His dreams of Hollywood stardom dashed long ago, Mr. Portis Strawberry now leads a less-than-ideal life as a struggling math teacher––a nobody, his worst fear realized. While he contemplates his failed endeavors and teeters on the brink of ending his miserable existence, a strange light beckons him to the screening of a film he wrote but never finished. When he discovers the director shares his name, yet he doesn’t share any of the fame or fortune, Mr. Portis hatches a plan to steal his doppelgänger’s charmed life. His ultra-rich estranged daughter joins him in his unbelievable quest for answers, but their journey takes an unusual turn once Mr. Portis’ daughter Cherise becomes trapped in her father’s movie.
The premise of Chris Leite’s SANS STABILITY MINUS SEX is a familiar, and maybe relatable, story. A man with dreams bigger than he can materialize, a long simmering jealousy paired with a raging ego, a man and his daughter, estranged and bitter for years, attempting to mend a relationship that doesn’t seem to want mending. At its core, there’s a devastating emotional journey to explore if the narrative had gone deeper than its melodrama. Mr. Portis’ daughter Cherise seems to be the only one who takes a stab at changing her ways, and whatever small glimmer of character development that Mr. Portis reaches ultimately feels unearned and fake. To his credit, however, his ruthless unlikeability makes him a somewhat interesting character study. The alternate/doppelgänger Mr. Portis, by contrast, turns out to be a fascinating study in opposites; a decent man willing to admit his faults, hoping to change.
This is an “everything but the kitchen sink” kind of novel––a smattering of every possible genre that’s incoherent at certain points and confusing at others. The timeline itself feels choppy, as random flashbacks interrupt the action at odd intervals and the transition between some scenes jostles the plot around, especially once Cherise ends up in the movie. Even though the fantastical elements are what initially drive Mr. Portis and his daughter on their misadventures, they make less sense as the book unravels and never really mesh well with the central plot line. The flippant explanations for why and how these things are happening don’t always need concrete reasons, but they need to make some kind of sense while they’re unfolding. It’s soon unclear whether the person who earned Mr. Portis’ envy is truly his doppelgänger, an alternate reality, or some weird timeline convergence since these descriptions are used interchangeably.
The book is written more in the style of a screenplay, which carries a neat gimmick considering the theme. While this works better for the book’s interludes where actual screenplay format is used, the descriptive details are fantastic even when the narrative voice seems a little detached. More care with editing and formatting may have helped as well. There are unfortunately many instances where characters ramble on for a whole page without proper paragraph breaks, dialogue between different characters packed into the same wall of text, and breathless run-on sentences.
SANS STABILITY MINUS SEX is a wildly imaginative premise hampered by its uneven execution and surface-level character development.
~Jessie Thomas for IndieReader