Stereotypically Predictable 

'God's Pocket' wants to be like 'Lonesome Dove,' but predictability and a clumsy plot doom the book

Len Hodgson's latest book is rife with predictable comedic references and stereotypical characters. Unless you want to blow an hour or two on a work of exceptionally mediocre fiction, don't pick up God's Pocket.

Geared for weak-limbed octogenarians who haven't been outdoors for at least a year, the opening line reads, "Paw blew up himself and everyone in my family except me on the fifteenth day of April, 1916." And ultimately, the whole book reads this way, as if pandering to a retired, Republican nostalgia for what might have been if only the West had actually looked like a Gene Autry movie. Retired, I say, because the main character, Miles, is supposedly sitting in his rocking chair, age 102, typing his life story into a "dang' computer"; Republican, because the author slips in several jabs at the Democratic Party; and nostalgia, because the whole thing is bunk and hokum pinned loosely to some factual characters and places.

The would-be charm of the novel is supposed to manifest itself as stuffy old Miles spins an outright fabrication for us modern greenhorns. Unfortunately, the craftsmanship is so ordinary and the material used is so flimsy and predictable that the reader can see right through that woolen cap in a way that is not endearing, as it might be if it were the readers' own old great-grandpappy were waving a gold nugget from a chain and spinning the yarn himself. What would be a fine campfire style telling of Ye Olde gold rush, amounts--in Hodgson's hands--to an annoyingly forced hack-job of a novel.

The plot moves from event to event without any sense of thought or reflection; if there is foreshadowing, it arrives just two or three paragraphs before the event, not allowing for any suspense or anticipation. Because the plot is motivated by dialogue alone, the reader's attention is asked to swing back and forth from one character to another--characters who represent a glossary of generic stereotypes. Overall, the novel has about as much plot and texture as a Roy Rogers serial, but not as much good sense. God's Pocket is a shallow and boring adventure story that totally misses the mark that greater books hit; titles like Lonesome Dove, Shane and Big Sky completely dust it.

One of God's Pocket's biggest faults is the massive influx of characters. Each character is used to prod the plot forward--like tiny water wings, keeping the reader afloat in a kiddy pool when they'd be better off standing up and walking away--and because so few of them are developed, it doesn't particularly matter when one of them dies (a reader can only feel relief that there's one less name to keep track of).

There is no climax to this story; it doesn't raise awareness of any issue, need or moral imperative; and it seems to have no agenda other than to relate a goofy yarn about a guy who wants to dig gold and doesn't get to. The closest God's Pocket could get to profundity (or an actual theme) would be something along the lines of: Life throws curve balls, and you'll be lucky if the next one doesn't whack you in the head. Annoying, choppy, episodic, random and packed with names and events--the only thing this book is good for is giving away to a complete stranger you'll never see again.

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