Sometimes I like a book conceptually and find the central characters engaging, but the book's structure isn't ideal. This is what happened when I read Jacob's Cellar by Richard G. Sharp which I reviewed for The Bookplex.
I liked this book despite the fact that I considered it structurally flawed. I was won over by the loveable Grandpa Fentress, who turned out to be more than a bit of a scamp, and some remarkably entertaining twists in the narrative.
Yet I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that very few events in Jacob’s Cellar were shown as happening to the characters in real time. More than ninety percent of the novel is conveyed through exposition, dialogue about events that had already happened, and letters. It seems to me that this is not the most effective way to construct a narrative. It lessens the impact of the novel. I often felt distanced from the characters, particularly at the outset. I had a hard time identifying who all these people were, and how they were related to each other. I wished that I had a chart of the Ebhart family for reference. I might have had an easier time if there had been some flashbacks so that I could have had more direct contact with the more historically distant characters. They would have been better fleshed out, and therefore more memorable.
The expository passages sometimes felt long and tedious. This was especially true of the narration about the Civil War. The author was showing off the extent of his research, but not contributing very much in the way of excitement.
I honestly feel that Jacob’s Cellar was meant to be three books. The first would be about the earliest generation of the Ebharts in America. Since the 18th century is my favorite period in American history, I would definitely have loved a firsthand account of the Regulator Revolt and the Battle of the Alamance. The second would deal with the life and death of the mysterious Jacob, and the third with his son Jake’s experiences in the Mexican War and the Civil War. The drama of Jake’s war experiences could have been brought to life more successfully by showing them as they happened through the eyes of both Jake and Adelita.
I couldn't help noticing that the opening to this novel recalls to mind the Biblical Jacob's Ladder sequence. I wondered if the author was inspired by the Bible to write Jacob's Cellar or if he inserted the Biblical parallel later on in the writing process.
There's an incorrect Poe allusion in this book. It should be "The Cask of Amontillado", not "The Raven". I really don't spend my time trying to catch authors in errors, but I remark on them if I do notice them.