Cross this fence at your own risk

Zach Abrams’ “Ring Fenced” is like a popcorn action movie — it’s got suspense, but the thrills are supported by a raucous sound track and a lot of hot air.

The book is about Benjamin, a.k.a. Benjie, Ben, Bennie and Jamie, a Londoner with as many secret lives as you can count on your hand. Wholly unlikable in any persona he inhabits, he’s a flashy banker, a fun-weekends father, an obedient Orthodox Jewish son, a porn writer and a motorcycle-wheeling lover surrounded primarily with beautiful but  blind women who know only one side of Benjamin.

Don’t worry, Benjamin gets what’s coming to him. In a way.

No matter what he’s wearing or who he’s fooling, Benjamin appreciates music. While I was familiar with only some of the songs he uses to soothe his inner demons, I imagine his music set the scene as accurately as some of the quoted lyrics.

As for the hot air, I found the book’s descriptions to be like two-thirds of Americans — flabby. Detailed descriptions of banking deals, highway detours and amusement park attractions did nothing to move the plot forward. With a good editor, this self-published book could easily have been one-third shorter. For example, at one point Benjamin, a.k.a. Bennie in this chapter, parks the family car:

“Approaching he realized the position in front had also been vacated and, so as to enable an easy exit, he drove through to the front of the ‘dido’, the acronym his family had taken to applying to a ‘drive in drive out’ space.”

Was an easy exit required later in the story? No. Was “dido” used a metaphor for exiting the jams Benjamin finds himself in? No. It, like many other sentences, was simply a clever waste of space.

If you love metaphor, don’t look for it here. At a crucial plot turn, the author’s rambling descriptions finally run out: “The noise was incredible.” Alas, at the risk of sounding like a syntactical Scrooge, “incredible” is about as descriptive as “amazing,” which topped the 2012 list of words that should be banished from the English language.

While Benjamin was odious and some descriptions superfluous, I wished for more details about his devout mother, his long-suffering wife and his techie American business partner. To me, these were the people whom the story was really about — sorry souls duped by a dissociative sociopath. In particular, Abrams missed a flashing-red-stoplight opportunity for irony in Benjamin’s relationship with his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father, who recognized him in one scene. The man with an impaired memory “knew” him when no one else really did. The scenes with Benjamin’s family of origin rang true, and this American Lutheran found the descriptions of Benjamin’s, aka Benjie’s Jewish faith and practices compelling.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the book is the reader. I don’t like popcorn fiction, and I don’t read for distraction (I use online Scrabble for that). Give me real people caught in surreal but true circumstances anytime.

I read this book on Kobo, as I read all my ebooks lately. But I would have paid half as much on Kindle: Only $1.49.

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