I crack open the book, and the first thing I notice is that it’s written in first-person present by a narrator who is also the protagonist. This immediately starts to annoy me for a number of reasons.
First, I am myself, and I don’t like living in other people’s heads. I prefer to observe, rather than to be.
The present tense doesn’t put any distance between me and the events being described. There is no time for reflection. No time for analysis. Everything happens. Bang, bang, bang. One thing after another.
Damn, I think to myself, I’m thinking in italics now, just like the narrator of this book.
That’s because there is no room to step outside the character and see the world from a different camera angle. All that’s happened in the past must come through the filter of the protagonist as flashbacks, getting in the way of the action.
And, because, the writer isn’t particularly skilled with the character, and lacks a sense of irony, what happens is what the narrator perceives. We always have to see his view of the other characters, because there is no distance between the author and the protagonist. There is no filter of misperception through which I as a reader can make my own analysis. Everything is happening now, raw, unedited, uncut.
If there is any speculation or doubt about what’s being observed, I say to myself, it has to be expressed in existential italics (all right, I don’t really know what existential means, but it sounds good here). And I don’t even really like italics to express thoughts, I silently add to myself.
Without really meaning to, I burst out with, “It’s all tell, there’s no show.” It’s true, everything has to be told. The protagonist is always having to justify his actions, otherwise he looks irrational and stupid. There’s no surprise in the story, except for the “twist” at the end, which depends on the narrator having deliberately failed to inform me of a vital plot element.
Well, that was a waste of time, I say to myself. I throw the book across the room, determined never again to read another novel written in first-person present.