Deer Life by Ron Sexsmith – Review

[I received a copy of this book through an ARC giveaway.]

It already looks like I’m going to be in the minority on Goodreads for my thoughts on Deer Life.

Normally it doesn’t bother me if my opinion goes against the grain, but I don’t like giving out low scores. I know how much effort it takes to write a novel and I know how much it can hurt to have your work criticized, so I try to be honest while softening my opinions. I can be truthful without being a jerk, you know?

But with Deer Life, there wasn’t a single thing I liked beyond the cover. The cover is gorgeous and whoever drew it should be getting a ton of money. One look at the cover and I knew it was a book that I wanted to read, but the story itself didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Nothing else in the book works for me.

There’s the skeleton of a good story in there somewhere. I can see the imagination that went into writing this, but it never was able to pull together.

So how do I do this without being nasty? Do I just leave my one star score and waltz out the door without saying anything? It doesn’t seem fair, particularly when I’ve been critical of other novels as well and made sure that my opinions were out there in public.

Basically all I said on Goodreads is that it’s a bit of a mess. The drawings inside the book seem in direct opposition to the tone, the book didn’t feel like it was edited properly considering that the narrator will switch tenses mid-paragraph, and in the end this feels more like the first draft of a story than a completed novel.

When I first was notified that I had received the novel in the ARC giveaway, I was excited. Ron Sexsmith was a familiar name, but I couldn’t quite place him. He sounded like a Canadian author I’d heard of before, but I held off on Googling him until I was done the book. The last thing I needed was to be swayed by celebrity. It turns out that I wasn’t entirely off. Ron Sexsmith is Canadian, but he’s a musician and that makes a lot more sense.

Deer Life focuses in on the life of a hunter who made the mistake of shooting a witch’s dog. In return, she changes him into a deer and leaves him at the mercy of the elements and the humans he used to live with. That should have been a fun premise and I thought I would have loved it, but every thing fell flat.

The dialogue was stilted. The narrator puts interjections in parentheses which is jarring. The names tend to be normal names with an “I” added in (Elenoir, Claira) and there are anachronistic mentions of future technology that don’t need to be there.

“Young Claira Hinterlund was said to be the spitting image of her mother, Camilla. She had no way of knowing this, however, since cameras had not yet been invented.”

And I just kept getting booted out of the book. When I read that excerpt above, I thought “Okay, but mirrors exist, don’t they?”. It’s clarified afterward that her mother had passed on and that the camera reference wasn’t about Claira looking at herself and instead about preserving her mother. But weren’t there portraits? Paintings? Ways existed for us to see people before the camera was invented, you know.

I know this feels nitpicky and it is, but all of these little issues added up.

The little doodles would have been cute if this were a diary entry, but they’re jarring with the tone of the book and aren’t as well integrated into the novel as they were in Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.

Also, did I mention that the tenses switch mid-paragraph?

I’m going to stop here because I don’t think there’s anything more that I could say that would be remotely constructive, but for me Deer Life wasn’t enjoyable and betrayed the promise of its gorgeous cover.

You were the chosen one!
Let the hate flow through you

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