gamer goddess girlfriend, a father who is a powerful DA, and a shady family secret. Zach is quiet; he just wants to do his job well, nail his girlfriend, and live contentedly. Everything starts to unravel when suspected serial killer Martin Grace, afflicted with a case of psychosomatic blindness, is admitted as a patient to “The Brink” and handed into Zach’s care. It’s already a sticky situation, since Zach’s dad is the prosecuting DA, but it only gets worse when Grace’s admission coincides with the appearance of a shifty character at Zach’s grandmother’s funeral who insinuates that the death of Zach’s mother, many years earlier, wasn’t as accidental as it seemed. While Grace generally freaks everyone at the hospital out by being creepy and deranged, making predictions about their imminent deaths and doling out insights like a storefront psychic, Zach begins digging up bits of the past: what’s the deal with Martin Grace, and what really happened to his mother? Does Grace’s “Dark Man,” the one who he insists is responsible for the murders of which he is accused, have something to do with her death?

Unfortunately, I don’t care about the answers. There isn’t enough substance to the novel to make me feel invested in the story. You can cobble together a respectable book as long as you have either decent plotlines or interesting characters. A good book has both. This book has neither. It’s choppy, disjointed, and confusing. Zach and his backup players are so thinly composed that they’re nearly transparent. Worst of all, I’m not even sure how the book ended. It was nonsensical and unmemorable. Weisman seems to be so focused on creating a “transmedia experience” that he forgot to start with an actual, coherent story. No, thanks.

Nicole Fuscia is a book critic for Pajiba. She lives in Philadelphia.

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