Going To See The Elephant by Rodes Fishburne is a pleasant and readable first novel with colorful characters and interesting ideas. However, it lacks depth and a consistent tone that would have made it a truly great book.
Going To See The Elephant follows Slater Brown, a budding writer who has traveled to San Francisco to launch his career. He winds up writing for a long-standing but third-rate newspaper, gaining scoops through a unique and strange method.
Brown becomes a local celebrity, incurring the ire of a colorful and voracious mayor. He also falls in love with a beautiful chess player, who is on a collision course with Milo Magnet a eccentric inventor.
Fishburne does an admirable job in creating interesting characters, from grumpy, gruff, grizzled newspapermen to an eager government entourage. He creates small worlds which resonate with the reader. The newspaper. City Hall. The mad scientist’s lab. Alone, they are actually quite good. Together they begin to lose focus.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like in Going To See The Elephant. The pacing is spot-on and you can’t help but be carried quickly through the story and enjoy the characters.
Yet, the theme of the book is about self-discovery and being true to your dreams. This subject matter deserves greater attention. It is in these instances where Fishburne seems to tell instead of show the reader how the characters deal with these internal conflicts.
In addition, the tone of the novel is uneven and is not cohesive. Is it supposed to be playful and humorous or is it supposed to be heartfelt and introspective? I’m not saying you can’t have both, but one should be consistent throughout, letting the other be the surprising and infrequent foil.
Science. Politics. Media. Love. There’s a lot packed into Going To See The Elephant and I can’t help but think what might have been. Could Fishburne have held back some of the ideas and used them in a future novel? Perhaps fewer concepts would have made it easier to keep Going To See The Elephant focused? I could easily have read an entire novel about Milo Magnet and his experiments.
So I chalk this up to a writer finding his voice. Going To See The Elephant by Rodes Fishburne is an interesting novel. Flawed but enjoyable.