Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
Today we dig ever deeper into the unforgiving wasteland of urban fantasy. Michael’s Wing: A Paranormal Fantasy is a novella by the author known as Sakari Lacross (more on that later). Lacross is primarily a poet, and as far as I can tell this is their first and only work of narrative fiction. In the story, a group of four brothers must save the world from the sinister designs of the archangel Michael.
Quenton-with-an-O lost his fiancée Olivia to a drunk driver named Berry-with-an-E, and now sees her ghost every night. His brothers Damian, Eric, and Devin move in to help him through his depression and apparent mental health crisis. His therapist Alexis, who seems to make daily house calls, joins forces with the three brothers, and then basically disappears from the story. Torch passed. Also making an appearance is neighbor Brittney, who drops off a pie and is hot. Eric wonders if Brittney is just what Quenton needs to help him move on, while Damian wonders if she’s just what Damian needs.
Olivia continues to appear to Quenton. But he isn’t seeing things; Olivia is real and urges him to seek justice for her death. Or rather, someone taking Olivia’s form. It turns out that the archangel Michael has been using Olivia’s spirit to get to Quenton, whom he wants to use as a vessel. We’re told Michael needs hosts to function in the real world, but it’s not clear why he is fixated on inhabiting Quenton’s body when anyone else seems to do just fine. Michael’s knowledge of the world must come from watching the Discovery Channel, because he is sickened by the human race and intends to “purify” it. Quenton will then be lobotomized, or delivered safely to the afterlife to be with Olivia. Not surprisingly, Quenton rejects this plan, and Michael immediately moves on to Damian in the guest bedroom. Initially Damian pulls a gun on him, which is a normal thing to have under your pillow when you visit someone’s house while they’re suffering from a mental breakdown. Michael uses Brittney’s image to calm Damian, but before we can get some wacky, comedy of errors erotica, Michael drops the act and makes the same offer as before. Damian agrees, on the condition that the archangel also cure his brother’s depression. And that’s the end of Act I.
We have acts because the whole thing is written something like a screenplay, though not formatted quite the same way. This is explained in a preface by the author as a way to “get straight to the point,” and cut out all the faff and filler of descriptive text that create a “lack of excitement.” Other authors may chase word counts, but our boy chases a vision. And I’m all for it. If we wrote the way our 9th grade English teachers wanted us to, we’d just be traffic cops for words. So how does this grand experiment that dares defy the conventions of a tired industry fare? Is this book a hidden masterpiece?
No. I get that’s a low blow on a blog where a failed writer sucker punches fledgling authors the day their book comes out. But bear with me while I turn the screw anyway.
The plot plays out like it was drafted as an ad-lib, then stuffed with foreshadowing in editing to create a seamless product. Only the end result doesn’t feel any less random. When Quenton starts blasting away with a handgun, the fact that we saw Damian whip it out on some lady in Act I does little to help me make sense of what I’m reading. It’s like Chekhov’s Gun, if in the first scene someone points to the rifle on the mantelpiece, and in the next chapter they’re playing quidditch with it. There are entire scenes where the main characters simply have things explained to them because the plot is out to lunch. Without spoiling too much, the story becomes a murky kitchen sink full of curious and terrifying choices. Things make no sense, and they’re so casual about not making sense, as if every novel has a scene where the heroes bludgeon innocent people in a church.
The prose is similarly weird. Throughout the story I assumed I was reading something written by an author whose first language is not English. There are awkward phrases like “mental meds,” “mess-maker,” and “sitting in patience” that make me feel like I’m reading a slightly parallel dimension version of English. It’s like when you meet someone named “Alun” and you’re not sure for a second if you’ve slipped into a wormhole. People address random strangers as “civilians,” call each other “big brother,” travel a road called “the I-107,” go to the “relic museum” downtown, and use remorse as a verb. Call me picky, but I don’t think all of these deviations from standard practice are intentional.
The version of Christianity Lacross is working with seems to be one of his own invention, which adds another layer to the mystery. Michael wants to rid the world of moral degeneracy, but also lets it slip that he wants to make the world “safe for kids and the elderly” which sounds less Old Testament and more Tipper Gore. His conversation with deities from other religions (oh yeah, spoilers—there are deities from other religions) is simply wild. They call him a “fairy,” to which he replies “respect my culture,” suggesting that in this universe the awkward balance between political correctness and petty intolerance in the real world is perfectly mirrored among divine beings themselves. The Judeo-Christian god is referred to as the god of creation, in more or less the same way that Poseidon is the god of the sea, or Anoia is the goddess of things that get stuck in drawers.
This left me wondering who this Sakari Lacross is. They say in poker you don’t play your hand, you play the person sitting across from you. Reading their emotions and intentions is what the game is all about. In that case I’ve been playing poker with Sakari Lacross for most of the afternoon, and I guess I lost because I read Michael’s Wing. Imagine my surprise when I reached the end of the book and discovered that Sakari Lacross is actually Mike from Cleveland (via Phoenix), and the prose in this book is not so much the imperfect acquisition of a second language, as the product of the Arizona public and charter education system. I’m not trying to be mean (though as a shriveled up, misanthropic old lady shouting into a blog I can see where you would get that idea); I just have an unhealthy obsession with the people behind baffling books.
I couldn’t help peeking a little further down the Sakari Lacross rabbit hole, since it’s a rare luxury for anyone featured on this blog to have an oeuvre to paw through, and I was curious how a poet could write prose that made me feel like I was losing my ability to read. All I found was a collection of poetry entitled PTSD, apparently about breakups. Someone on Goodreads gave it three stars and called it “good,” which just goes to show what a precious place Goodreads is compared to Amazon, where three stars is the rating you give a book when you hate it so much you can’t see straight. And that’s where I stopped, because I’m not reading breakup poetry called PTSD. I read a sex book by an old man with a popcorn fetish, but even I have limits.
Usually at this point I say something like “read this book if you enjoy feeling like your head is a microwave full of forks.” But honestly, the number of people out there who will unironically like Michael’s Wing: A Paranormal Fantasy is not trivial. The story is amateurish, but always engaging, and at two dollars on Kindle, it’s priced perfectly.
I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.Tweet