Futureproof, N. Frank Daniels’ novel set mostly in and around Atlanta, is a thinly veiled retelling of the author’s own descent into teenage drug abuse and general delinquency. It’s about a white boy with dreads trying to figure himself out in the televised glow of Kurt Cobain. It’s also about half as good as it could be — full of writing that should have been reworked, trimmed, or simply cut before ever appearing in print. Daniels goes about his work with an attitude much like Luke, the story’s headstrong, willfully ignorant narrator. As a result, Futureproof comes across as a defiant but ultimately flawed debut.
Daniels, like most writers, didn't like the idea of his manuscript gathering dust in the neglected slush piles of literary agents or book publishers. "In this age of so much media and information and distraction … Shakespeare himself would have had his work turned down” without the right connections, Daniels claims in a postscript to Futureproof. Instead of waiting around for someone to hand him a contract, Daniels published the book himself.Self-publishing can be a faux-pas in literary circles. Collecting a healthy stack of rejection letters is generally accepted as a crucial step in improving one's writing or, at the very least, a rite of passage. Atlanta-based author Sheri Joseph explains that with self-publishing, “We lose the editor, the publisher — all of these people reading and helping the book along.” That's old wisdom, though, and it certainly predates the world of print-on-demand books, Facebook and viral marketing.
Daniels took a page or two from handbooks on viral culture and marketed the book himself, using social networking websites, leveraging a few quotes from better known authors (James Frey called the book "really good shit"), and offering the whole book for sale on lulu.com. The viral formula worked. He gathered e-mails and interest from far-flung locales, Entertainment Weekly ran a blurb, and he even sold a few hundred copies. Then one of those traditional book publishers with the big slush piles, HarperCollins, took notice and handed him a contract.
It's a great success for both Daniels and the readers who found and enjoyed his book — the sort of story that both contradicts and confirms his apprehensions about the publishing world. Futureproof shows that writers can still reach readers and get a book deal, though the rites of passage may have changed. Inspiring as that story might be, it's a damn shame that Futureproof isn't a better book.
There could be a decent story somewhere between the covers, but Daniels hasn't found it. The novel attempts an aimless, personal structure but neglects to find even a vague thread to bring it together. Mildly amusing chapters about Dragon*Con or Nirvana or cooking crack might as well be unrelated blog posts, especially when paired with banal insights such as "The Acid is really fucking good." Taken in whole, Daniels' novel is just as unfocused and messy as the drug addicts within its pages. That isn't a clever metaphor. It's just bad writing.
Maybe that’s beside the point, though. Daniels tells his dark and harrowing story with enough enthusiasm to grab readers willing to give him a shot. Daniels was hoping for a fair shot years ago, when he embarked on the journey of self-publishing Futureproof. Here’s the happy ending — he got it.
Daniels reads and signs Futureproof Tues., Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Highland Inn Ballroom.
Futureproof by N. Frank Daniels. HarperCollins. $13.99. 352 pp.
EDITORS NOTE: An incorrect version of this review was originally published. It now appears in its complete form.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
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