A few weeks ago a friend passed me a copy of “Fire Angels”, a self-published novel by Joseph Richardson. Fire Angels is the story of David and Sara Cooper, and their son Noble, set in Walako, Florida during the period of 1915-1925. In this story Richardson attempts to weave a complex narrative into which he draws xenophobic anti-German sentiment, racial hatred, and class conflict. But he tries too hard. By doing this he fails to delve into the emotions and psychological depth that would have made this story come alive. For instance, following America’s entry into World War I, David and his best friend, Robert Love, are sent to France. Following their first big battle, Robert is killed by a sniper. Following the war, David comes home and attempts to find catharsis in plowing a field. In that act David is overcome by the memory of Robert’s death and all the horrors of war Richardson did not include in the short description of David’s experience in France. The problem is that there is too much story, so nothing gets the depth necessary to draw the reader into the historical and emotional context. I wanted to be drawn into this story. I wanted to feel what David felt and really understand what life was like in early Twentieth Century small-town Florida. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.
And there is something else by way of technical criticism. This novel, like many self-published efforts, could have benefited from a good, thorough professional editing. Numerous errors in the text detracted from the reading experience. For instance, I found inexplicably underlined or italicized words, dropped words, sentences all in caps, and other problems with formatting. These are not issues with style. These are basic errors I would expect to find in a draft novel, not a finished product.