Browsing through several piles of books at the bookstore, there always is that one book which sticks out: Its cover seems interesting, the feel is good and reading the blurb immerses you right away. “All My Colors” has been one of these books for me. And a book about a book, praised as a godchild of early Stephen King on its back? Could there be anything better?
As I have said in my previous article about dazzling moments, I was not able to write as much as I originally planned on doing, because I have been reading like a crazy person. The mystery thriller “All My Colors”, which pictures Todd Milstead – an insufferable wannabe writer, I liked the most. It has been written quite cinematically. Furthermore, its supernatural elements as well as its play with morality are captivating.
How pleasing this experience was, I would like to show you with the following book review of “All My Colors”, starting with a summary of its content.
The following book recommendation contains more information than the blurb of the book. If you would like to avoid possible spoilers at any cost, I recommend you to jump to the last three sections of this post.
Miracle or Curse? A Book!
Todd never listened. Somebody […] once said that the only way you could get Todd to listen would be if you taught a mirror to talk, and even then Todd’s reflection wouldn’t be able to get a word in because Todd would be lecturing it on the best way to be a reflection.Quantick, David: All My Colors. London: Titan Books 2019, p. 10.
In short: Todd Milstead is an asshole. Considering the narrator’s omnipresence, everyone agrees to it: his not-so-close friends, his lover, even his wife. The only reason why they stand his detestable behaviour is because of the good parties he throws and – of course – the booze. Sunning himself in the spotlight, he quotes multiple lines out of multiple books, presenting his eidetic memory. Indeed, Todd never listens.
Considering the strategic nature of novels, it is not surprising that there shall be one moment in which everything changes. In Todd’s case, everything changes within one single Saturday night in March 1979. Whilst sipping on whiskey, his friend Billy shares an incident that has occured at the local hardware store: An attractive woman asks for a hacksaw in order to cut her ring finger off.
Interestingly, it is news to everyone but Todd. He is sure to remember this scene from a book called “All My Colors”, written by Jake Turner. In fact, he knows the whole book by heart. A book, noone seems to recall except for Todd (which is odd). Right in front of the quoting wannabe writer lies an unusual opportunity.
With the divorce coming up, he is not only going to lose his wife and the house. Unable to write, there are no finances to support him. He needs money. Now. After flipping a dime (thrice), he eventually decides to copy “All My Colors”. Two major things happen next: Firstly, a publisher takes an interest in the book he has just stolen. Secondly, consequences arise from his actions: “‘Whatever you’re doing, you better stop now’” (p. 61), Billy urges. It seems that Todd had better listened.
Written Like a Movie
The story of the novel is being told by an authorial narrator: This guy literally knows everything at every point of time and even what events are happening simultaneously. He keeps his distance to the individual characters, yet humorously indulging himself in his narration. In these moments, you also get to know his affinity for parenthesis:
So (while Billy Cairns was bent double over his own toilet and finding out just how empty an empty stomach can be) Todd got stiffly out of his seat, went out to his car, which was still parked at a rakish angle across the lawn.Quantick, David: All My Colors. London: Titan Books 2019, p. 45.
In the first chapter of the book, the narrator brings all the main characters together and paints them, unvarnished. Despite the longer narration at the beginning, the author uses simple, short sentences to ellicit any unneccessary information. This adds up to the cinematic atmosphere of the book. There might be specific moments where you feel like the visual display of emotions is missing. Apart from that, the author is a true painter of vivid pictures and scenes.
Nowadays, a lot of authors write their books thinking ahead of a possible film adaptation, Fritz Gesing mentions in his book “Kreativ schreiben”. How we get to know at the end of the book, David Quantick indeed is “an Emmy-winning television writer [and] author” (p. 287). Makes sense, right?
The Demon Inside
As mentioned before, Todd is unable to write. Although he designed his life to make time to do so, he “could sit there for hours, waiting for the Muse to strike” (p. 31). When the opportunity arises to finally write something worth showing anybody, he cannot resist, even considering his very true assumption that it is “‘not [his] to write’” (p. 35).
He knows that what he is going to do is wrong. Yet, there is a deep urge inside of him that does not only root in his own desires. By giving in to it, a foreign hand seems to lead the process, ignoring several human needs. Instead of rushing towards the toilet whenever it is necessary, he simply uses diapers, for example. “What the fuck is in me?” (p. 27), Todd asks himself. At first, “It was a book”. Then, he feels that it is a “spirit guiding him” (p. 237). He is merely a spectator of the movements of his hands.
This part of the book particularly intrigues me since I have already encountered the idea that creativity roots from an external entity, also described as a demon, rather than from the inside of the human being as I have illustrated in my blog post about the meaning of creativity. At the same time, quite a bit of the book’s suspense roots from this aspect.
A Library of Hidden Clues
Since the book displays Todd’s eidetic memory, the author often plays with quotes which are sometimes used to indicate Todd’s feelings. However, the quotes are also used to give clues about what is happening on the supernatural level. Of course, some of the quotes are not as evident if you have not heard about them before, e. g. a passage from Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2:
I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.Quantick, David: All My Colors. London: Titan Books 2019, p. 148.
Birds generally fly with the wind. Flying northerly (in this case north-north-west), the sun usually blinds the hunter. Flying southerly, on the other hand, makes him distinguish between friend (hunted “handsaw” or heron) and enemy (hawk). In this line, Hamlet wants to point out that he only appears mad, if he chooses to be. What this quote means for Todd, I leave to you and your own detective skills.
Furthermore, the author gives his characters dreams to point at what could possibly happen next. While Billy dreams of a somehow domed library, Todd dreams of being in his favorite bookstore, watching his friend devour a book. You might want to remember that movies usually are not as metaphorical as books can be.
The Belief in Second Chances
With the completion of the book, Todd experiences a lot of first timers which are highly positive compared to his previous life choices. Shortly before he decides to write the book, it takes him three dimes to evaluate whether he is going to try to write himself or not. It is “the first and only time in his life” (p. 38) he writes from the heart. This is the moment when Todd inspects “his soul from every angle, and it wasn’t good”. This is the moment when Todd takes the bait.
The author plays with the idea that Todd has been given a second chance: “For the first time in his life, Todd Milstead had followed his dream and his dream hadn’t told him to go home.” (p. 117) It also is the first time in his life that he “makes love” in “the real sense of the word” (p. 151). The book makes the reader hope that Todd really got his second chance. It is another aspect of the book that makes it so suspenseful.
Thrill from a Safe Distance
There are multiple scenes in the book that are quite capable of giving you the creeps. However, those scenes did not feel as thrilling to me as I have anticipated. I have come up with the following reasons that might have caused this phenomenon:
- I have been reading the book in the bus, piece by piece.
- The book does concentrate on rather non-thrilling scenes. Although there are pieces of horror lining up, they are almost swallowed by a bunch of scenes describing Todd’s daily routine or sudden success.
- Although the characters have been pictured authentically, I could not sympathize as much with them as I usually do. I felt to be kept at distance at all times.
Since Todd is presented the way he is, you are less likely to hope, worry or get involved with the character. It feels as if it is all centered around the one big secret behind the written word. It is not about Todds story, but rather about the story behind the story. The author makes it possible for the reader to keep the necessary distance to figure it out by himself and then to feel the stress of Todd taking too long to do the same.
As with “All My Colors” by Todd Milstead, “All My Colors” by David Quantick can be easily read by men and women equally. The language is easy-to-read, yet interesting and challenging (considering the clues).
If you are the kind of reader that rather likes to read very detailed decriptions, this book might not be for you. The book is on-point and can be even quickly read. However, there are only 8 chapters which makes the experience feel extensive, if you are looking for a break in the midst of a chapter.
After reading this book, please do not mind me urging you as a future reader to take the following statement of the book into account:
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.Quantick, David: All My Colors. London: Titan Books 2019, p. 4.
It amazes me how well literally all the aspects of the book come together.
Information About the Book
Title: All My Colors
Author: David Quantick
Publication: April 2019
Publisher: Titan Books
Length: 288 pages
Price: 8,99 €
There is a grain of morality, supernatural justice and a warning of recurring human behavioural patterns involved in this story. It is what gives the mystery thriller a meaning and what makes it shine and desirable to read.
I find it interesting how the author is able to display the duality of the events, the success as well as the dread. It is a feeling we sometimes obtain by finding ourselves unable to decide between two choices. We cannot possibly know what is going to happen following either one of the paths. We simply choose. Sometimes, we are happy with the choice. Sometimes, we partly are. And another time, we wish we would have chosen another path.
In fact, it reminds me of a saying that the harder path usually turns out to be the right path to choose. Make sure to evaluate your options properly. Do not simply go by “easy”. After all, there are many “colors” involved.
 Cf. Gesing, Fritz: Kreativ schreiben. Handwerk und Techniken des Erzählens. Überarbeitete und erweiterte Neuausgabe. Köln: DuMont 2014, p. 110.