Author: John Farris
A very strange and haunting novel. It’s about a con artist who seduces women, promises to marry them, then skips out with their money before the wedding. After one of these “projects” goes wrong and he’s nearly killed, the man begins to develop a conscience. So he sets out for another big score to prove to himself he’s still got it. He goes after Pamela Abelard, a beautiful wealthy romance novelist. Despite being so beautiful, she’s reclusive, and after he meets her, he discovers why: she’s paralyzed from the waist down. Then begins a complex game of seduction and intrigue, for the more Joe finds out about her, the more mysteries crop up. Soon we suspect that Joe is truly in love with her but someone else is conning her. But Joe’s a con himself: he can’t blow the whistle without blowing his own cover. And that’s where things get interesting.
First, let me say that this is a remarkably well-written book. In fact, that’s the problem with it: it’s too well-written. The diction, the descriptions, the metaphors, the scenes, the pychologically complex characters are all first class; unfortunately, this is a romantic thriller. That’s the genre. And as such it must move at a certain pace and deliver a certain amount of tension and excitement. The good writing, however, bogs things down. It distracts when we don’t want to be distracted. The book is way overlong — over 500 pages — when it has a 300 page story. Farris writes with tremendous detail, and while this increases verisimilitude and is fascinating, it slows down the plot and is really unnecessary for this kind of novel. I really liked many aspects of the novel, and I enjoyed Farris’ excellent writing ability, but ultimately the story left me flat. The quality of the writing made me expect more, made me expect significance — but of course this kind of novel isn’t that deep, and the predictable, expected ending reveals that. It’s still worth reading, but just don’t expect as much as the writing implies.
I had one other interesting reaction to the novel. Generally when I read a book I’m not much bothered, influenced, or even aware of an author’s religious or political leanings. Usually if such a thing is present, it’s a necessary part of the story, and as such the views expressed are obviously those of the characters, not the author. Often other characters will offer a contrary perspective, and even if the view is distorted or weighed toward one side or the other, it’s still done in a way that doesn’t offend. In this book, however, I was surprised to find several seemingly superfluous anti-religious comments inserted into various characters perceptions. Now one character wouldn’t have bothered me, but finding several characters, all with the same bias, all expressed in odd moments of self-revelation (not, for instance, one character talking to another), got me annoyed. Once I’d detected this, I noticed it throughout the novel, like bad smell you can’t pretend to ignore. It was the author expressing his own bias, not the characters speaking. This annoyed me. Part of what made it annoying was the way it was done: the comments were snide, arrogant, and did things like imply religion = irrationality. I get the same perspective when I read Ayn Rand. However, that’s part of her philosophy, and her books are complete propoganda for her philosophy (nothing wrong with that as long as you’re aware of it). In the case of Dragonfly, however, this kind of thing was out of place and inappropriate, and struck me as odd. I’m actually more interested in my reaction to the viewpoint than the viewpoint itself (I don’t really care about Farris’ religious views one way or the other). There were only a handful of these points in the book, so I can’t say if others would pick up on them, but I thought it was an interesting catch.