Outskirts Press, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-4327-3785-6
It is very easy to see why Refined in the Furnace of Affliction has to be self-published: it is readable only in the sense that I can understand the language the author is writing in. Pacing, depth, style – everything has been thrown out the window, it seems.
This is marketed as a memoir of Mr McCulloch’s journey to self-discovery as he and his family care for their mentally disabled son. As they endure hardships such as money woes as well as constant travel (Mr McCulloch was an army guy), Mr McCulloch discovers God. This one could have been an interesting and even moving story, if Mr McCulloch hadn’t written this book as if he’s jotting down random thoughts that crossed his mind.
He displays no sense of priorities in the focus of his writing. Every event in his life, major or minor, is given equal emphasis in the writing, hence there are plenty bewildering moments here, such as a heartbreaking scene of John flying back home to Mobile, Alabama from the Philippines to be by the side of his wife during her painful delivery being abruptly followed by a scene of his wife getting a good car deal. Really! That would be funny, I know, if at the same time my heart weren’t breaking for the author. With the help of a good editor, some critique partners, and other folks who know what they are doing, Mr McCulloch might have turned this one into an inspirational memoir that will probably do very well with readers who enjoy feel-good stories of ordinary people dealing with and overcoming adversities in life.
Oh, for what this book could have been. What this book is, alas, is a very dry read that sees Mr McCulloch rambling on and on without constructing his story in any way that will engage the reader. It’s like getting stuck next to a stranger in a plane who insists on telling me his life story without giving me first a reason why I should listen to him. The first half or so of the book is all about Mr McCulloch going here, going there, doing this, and doing that. It’s all telling, no showing; it’s like reading a laundry list. Apart from seriously lacking any coherent focus that gives readers a reason to keep reading, this book has severe problems when it comes to pacing and description as well.
By the way, watch out for the last quarter or so of this book if your political leanings lean left. Mr McCulloch launches into a diatribe about how the world has forgotten Christian tenets, giving some emphasis on how homosexuals should not be allowed to do what they do in this world. I personally believe that there are many things wrong with this world but none of them is related to what homosexuals do behind closed doors, but given that this book has a very strong Christian bent that may not appeal to all, I’m not too taken aback by the message Mr McCulloch is preaching. I don’t agree with him at all, but still, I’m not going to judge this book by how much I differ from him when it comes to our beliefs.
After all, with this book being such a mess when it comes to the technical aspects of the writing, there are plenty of secular reasons already to wish that this book has been kept in the author’s drawer.