Gregory Funaro’s The Sculptor is not the worst novel I’ve ever read, but, at times, it took a great amount of effort to get through. The story is decent, but most of it is highly derivative of previously published novels involving an intelligent serial killer. But that isn’t the biggest problem I had with this book. The most painful part of reading it was the writing itself.
When I was an undergrad at Seton Hill University, Dr. Michael Arnzen, a fantastic horror author, once said in a creative writing class to never only read what you like and what is good or great; rather, read absolutely everything, even the works that are bad. The great works can teach you what to do in a novel and the bad works will teach you what not to do. Well, Funaro’s novel has shown me what not to do in my own writings.
Many things about the writing dragged me out of the story, effectively distancing me from any enjoyment that I could have had. For instance: there is an insane amount of repetition in the novel and while it is usually done for style and emphasis, it often falls flat. Repetition is not always bad, but it can be easily overused. More often than not, it’s a device to avoid. An example from page 328 of the edition I read:
“She could not see the woman behind the screen door, could not see to whom Markham spoke . . . ”
This isn’t a bad technique, and it is one that I use occasionally. However, it should only be used occasionally. However, at the beginning of the next paragraph:
“Even if her mind had not begun to wander, even if she had not drifted off into a light afternoon sleep . . . ”
It begins to get far too repetitive when overused. Especially in this novel where the line with the two instances of “even if” continues with:
” . . . Cathy most likely would not have noticed the ’99 Porsche 911 cruise past on the cross street straight ahead of her, would not have given it a second look even if she had.”
And a couple of sentences later on the very same page:
“And although he did not dare drive by it a second time, and although he did not dare take a closer look . . . ”
I counted more than fifty sentences written this way before I gave up. What you see here is an example of what not to do in a novel, what not to do (haha) if you want to keep the reader close. When a technique or device is overused, it distances the reader. This may force him or her to pay more attention to the words themselves rather than what the words are showing.
Another issue I had with the novel involved the dialogue. It is rather stilted and often does not sound genuine. Frankly, it sounds manufactured, which is not how you want dialogue to sound in a novel. Many of the characters, primarily Markham and Cathy, will give a technical description of something, then say “That is, [insert layman’s description here]” or “Meaning, [insert layman’s description here].” At one point in the novel, both Markham and Cathy do this. On the same page. It was yet another thing that grabbed my attention and showed me what not to do. That can probably be used once or twice, at most, in a novel for it not to sound weird in dialogue. And even then it must be used perfectly.
But enough ranting about the issues I had with the writing. There are more things that bothered me, but they are nothing compared to what I showed above.
In the story, The Sculptor sends Cathy a poem that Michelangelo sent to his love interest, another male. I had never heard anyone argue that Michelangelo was homosexual, and it was interesting. If this is a real theory, it’s obvious Funaro did his homework. However, because The Sculptor sent a particular poem in the novel, it is decided by the FBI very early on that The Sculptor is gay. Come on. Seriously? So you’re telling me that the poem couldn’t have been reappropriated to fit another person of the opposite sex? If I were to use one of Shakespeare’s sonnets meant for the fair youth does that mean I’m gay even if I sent it to a woman? Shakespeare may or may not have been gay, but I think my point is made here. The FBI turned out to be right, but I think this was included only to show how good Markham is at his job. There are no ifs, ands, or buts, when deciding The Sculptor is gay after discussing the poem for a few minutes. But just because something was written in a particular way, or for a particular poem, that doesn’t mean just because you read it or forward it to someone makes you the same as the author and use it for the same purposes.
As the novel progresses, it becomes evident that The Sculptor is another character to fill the endless ranks of “genius serial killers.” He knows what he’s doing, is aware of the pain he causes (although he thinks the end result justifies the pain), and has severe mommy issues. He is interesting at times, but derivative.
As for the ending, Cathy tells The Sculptor she is his mother. Not in the literal sense, but more of the spiritual sense. Essentially, the mother had been awakened from the slumber she was in. The Sculptor immediately accepts this. At this point, we left the intelligent serial killer territory The Sculptor occupied the entire novel and entered Jason Voorhees territory. I was disappointed. The ending seems rushed and, frankly, incomplete. It almost seems tacked on.
While The Sculptor is not the worst novel I have ever read, it is one that a writer can use to see what not to do in a novel.