Review: Chance by Kem Nunn (author of Tijuana Straits)

Chance by Kem Nunn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

More than being a book about dissociative personality disorder, this book itself suffers from dissociative personality disorder. CHANCE’s disingenuous description labels it as “an intense tale of psychological suspense”, but what’s presented is humorous noir. The book’s biggest sin, though, is trying to combine intelligent narrative with fatigued cliché, both in character and in dialogue.

Believability, or rather a lack thereof, will kill any book. Kem Nunn’s deft and detailed description of San Francisco’s bay area certainly creates a strong backdrop, but the cardboard-ish characters ruin the scenery. Characters include: an omniscient ex-husband detective antagonist that may-or-may not be involved; a downward-spiraling, sex-deprived physiatrist protagonist; an enigmatic lurch buddy that can’t drive, but can quote GRAPES OF WRATH, expound on computer hacking, and is an apparent expert in the martial arts; and finally, the two-charactered patient scared of being found out, but has no problem rendezvousing in public or at her doctor’s apartment for an occupational midnight romp.

As for the dialogue, at times characters are referencing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMV) and the philosophies of Nietzsche, but at other times are dropping tired lines as “sup, dog” or “go big or go home.” It reads like Nunn tried to increase the cerebral draw to his novels, but couldn’t help but slip into his surfer dude history. This would have been a fantastic novel if he stayed consistent throughout.

Ultimately there wasn’t enough drive, nor was there enough conflict. The audience doesn’t care for the eponymous Dr. Chance, which is bad news for when he needs empathy for the bad decisions he makes. The villain isn’t villainous enough, and the mistress/patient isn’t alluring enough. As for the guy named D that sits in the back of the furniture shop, he’s a convenient enigma that is handy to have deus ex machinas sitting in his back pocket—in some cases, literally.

Proper branding and narrative consistency would have done this book wonders. Instead, we’re left with an okay plot that bounces around with some interest. This lands somewhere between 2 and 3 stars.

Thank you to Scribner for sending me a review copy of this book.

Be sure to check out this book and its other reviews on Amazon: Chance: A Novel



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