‘These Days’ fizzles out

These Days by Jack Cheng
“These Days” by Jack Cheng

In the summer of 2012, I was looking around on Kickstarter.com to become familiar with how the whole crowd-funding process worked. I was considering a venture with a friend, and Kickstarter seemed like a possible way for us to get our project off the ground. We ended up not pursuing our endeavor, but along the way of my journey through the site, I did come across the project of Jack Cheng. He was writing a book (his first) called “These Days,” and I was fascinated because he was attempting to fund his foray into being a published author by getting donations from people from around the world. As an author myself, I was keenly interested in how Kickstarter could further my writing career.

So I dove in. I backed the book. I gave $35, which qualified me for the “PATRON BUNDLE—The hardcover bundle, a limited-edition letterpress bookmark, and your name acknowledged in the back of the book.” This gave me a hardcover book, a digital copy, and the rest of what is outlined in the description. Also, every week since I backed the project, I received email updates from Cheng that highlighted his thoughts and musings on writing and life, as well as updates on the progress of “These Days.” I still get those updates, and I enjoy them greatly.

Eventually, my copy of the book arrived. I wanted to read it right away, but I waited. I was in the middle of various activities and another book I was reading.

Finally, though, I am proud to say I have read “These Days.”

Since I backed the book, I was totally prepared to love it, and I can safely say I did enjoy it. I found the characters to be relatable. The prose flowed well, and the story was engaging. And New York City is a great backdrop for a love story, isn’t it?

Through his story, Cheng painted an interesting commentary on how we interact with technology. He showed two sides: those totally enamored with tech and those who saw it as a nuisance. He didn’t take a stance on tech being good or bad. Instead, he simply shared, in a more simplified way, the way both groups saw things.

I was fascinated by the picture of the New York tech startup scene. I have no experience with it whatsoever, but Cheng made it look exciting and fun. I love technology, so this aspect of the book resonated with me, even if some of the descriptions and whatnot did seem to slow the story down.

As I said, the characters were relatable, but they were frustrating. The female protagonist — Katherine, or K as she was known through most of the story — was incredibly closed off. Her past, which was the cause of her behavior, was revealed to the reader via memories, but her inability to share with the male protagonist — Connor Vast, a designer of fake computer interfaces and startup member — even though a romance blooms between them, bothered me a great deal. One could argue that Cheng did this to highlight real life, but since it was a novel, I wanted at least some form of closure in terms of her opening up to him and them fully accepting each other for who they were: K was sans-cellphone and despised technology, and Connor seemed to be permanently attached to his cellphone and was one with the digital stream of Facebook and other online social updates.

It was this lack of closure that prevented me from truly enjoying the book. I chewed through each page hoping for that pivotal moment when she would open up and tell him what was truly bothering her, which would then lead to either the relationship progressing or it ending. At the very least, I wanted K to tell Connor she couldn’t open up and leave him. I wanted some sort of climax. However, that never happened.

Instead, the book simply ended.

The way it ended was clearly a reference back to point in the book where it was discussed that the only way to move forward was to truly hit rock bottom, but I wasn’t satisfied. As a writer and reading of mysteries, I love a good cliffhanger, but this wasn’t a cliffhanger at all. It just ended. Was it done so as to leave the door open for a sequel? Maybe, but if so, I feel it could have been handled better.

Basically, the story fizzled out. It ran out of steam.

Again, maybe it was done to replicate real life. Things do just end, but I have often been told, and read as much from experienced writers such as Tom Clancy, “The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.”

As I said, I really wanted to love this book, but instead I found it to be simply OK. It was an easy read, and it was fun to read because it did shine a spotlight on human nature and how technology can affect our lives and relationships.

I did find the whole process of how Cheng’s book came to fruition enthralling. He raised his own capital, found an editor, typeset the text, and designed the cover. He did it all, and that is admirable. I especially like the cover design. It resembles a cracked cellphone screen. I took this to represent how life and relationships are fragile and can be easily cracked, just as a carelessly dropped cellphone can. For me, it tied in the concept of technology and relationships incredibly well.

I hope Cheng continues to write. I would love to see what his next novel looks like. Though his first attempt might have fallen a bit flat, I want to see what else he has up his sleeve.

If you are interested in purchasing Cheng’s book, visit his Amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/These-Days-Novel-Jack-Cheng/dp/1482692414

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About toddvogts 808 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, MJE, is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Journalism Education Association, among others. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at twitter.com/toddvogts or via his website at www.toddvogts.com.