The Helper by M. N. Snow
Magical realism is a genre that I’ve always been mildly curious in. I think it’s a really interesting way to weave magic into everyday life and see how it can affect it. I think that’s how I would classify The Helper by M. N. Snow which was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through my links compensates me with a percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links help me to continue bettering my website and content for readers. Click here to learn why I buy books from Amazon.
**Disclaimer: I was sent this book by M. N. Snow in exchange for an honest review.
Title: The Helper
Author: M. N. Snow
Genre: Adult, Magical Realism
Published: November 15th, 2016 by M. N. Snow
A tale that combines contemporary, speculative fiction with an ambiguous spirituality. The book explores relationships between lovers, friends, families, and what Powers of Good there may be.
John Sloan is an ex-Marine with a life-long secret that is haunting him. He is a conduit to a healing light that draws him to people on the brink of emotional disintegration, people who are then healed and Helped by this light. His blue-collar world is shattered when he finds that his connection to this anonymous portal has vanished. He is alone, seemingly beyond aid, and in desperate need of a Helping himself.
The book tracks the intersecting lives of John and two other Helpers. His lifelong friend Dusty Hakalla is a mixed-blood Ojibwe, with a secret of his own. His power to Help is remarkable, but was once destructively misused. A career Marine, his scarred childhood and momentary abuse of power have left him jaded and bereft. Deena Morrison, also a Helper, is John’s girlfriend. Adopted as an infant, she flees John to find her birth-mother, while carrying within herself her own secret. Another character shadows their lives as narrator, Nan’b’oozoo, the trickster god of Ojibwe legend—at times sarcastic and petulant, at others insightful and humorous.
The novel travels from the gritty Lake Superior port-cities and Indian Reservations of northern Wisconsin to the Jewish neighborhoods of North Miami Beach, Florida—from Parris Island to the war zones of Kuwait and Afghanistan.
The story was told in a kind of weird round-about way. It involved retelling the characters’ lives through flashback before actually getting to the heart of the story. The story begins with the problem: John can no longer use his Helping ability. Then it moves back to his childhood, then through adolescence, and finally up to the present point (mid-thirties). Then the story takes place in the present-day time for less than a quarter of the book. Essentially, this means that there wasn’t really any plot for the bulk of the story.
I always have a more difficult time with stories that are told in a more abstract way. Personally, I don’t understand how the story was benefitted by being told through flashback. I think that it would have been fine for the story to begin with the boy learning about his Helping abilities, then moving through his life until catastrophe strikes: losing his ability. Then the rest of the story is about the resolution. It was almost as if the story began with the climax, and it wasn’t a strong enough one to keep me interested.
There was a fairly wide variety of characters throughout the story. There were the obviously “good” ones, like John, the more corrupt ones like Dusty and most people involved in his storyline, and then the ambiguous in-between like Deena. However, I didn’t feel particularly connected to any one character, which made it hard to relate to the story overall.
The pacing threw me off because of the flashback storytelling. Also, there were random narrative decisions like skipping chapter 13 just for the hell of it.
There was a lot of unnecessary swearing in this book, too. Now, I’m not one for censorship and I don’t have an issue with more colorful language. But often, it felt like this book was using these words just for the sake of using these words. For me, it took away some of the quality of the story because it seemed like a gimmick, and I think we need to move away from that in the authorial world. The story was told in one of my non-preferred methods, and I couldn’t connect with the characters or their problems/motivations.
I give The Helper 1.5/5 stars.
Let’s talk about it
Have you read The Helper by M. N. Snow? Do you enjoy reading books that are told in mostly flashback format? Have you ever read anything in the magical realism genre? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments.