David Searcy, Ordinary Horror (Plume, 2001)

Mr. Delabano grows roses. He also has gophers, so when he sees an ad for an organic remedy — some strange flowers called "gopherbane" that are guaranteed to be "antithetical to garden varmints but harmless to pets and everything else" — he sends in his $39.95 and immediately plants the shipped product.

This is a terrific beginning to a novel. Especially one called Ordinary Horror. I was nearly salivating with wonder at what exactly was going to be wrong with the strange flowers. Would they be poisonous? Would they kill the roses? Would they kill Delabano?

Unfortunately, this book was an exercise in futility. With a title like this, one expects at least a little horror. There was none, not even the ordinary kind. Even the first sentence is "Here's a horror story for you" and the blurb on the back of the book trumpeted that "the claim about their being harmless to everything else [was] false advertising — to put it mildly." Kudos to the marketing department for sucking me in, but that blurb was false advertising.

Nothing of any consequence ever happened until the final page, and by that time I was seriously underwhelmed. If something else did happen, I missed it. Debut novelist David Searcy's prose is so benign that my mind would wander. I'd be four or five pages on and have no recollection of what my eyes had been scanning. Eventually, I stopped backtracking. At most, I had a feeling of weirdness of the David Lynchian Blue Velvet kind.

And it's unfortunate because it's apparent that Searcy has high aspirations. He is delving into the terror faced by an elderly man who is not sure from day to day just how "with it" he is. There is even a sense that at one point he experiences a stroke, and perhaps after that things are not entirely meshing with reality. But, although I can see this, it did not affect my feelings about the novel because of my otherwise lack of interest.

Of course, I'm pretentious enough to assume that it's probably still a good book, and that I just didn't "get it." But in any case, what this novel left me with was a strong feeling of time wasted. I wish I had not read this book, because it took valuable time away from other, better books I could have been reading.

[Craig Clarke]