Book Review: Bad Glass by Richard E. Gropp
Something strange is happening in Spokane, and the US military has taken control of the city, closing it and its happenings to the press. Dean sees this as the perfect opportunity to break into photography before he graduates from college and is forced into giving up on his artistic dreams to work a regular 9 to 5 job. So he sneaks into Spokane, where he meets an intriguing young woman and her rag-tag household of survivors, and quickly starts to see the inexplicable things that are going on inside the city.
Dark fantasy is one of my favored genres, but unfortunately not a ton comes out in it in any given year. So when I saw this title available on NetGalley, I just had to snatch it up. I’m glad I did, because it’s a truly enjoyable read.
The basic plot uses a trope of dark fantasy–a creative outsider comes to a town where bizarre things supposedly happen then starts to document them happening. The twist here is that the creative type is a photographer, so the art form being used is photography. This was an incredibly refreshing way to approach the topic. Each chapter opens with a description of a shot that Dean will get at some point in that chapter. It’s fascinating foreshadowing, and also Gropp shows real talent in describing photographs of both the fantastical and more ordinary varieties. The descriptions also talk about more technical aspects of photography, and these show up within the story too (such as lighting and shutter speed). Describing instead of showing the photographs was a choice that I at first was not certain of but I ultimately appreciated. By not reproducing the photographs, Gropp leaves quite a bit of the mystery up to the reader and doesn’t spoil whatever images the reader has already established within her own mind. But the descriptions are also so well-done that the impact of seeing one brief moment in this surreal world is still rendered. It’s a unique and well-done choice, and I’d recommend this read to people based on that creative storytelling aspect alone.
It’s also great to see a story centering primarily around 20-somethings. Often literature tends to stick to YA (teens) or jump right over those of us who are in that truly young adult phase of our lives and into 30-somethings. Although the primary focus of the story is what precisely is happening in Spokane, conflicts frequently faced by 20-somethings come up within this framework–what to do for a career, do you give up on your dreams and settle down into a cubicle or not, when and with whom should you settle down, should you settle down at all, when should you respect your parents and their experience and when should you stand up to them, etc… Long-time followers know that one reason I enjoy genre literature is it addresses these real life issues within the context of the fantastic, and the good ones do it integrated and in a thought-provoking manner. This book achieves that.
The main character also is bisexual, while being primarily interested in a woman. It was so awesome to get to see a bi male main character and have it be presented as just a part of who he is and not a big deal at all. Although there is certainly a need and a place for the coming out tales and stories where the character’s sexuality is a central issue, it is also nice to see glbtq characters where that is just one aspect of who they are and is not dwelled upon much. It is just a part of who Dean is.
As for the central plot–what is happening in Spokane–I admit that I hoped for slightly more answers than we ultimately get. Readers looking for nicely tied up endings or even a hint at an answer will be left wanting. I enjoy an ambiguous ending, but I also felt that perhaps the plot could have been a bit clearer. In particular, without giving anything away, I felt that the scenes revolving around the hospital while powerful left me feeling a bit like perhaps even the author doesn’t really know what’s going on in Spokane. Perhaps that is the point, but it did leave me feeling that the plot was not as up to par as the world building and characterization.
Overall, this is a wonderful addition to the dark fantasy genre. Gropp gives us a unique main character and also utilizes writing about photography in a creative manner. I highly recommend it to fans of dark fantasy, particularly 20-somethings and those with an interest in photography.
4 out of 5 stars