After a rough night of writer’s block, a “cash supervisor” named Claire jumps off a ledge and falls into a mysterious vortex that spits her into an alternate world.
Cloak Valley is just like any town, except everything is monochromatic. At first, the absence of color strikes Claire as odd, but her sudden amnesia poses a bigger problem; she knows as little about the world of her former life as she does about the hallucinatory world in which she finds herself. Aided by burly, bearded Art Rukin, she sets out on a picaresque journey to find answers, allowing Duarte the opportunity to introduce a colossal cast of characters: the students and citizens of Cloak Valley’s various institutions; the misunderstood Des Moines family (a little bit Addams, a little bit Von Trapp); a bumbling band of bad guys with names like Guiltiecrocks and Roguesheen; and, led by Byron Zolltech—the “child trafficking” mayoral candidate and CEO of Zolltech Inc.—“one of the largest and most powerful manufacturing companies in” Claire’s newfound “black-and-white netherworld.” Despite a manic sense of imagination and some inspired ideas, Duarte’s debut struggles to maintain focus. The narrator attempts to create a nightmarish mood, but aside from a woman’s implied rape and torture and baby Reeve Des Moines’ “snake-like slits for eyes” and “drooling mouth of fangs,” the narrative is more tedious than terrifying. For great chunks, nothing really happens. Over the course of four chapters, characters eat lavish breakfasts and enjoy “aimless relaxation” at a palatial camp in Mount Quyon. Even Art grows impatient, saying to Claire, “Just want the day to end, that’s all. I’ve been so bored.” Also uninspiring are the irrelevant actions described in obsessive detail, excessive exposition, metaphor mashups, malapropisms and general misusage. “To no one’s surprise, Zolltech does nothing,” reads one sentence, “instead resembling a mummy in its tomb.” Another reads: “She braces for nothing, only to find the welcome, fresh touch of a small, soft, and clean-feeling doorbell; she pushes it.” Sentences such as these strip Duarte’s omniscient narrator of believability and coherence. Rather than being fast and sleek, as the title suggests, the book is as one character sums up his weekly Scout meetings: “mind-numbingly slow and disconnected to the point of being dreamlike.”
The rambling misadventures of flat characters.