Mark Brendan reviews "Jagged Glass Ballet" by Brendan Detzner
Jagged Glass Ballet is the tale of the unusually named Dragon Plastic, a fourteen-year-old boy who wakes up one day in unfamiliar and rather Spartan surroundings. He is suffering from amnesia and thus begins something of a quest for identity and the truth. The world in which he awakens is a surreal and dangerous one, a dreamlike post-industrial landscape populated by other teenagers. In this world the unfathomable rules are enforced by cadres of ‘blacksuits’, special ops/secret police types who turn up periodically to kick-off spectacular violence. Dragon Plastic falls in with a group of the street kids from this world, who show him the ropes, for example food is obtained by trading art that they make in their spare time. All the kids have equally strange names since they too have no recollection as to how they came to be here. They name themselves, based on things they find in their environment when they first become aware of it. For instance Dragon Plastic names himself after looking at paperbacks on a nearby shelf.
Dragon Plastic becomes involved with an outsider called Toothpick (he kills people with small, wooden dowels) who is constantly at war with the blacksuits, and seems to hold all the answers to what’s going on in this place. He also gives Dragon Plastic drugs, which cause him to experience flashbacks of his former life in, as it were, the real world. Between them, they are attempting to escape the world they’re in. Toothpick also has personal contact with a strange, chained goddess type creature called Oracle that administers the teenagers’ world and also wants to get out.
Weighing in at just under 30,000 words “Jagged Glass Ballet” is a novella rather than a novel, and for reasons I’ll come to later, could definitely bear some expansion. In terms of feel, I’ll use a cinematic context to describe it rather than a literary one, because like a lot of fiction now “Jagged Glass Ballet” is definitely more cinematic. So, I’ll say that it reminds me a lot of ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and ‘The Matrix’. When you strip off the abstract background the plot presents itself as a fairly straightforward escape and redemption tale. Dragon Plastic has to get out because he doesn’t belong in the place he’s ended up. There’s another place where he feels he belongs, and he periodically gets glimpses of it, so he heads for it. As for all of that surreal background stuff, the author seems to be making a specific point with it, about control and that sort of thing, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. It could be an analogy for adolescence, a rite of passage thing, or another idea that crossed my mind was that it was an analogy for Hollywood (the young people representing scriptwriters, set-designers, etc provide the art in return for survival basics, whilst some unseen force makes a massive profit). Anyway, that’s just speculation, and it’s pretty much up to the reader to put their own spin on what it all means.
On character development, the characters are all pretty much thumbnails. Everything you need to know about each one is laid down in their initial description and the first few things that they say. And this is where the book could do with a lot more expansion. The narrative stays doggedly with Dragon Plastic throughout, excepting a few brief flirtations with other characters' points of view. By exploring what is going on in other characters’ lives whilst Dragon Plastic is elsewhere we could get more insight into their lives, and perhaps the author could offer more hints into what exactly is going on with the background.
The main problem with “Jagged Glass Ballet”, however, lies in its technical merit. This is a book that just isn’t ready yet. It probably needs at least one or two more rewrites before it’s polished. The plot chugs along at a fairly nice pace and I was interested enough in what happens next to keep turning the pages, but there are a lot of typos, and a lot of clunky, badly written phrases that need cleaned up. I suspect that this is a first draft and the author is better than this, because these problems are much more apparent at the beginning than at the end of the work. Detzner still needs to develop his art a bit more before he becomes truly accomplished, but in the development of style from front to back of Jagged Glass Ballet there is tangible improvement. Give it a couple of years and he’ll probably produce something that is of a very high standard.
Read Excerpts from Jagged Glass Ballet
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