Reprinted from the Review of Literary Books. Review by Eric Fowler-Partridge
I’m not going to beat about the bush. A. S. Blodgett’s latest work, “What Happened Then” is one of the year’s finest books.
There are characters, many of them, but not too many, and a complicated plot, which turns out to be quite simple, in a setting both comfortingly familiar and eerily unusual. As for length, the book is just right for some readers. It comes to a highly satisfying conclusion, yet leaves room for an infinite number of sequels, a feat few writers have mastered or even had the courage to attempt.
“Another Nice Day” is an age-old story with universal appeal, yet it breaks new ground on every page. Although I have read nothing exactly comparable, I must say it is a superior specimen of its type, following in a long and honored tradition, but in no way derivative.
The sex scenes, and there are many, are always appropriate to the story and unlikely to trigger the dog-earing of a single page. The violence is gruesome and shocking, but probably won’t provoke nightmares in younger readers, for which this book is unsuited anyway.
Although I read “Another Nice Day” very carefully, I was unable to find a single adverb in the text, not even in dialogue. This can be said of very few recent novels, if any (and about non-fiction, the less said the better.)
In fact, if my observations can be trusted, the author has made great progress in eliminating superfluous parts of speech. Indeed, it is difficult to find prepositions—I only once noticed the word “of”—and articles have been ruthlessly trimmed. Blodgett is too generous with adjectives, however, and his extravagant use of nouns and verbs is a distinct weakness.
But Blodgett’s word choices are, without exception, exemplary, although perfect might be a better word, or maybe ideal. The dexterity with which he has wielded his thesaurus inspires awe, if not fear. Typos are at a minimum (the worst being the addition of an extra “g” to “egregious”), and page and chapter numbers are quite accurate.
The story itself proceeds in an almost infinite series of perfect arcs, like a herd of gazelles bounding across an endless meadow. The pacing is unflagging, as though the writer is being chased by a pack of ADHD eight-year-olds, all demanding he get on with it without a single gap, hiatus or lull, all ready to rip the book to shreds and eat its pages if it slows for a nanosecond.
Of the descriptions, little needs to be said. They paint pictures in readers’ minds that no film could equal. We are always aware of the season, the view, the time of day, the weather, the smells, the noises, the flora and the fauna—well, nothing that can be perceived by any of the five senses is slighted.
The same is true for Blodgett’s characters. Thin or fat, tall or short, phlegmatic or garrulous, hairy or bald, buxom or flat, we are never forced to wonder about to the expressions on their faces, how they dress, how they sound or how they smell. In fact, we are never allowed to forget for a moment.
It needs hardly be said, which won’t stop me from saying it, but in this book, Blodgett demonstrates an enviable mastery of dramatic writing. There are countless examples in which he places the emphatic word of the sentence at the end, no matter how awkward this is. Furthermore, a diligent search reveals no lapses into “seemed,” “almost,” “nearly,” “very,” “kind of” and similar vague qualifiers. Grammatically speaking, it’s either on or off, yes or no, big or little and nothing in between.
Stylistically, the book perfectly conforms to the Chicago Manual. Numerals are spelled out, except, of course when used as numbers, at least over ten. In a series of three items, commas are used except for the third item. Punctuation is placed within quotation marks, even when this defies logic.
Rarely are words other than “said” used in dialogue tags, although the author did, on one occasion, deploy the wildly inventive, “he sneezed.” Unfortunately, he followed this with the overreaching eccentricity, “ she coughed.” But I cavil. Clearly intensive work-shopping has ground away almost all of the book’s lumps, filled in its gaps and denatured its kinks. It is nothing if not smooth.
So I recommend “Another Nice Day” without reservation. It will appeal to everyone familiar with the well-established rules of composition one hears about in the better MFA creative writing programs.