Gregory Funaro’s novel The Sculptor leaves a bit to be desired. A good adjective for it would be cliched. A less favorable adjective would be stock, for it’s a stock story resting on stock tropes relying on stock characters while the author makes a painfully conscious effort to dabble in archetypal imagery. An art historian, an FBI profiler, and a serial killer who sees himself as an artist walk into a plot together….
And that’s it, by and large. A bad joke. A 385-page long bad joke. And the worst part is, you can tell that the author tried to go for something meaningful here and ended up with a Bedazzled® turd.
The key difference between genre over literary fiction is the emphasis of plot over character. For the genre fiction writer, stock characters are the norm: cookie-cutter heroines, plastic-mould heroes, obvious villains we all know and love to hate. We customize the characters, append backstory to our stock anthropologist / physicist / cop / nurse / medical doctor and so make the character our own. The standard characters get a bit of a make-over, some unique characteristics, and they pop into the story in a likable, readable way. The personalities of the characters connect with the reader and help propel the story, help drive the plot, which is why people read genre fiction in the first place.
But Funaro didn’t do that. Instead, he grabbed his Bedazzler™ and went to town on some turds.
Let me get right to the point: I like it when an academic and a rough-and-tumble cop fall in love. It’s that polar opposition–a world of the mind encounters the visceral reality of the streets–and sparks fly. It’s cliche, but it’s very workable. Forget that. Let’s have a brilliant art historian develop an almost prepubescent crush on her FBI counterpart. Catherine doesn’t just find the FBI agent intriguing… she turns into a school-girl with a she-woody despite her career as an academic. At times I couldn’t tell if these people were supposed to be professionals or high school students. It was also impossible to think of Catherine as a divorcee given her actions; she throws herself into the relationship with little hesitation, and that’s not how people act after they’ve been burned in love.
The killer himself isn’t very original, either. While he does plasticize his victims and use their bodies to recreate the works of Michelangelo, I was reminded of Francis Dolarhyde’s infatuation with William Blake’s The Great Red Dragon. Even the plasticization evoked the memory of the Bodies exhibition scandal.
Getting to know the killer, learning that he felt betrayed by the “pretty art historian” who elects to help the FBI, left me anticipating the end of the novel some 100 or so pages before that shoe dropped. Seriously, it was like Funaro was trying to be predictable. Everything about the murderer was predictable. Everything about the romance was predictable. Everything about the novel was predictable.
If anything The Sculptor has shown me the dangers of merely appending backstory to characters, as opposed to filling the psyche derived from that backstory. Everything was stock. Everything felt like an afterthought.
“Oh, here’s a killer with a bad childhood.”
“Oh, here’s a divorcee thrust into mystery by a dashing FBI agent.”
“Oh, here’s an FBI agent with rugged good looks and stock FBI traits.”
“Oh, here’s six hours of my life I won’t be getting back.”
One thing I will hand Funaro: His research into the work of Michelangelo was solid. Beyond that, I could’ve lived without reading this.