March 11, 2014
-- C.J. Duarte’s debut novel, The Dash (Volume 1)
, is a surreal journey into a strange new land. When a discouraged author, Claire, attempts suicide by jumping from her balcony, she does not expect to land in the strange town of Cloak Valley. With no memory of her life before the moment of her to crash landing into the monochromatic town of Cloak Valley, Claire strives to make a simple life with the man who found her, Art. Art seems like a trustworthy hero, someone who wants to help her remember the life she had before. But there are threats in this new land, such as the strange Smith family, especially the antagonist patriarch of the family, John, a man so worried about not being mundane that he has copyrighted his own name. Then there is the mysterious Des Moines family, who Claire is inexplicably drawn to, but she has been expressly warned to avoid. While managing relationships with both friend and foe, Claire will have to navigate this odd new world discover her place within it, learn how she came to it to begin with, and how she can escape.
Reading The Dash
requires an investment of time and a suspension of disbelief in order to have optimal enjoyment. The land that Duarte has created and the events he has orchestrated within it are often hard to take at face value. I’m a huge fan of odd and surreal writing, such as the works of Lewis Carroll or Chuck Palahniuck, but even I had trouble pushing through the weirder sections of this book. One of the main issues was my lack of investment in the characters. I simply didn’t know them well enough to know their goals or passions, which made it hard to care where they were heading. Everyone and everything in this book seems to be clouded in mystery, which could arguably be the point considering Claire’s amnesia and the possibility that she is dreaming this entire experience, but it hurts a reader’s drive to care about what is happening. A book of this length, over 700 pages long and only the first volume of a series, requires some sort of hook to keep a reader invested, and the oddities of Cloak Valley only carry it so far.
However, though the book is a dense and sometimes difficult read, I believe that it has a lot of merit. The strangeness and chaotic nature of the book aptly mirrors the confusion and sense of loss that Claire is feeling because of her amnesia. When you have no memory of the ways of the world then truly anything could happen, and Duarte does a fabulous job showing this. If a reader has the patience and willingness to go along for the ride, this book is an intriguing work of literature worthy of merit and that has much for a reader to enjoy. The characters are vibrant and unique, the chemistry between Art and Claire is poignant and will keep readers rooting for their impending romance, and the story itself is sure to surprise and keep readers guessing. While I have been left with more questions than answers about the world Claire has been thrust into, I am not disappointed in the journey I have traveled with her, and I am curious to see where she will be led in C.J. Duarte’s second volume of the series.