If I go to an art exhibition, the first thing I want to know is, Can this guy draw? If I ask him to draw me a horse, can he do any better than my four-year-old grandson -- or is he just one of those guys who squirt paint at canvas through a bicycle pump and claim that it is Important Art?
So, when I find a book which comes from one of the well-known firms which publish more or less anything for an author who is keen to get into print, the first thing I want to know is, Can the guy write?
Fortunately, Steven Kedrowski can write. Lovesong for the Bad Priestess is published by iUniverse, about which I know nothing except that it is not quite so selective as Random House. However, if you turn to chapter 14 of Lovesong, you will find a description of an incident in a bar which is fully professional in its execution.
So that's the first thing. Steven Kedrowski is literate, capable, and has the basic skills. That much, one might say, is a matter of objective fact.
But after that, a reader's reaction to a book becomes more subjective: it is mainly a matter of the reader's personal tastes and preferences. My own preferences, by and large, are for mainstream/commercial fiction with a strong story line and a minimum of anguished introspection. I am not much into literary fiction. And while Steven Kedrowski might not agree, I would say that his novel falls roughly into the category of literary fiction.
The author presumably wrote his own blurb for the book and here it is: 'Lovesong for the Bad Priestess, the debut novel by Steven Kedrowski, deals with teenage girls who worship satan, books that inspire people to murder, religious fanatics who worship a porn star, and apocalyptic hysteria in 1999. It's dirty, blasphemous, perverted, and funny.'
I wouldn't disagree with that, although it isn't nearly as dirty and blasphemous as he makes it sound. On the other hand, he does seem to have attended a Catholic high school, so maybe he is more conscious of that stuff than I am. As for funny, yes, it is, here and there. I liked the bit about the porn-movie star who played a nun, sent to cure the Pope of a testicular ailment brought on by his lifetime of abstinence. And come to think of it, that's probably blasphemous too.
All in all then, this novel seems to me to take the form of a series of portraits of seriously stressed-out people in modern-day America. I would have preferred a stronger plot -- but hey, it's not my book. And one noteworthy feature of this one is that the author very much gets in on the act, reminding us from time to time that we are reading a novel, and commenting on the unfolding events. So I think we can say that he knows what he's doing, even if we aren't overwhelmed by it.
There are many reasons, it seems to me, why someone who has gone to the trouble of hammering out a novel should pay to have it made into a book. Not the least of these is that your text always looks different when laid out on a printed page. And, furthermore, you can hand copies to people in a nice convenient form.
If I had to guess, I would say that this is the kind of book which might cause an agent to say, Well, not this time. But please show me anything else you produce. And that is no mean achievement in itself.
Is this as good a book as my own first novel (published by a proper publisher)? Yes. Do I recommend that you rush over to Amazon.com and buy this book? No. But would I recommend that you buy a commercial bestseller like Tess Gerritsen's The Sinner? No. And would I recommendd that you buy a literary bestseller like Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days? Hell no! So there you are.
Steven Kedrowski also has a web site and a blog.