‘Of Good and Evil’
By: Gerald Griffin
Rating: Two out of five bookmarks
I’ve realized after reading the novel for this week’s book review that it may not be fair for me to critique self-published books. While I do get many requests from local writers to review their books, and I always want to support the ambitions of aspiring authors, let’s face the not-so-nice truth: People tend to self-publish when faced with continuous rejection from literary agents and traditional publishing houses, and they prefer to simply pay the fee themselves to see their work in print.
However, the book that landed in my hand recently, “Of Good and Evil” by Gainesville resident Gerald Griffin, was recommended to me not by the author himself but by multiple people with whom I regularly chat. One co-worker loaned me the book, stating: “I think you’ll really find this interesting from a psychological standpoint.”
Uh-oh. Normally when someone says I’ll like a book for its “psychology,” it normally means the story itself is going to be mind-numbingly lackluster. However, having been given more than one recommendation about it, and its plot sounding amusing, I was going to be cautiously optimistic about “Of Good and Evil” and give it a read.
Griffin gives us the story of Ron Sheffield, a former Green Beret who was discharged for apparently going “berserk.” What no one knows, and what Ron himself doesn’t fully understand, is that his episodes of insanity are due to his having special mental abilities — abilities that make him practically superhuman, in some regards.
After a disastrous run-in with the Mafia, who brutally beat and shot him, Ron is hospitalized and saved from death by a woman named Amber. Like Ron, she, too, has special abilities. Because they share the same “vibrations,” she is able to restore Ron to perfect condition. The two of them set out to get revenge on the mobsters who tried to murder him, while also trying to survive the attacks of a government cell out to kill Ron over secret documents he discovered on a mission in Iraq.
As I mentioned, I can’t use the criteria I normally do with novels to judge this one. This story unfortunately suffers in several departments: It is heavy with unnecessary descriptions that slow the pacing; the writing is fairly clunky (although there are a few moments of good dialogue); the characters themselves are pretty bland and unoriginal; and certain plot points that could have been developed into much more exciting exploits are snuffed out quickly, making the story feel abruptly episodic and killing the tension most of the time.
Yet this story does pose some interesting philosophical questions, mainly about the titular topic: What exactly defines “good” and “evil?” Both Ron and Amber risk going “insane” due to their abilities, so they each have found ways of “hiding” (as they call it) in order to control them; in Ron’s case, it is by killing people. He doesn’t kill the innocent, but pursues “evil” men in order to fulfill his need (even being contracted as a hit man, at one point).
Amber hides from her risk of insanity through sex, although once she finds Ron, she alters her promiscuous ways solely for him. Both of them, in order to save their sanity, must resort to taboos and vices that would otherwise be considered “evil.”
So where is the line between the two? How can something typically considered “evil” be so if it is keeping someone from doing something even worse, or even destroying himself? Can an evil act actually be done for good, and vice versa? And what do those human concepts mean for someone who possesses talents beyond the human norm?
So while “Of Good and Evil” is by no means a perfect novel, Griffin does give the reader something to think about, which is what writing should do even if other areas of the book aren’t as strong. It is better for a book to need some work but open up the doors for thoughtful discussion rather than be extremely eloquent but have nothing to say.
Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.