There are people who can write, and there are ‘writers’. Ray Melnik uses his imagination to spin a yarn around issues and interests he is passionate about. The Room is definitely readable, and interesting, but the word ‘quaint’ comes to mind. The narrative revolves around Harry, a decent man from an abusive background. His marriage has fallen apart but he has two beautiful girls to keep him sane. Harry enjoys fixing things for his friends and neighbors. His mother is on the verge of death and he is frustrated that his brother will not make amends.
The plot trundles along with some intrigue as to where Harry will end up, and what the strange connection is in his Mother’s room between past and present. There is more than just emotion in the air. In the prologue, Melnik emphasizes that the book is not ‘science fiction’ but merely looks at a scientific theory in motion (but does take a long time in the book to get to it). I think Melnik should not deny the power of science fiction. Wells and Asimov and many modern science fiction works display alternate presents and futures sprung from issues in contemporary society. The possibilities explored in the texts act as commentary on past and present.
Melnik’s over-explanatory prologue detracts from the story when more energy could have been spent on plot, and particularly, character development. This is a world of ‘nice’ and ‘not so nice’ people. Unfortunately, they all speak with the same voice. I experienced no real emotive connections with the world of the novel. I could not smell his mother’s room. I couldn’t see Harry’s apartment clearly. Melnik is short on strong verbs and metaphor, in fact there is hardly any imagery at all. Melnik seems afraid to use any kind of colloquialisms to individualise character voices. The first person approach also confuses the reader as to how much is Harry, and how much is really the author’s opinions. It is much too obvious when he rants on in first person about the faults of religion and religious people, politics, war and family. While these are all logical arguments that I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with, I regretted the fact that he thought he had to shove them down the reader’s throat.
A book like this cannot have power over opinion because it doesn’t challenge the reader. Those that are already inclined towards Ray’s opinions will probably read it, nod, and then find something more stimulating (like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion). Those who disagree with his scientific reasoning, his atheistic rationalism, will simply not pick up the book. A book that is trying to get out a message needs to be both hard-hitting and subtle. Think of the horrors of war expressed in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. Vonnegut’s favourite adjectives were not ‘nice’ and ‘beautiful’. Melnik may be able to write, and has a story, but he needs to read more than just (brilliant though they are) explanatory scientific texts. If he’s going to write fiction he must delve into what it really means to be a ‘writer’. He needs to show the reader how to feel, think about, and see the world, not just tell them.