paperback $5, ebook $3
A new chapter on self-publishing
Jake Babad has taken the currently popular route of self-publishing several steps further than most writers.
His novel Hanlan’s Point is not just printed by the author, but printed by the author: he grinds out the book’s pages on a digital mimeograph machine himself, he says.
And then he cuts the pages and binds them. Himself.
And he designs the cover; and distributes the book; and creates the ebook version; and sells it; and bugs reviewers to review it….
And this reviewer is very glad he did, for Hanlan’s Point is a surprisingly accomplished novel. The surprise is not so much over a self-published work being good (though that could also be the case), nor because it’s by a 24-year-old (that too), but because the novel’s premise is so unpromising and the story starts so slowly—yet one is drawn inexorably into the lives of his drifting 23-year-old Generation Y characters. That takes tremendously assured writing skill.
The title of course places the story in Toronto, but Hanlan’s Point is the locale of only one scene in the novel. The main character, Sam, actually lives on Ward’s Island, alone in the house where he grew up and which he inherited. His days are spent lackadaisically, not doing anything really, occasionally meandering over to the bar or café on the other islands. In fact, the opening chapters feature nothing much more than him waking up through the various seasons and figuring out what to eat.
Then he meets Tuesday, a singer whose lofty ambition is to keep slinging her guitar around to bars until she becomes a really good bar singer.
Despite Sam’s social ineptness, the two of them hit it off. Kinda. Complicating their relationship is her sometimes boyfriend on the mainland, the only one of the trio with real drive to be a success. Isaac is a wannabe actor reduced to busking along the waterfront and filling in for a clown at parties, but he’s chasing a movie career, which takes him in and out of Tuesday’s life.
Also making occasional appearances are other minor characters, including a possibly bisexual waiter at the island café and a dreaming tour boat driver.
See what I mean about a seemingly unfruitful concept for a novel?
Yet, Babad paints the busy harbourfront and island scenes so well, and places the characters so firmly there (as well as in other parts of central Toronto when they wander abroad), that every nuance becomes important. The point of view gets passed around from character to character and the timeline is occasionally folded, so we often get different perspectives on the same events. But this is no postmodern exercise, as the prose is naturalistic and direct, pulling the reader along effortlessly.
Rather than writing off the young adults of the novel as annoying, self-absorbed whiners, an older reader comes to understand their particular difficulties. It’s interesting with Sam, for example, to understand what is going through the mind of someone who is such an embarrassingly awkward loner—and, further, to come to empathize so completely with him. One is cheered by the smallest of victories he achieves and is flattened along with him when life plays its cruel tricks.
Still—and I don’t think this is giving away too much—the narrative does not develop depressingly. The ending is almost magical, not in an unreal nor surreal way, but in a manner that vindicates our gradually grown investment in these characters.
My editing sense tingled only a couple of times while reading passages I thought could have used a light edit. But, truth be told, this happens even with books from the large publishing houses.
A hard copy of Hanlan’s Point can be ordered at Babad’s website www.jakebabad.com and both book and ebook are available from Amazon.com.
A recent message on Babad’s website said the book is temporarily sold out. But that shouldn’t be a problem. He just has to fire up the mimeograph machine again.