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On Morris Fenris’s “A Lifetime”

15 Oct

Morris Fenris's A Lifetime is available to download on Amazon.

Morris Fenris’s A Lifetime is available to download on Amazon. I think the cover art is awesome! [Hug]

Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of receiving an advanced copy of a text, and while I appreciate the opportunity to read new works, I hope the author appreciates an honest review. Morris Fenris’s A Lifetime is an ambitious short story of a man struggling to find meaning in life. Essentially all stories are about finding meaning in life, right? So we’re off to a good start. The unnamed protagonist struggles through the poverty of childhood on a plantation, the listlessness of young adulthood, and the pain of loss, but it’s through the joy of his daughter that he finds solace. Fenris certainly has the eye for an epic story. A Lifetime is the story of triumph, the joys of family, and the perseverance of the human spirit. And yet I didn’t feel the joy of reading as I plodded through its 20-something pages.

A college professor gave me writing advice once (I mean, she gave me advice lots of times, but here’s the relevant one): write the first draft, and by the time you get to the end you’ll understand what you’re trying to say, and then write the second draft. Fenris wanted to write about a man’s life. Well, he started at birth but definitely didn’t end at death. He ended prematurely–right around when the narrator’s life seems to begin. I’m crossing my fingers Fenris will write a sequel.

A Lifetime speeds through events with the tone and fluidity of a resumé. The protagonist is born. He lives on a plantation. He moves to the Philippines. He falls in love. Nowhere in this monotony did I feel the protagonist’s personality or humanity. Perhaps my personal preference of highly descriptive novels (even descriptiveness to a fault, Dickens-style) held me back, but I couldn’t buy the narrator’s emotionless tone:

“Life hadn’t been perfect, it rarely was, but on the whole, things had been good. I had come from nothing had worked my way up from the poor little plantation boy with the penniless parents and the unqualified midwife to be a successful businessman with a beautiful wife, fantastic in-laws and a baby on the way. I had money, happiness and I had love, everything that I could have wanted and more.” -from A Lifetime

When tragedy strikes the narrator, I didn’t feel a twinge of pain or empathy. Maybe I’m still jaded from watching “Downton Abbey,” season three, episode five. But I wonder if Fenris felt anything either. In the words of Robert Frost, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Part of the problem here is the lack of any character development. When a character is impacted, it’s like a feather floating into a pillow: soft and fluffy. … I mean, unnoticeable.

As the (extremely) colorful writer Anaïs Nin said, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” We all know how … varied … Nin’s life must taste, but Fenris’s must be made of a much blander palate. A Lifetime is a straightforward retelling of events–no embellishment, no imagery, no art. I caught glimpses of humanity in the characters, during brief moments, but I remain unconvinced. I hope Fenris continues working at his craft, though. His material is, at its core, fascinating and compelling. I think I would enjoy an entire novel about the boy on the plantation, or a novel beginning where A Lifetime ended (which, don’t be deceived, isn’t at the end of the narrator’s life).