Review: Scar, by Ryan Frawley

>>Published: October 2011

>>Finally got around to it: May 2012

“After that, I started seeing things. Just movement, at first, in the corner of my eye, and when you turn to see what it is, it’s gone. I mean, I think everyone gets that sometimes. I got it a lot. Then—it’s weird—you start to imagine what they are, men or monsters, whatever, and then that’s what you see. You know it’s at least partly your own imagination, but you can’t stop it, and once you’ve put a face to this faceless thing, that’s what it is, and always was, and no amount of logic will stop you from seeing it.”

***

Scar, Ryan Frawley’s literary fiction debut, tells a fractured narrative from the perspective of a young man, who also happens to be schizophrenic. Dermot Fallon, an English-born descendent of Irish ancestors, is hospitalized in Vancouver, BC, following a severe schizophrenic breakdown. Narrated from a first-person point-of-view, as fractured and disingenuous as it often is, Scar attempts to unfold the many layers of Dermot Fallon’s psychological imbalances.

This will be short, mostly because I’ve been unable to finish the book. In fact, this is the second title I’ve walked away from this year (for everyone at home keeping score). It’s not that Dermot’s story is uninteresting. Far from it—the mosaic of possibilities, of pathways and divergences prevalent in so many stories about schizophrenia, is often fascinating. In Scar’s unfortunate case, however, the book is entirely undone by it’s structure and lack of restraint.

In this case, the tiniest of details matter, because there are enough of them to irrevocably tarnish the experience. This is a self-published novel, and as is sometimes the case, has not been carefully edited. There are, to my dismay, many instances of grammatical and structural errors, as well as things left ignored (like one chapter’s ending spilling onto the starting page for the next chapter in a rather clumsy, desperate-to-lower-the-page-count manner). Quotation marks in particular seem to have been a thorn in this writer’s side.

Apart from the editing is the choice of fonts. Three different fonts are employed throughout the narrative: one for the main body of text, one for the footnotes, and a cursive script employed periodically throughout. First, the body text is sans-serif and very tight together, making it difficult to read for any length of time. Second, the text used for the physician’s footnotes is more readable and spaced out than the body text, which is an obvious oversight—very much the opposite of what it should be. Lastly, the cursive script is near unreadable. In fact, when I began feeling the overwhelming urge to skim the cursive is when I knew I was finished with this book.

To go a step further, in order to drive home the schizophrenic nature of the protagonist, Dermot, the author has chosen to employ lighter, greyscale text interspersed and placed overtop of the body text in certain places, which is again enough of a struggle to simply read that one begins to question why they are bothering with it in the first place. It’s difficult to not contemplate the ways in which these asides, used to further illustrate Dermot’s shifting tenuous emotional state, could have been better handled, through simple italics, or by employing it all, straight-up, in the text, messing with the rhythm of each sentence but maintaining a readable structure.

And lastly, there are the footnotes—notations made by Dermot’s psychiatrist to better describe the meaning and rationale behind much of the details of Dermot’s text. These are, universally, unnecessary, and more often than not (based on the book’s first half, which is as far as I made it) tell in simple, perfunctory terms, pieces of information that could have been shown and inserted in small, subtle ways, but within the actual body of the text. Or even as end-of-chapter compilations, in the form of a report made on Dermot’s current entry, or something along those lines. As they stand, the footnotes are nothing more than distractions offering omniscient odds and ends that remove a great deal of intrigue towards the protagonist and his unique mental state. By comparison, the occasional broken paragraphs, on-the-spot poetry-style structure and reversed-polarity white-on-black pages are used sparingly enough and are not nearly as distracting (plus, given the nature of the book, they feel more necessary as experimental asides than anything offered in the footnotes).

Scar is a very frustrating novel. As interested as I am in Dermot’s plight—and I truly am—its structural and editorial problems are plentiful, and sadly damage this title’s potential. It feels as if this were a collection of first-draft ideas rushed to completion. Time and revision is needed before this approach can be effective. Based on these issues alone, I cannot recommend this book.

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