- - - The original review - - -
Four Days is an nice book with a unique premise, but it is not the next Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird as advertised. If you're looking for social epiphanies, look elsewhere. This story is about Jack Phalen's potential and an unclear atonement for Ernest Hemingway's life that I never did quite understand. The author has woven his version of the magical dream that many novelists have about writing a killer first novel and pulling their financial situation out of the fire by some miracle of divine intervention--here supplied by Papa. He helps Jack believe over a four day period in his innate abilities as a writer (with very, very thin skin) while he clings to life in a coma caused by his own stubbornness.
I'm not a Hemingway expert, but the story needed to delve deeper into Hemingway's life to raise this story to its lofty goals. Only the time spent in Cuba truly seemed filled with some magic and insight. Interesting dead people pop up during Jack's coma-induced journey with Papa, and though at times it felt like name dropping, some characters reinforced common writing tips Jack needs should he decided to remain amongst the living and write rather than go to the hereafter. However, the choice to remain never seemed in doubt.
And here's where Jack's journey falls off the map for me. I didn't care for the whiny Jack upon his return, the Jack who feels he's a modern day Job, beset by the recent economic difficulties while contemplating larceny when things get tight, needing not-so-subtle reminders that he's broken bread with a 50 year dead Ernest Hemingway and been in the unseen presence of the Lord. As a writer/reader, I'm a bit put off by Jack's hubris in dashing off a book, expecting instant success, and well, you'll not get the unrealistic spoiler from me. Suffice to say, I was left with a less than solid message from a book about messages. Four Days is a straddler. For some uniqueness and magic upfront, it could garner a four, but taking the whole book, it rates a top-notch "3".