Drilling on Troubled Land
To me, Drilling on Troubled Land read more like a non-fiction account than it did a popular fiction novel. The story, as a whole, contained some interesting moments, and it was informative and apparent that the author knows the environment about which he is writing, but the first chapters of the novel were dense with technical information about the different parts of the drilling equipment and layouts of the oilrigs. The diagrams illustrating the mechanical parts were a nice touch, and while it was relevant information for the reader to know, it did make the beginning a tad dry.
The novel follows Mike LeBlanc, an employee of JRC Drilling Company and the area manager for the Venezuela oilrig. When a fatality occurs under his management, not only is Mike expected to fix the situation in the most cost-effective way possible, he cannot help but be attuned to the potential consequences of impending lawsuits and conflicts with the union workers. Part of Mike’s anxiety is that there does not seem to be a concrete answer as to what happened. He was not at the scene of the accident and is unsure of whether or not it was a hole in JRC’s safety regulations, or an engineering failure, and so he even has a hard time filling out a preliminary accident report. This made the novel hard to follow at times, because there were many characters and factors at play, and I found myself having to frequently reference the flow chart in the beginning pages to keep the characters and their titles straight. I wished for some deeper character development so that I could get to know key persons a little bit more from the start. Not until the end, was there a deeper emotional development that was seen in the characters.
I also felt as though there were a lot of opportunities for the author to stretch some of the major tensions in his plot, but, instead, resolved them more quickly than I expected. For the most part the plot of Drilling Over Troubled Land was propelled by events more than its characters. Most of the problems that arose were quickly resolved in the subsequent chapters and, while I waited for a large plot twist, I found that, ultimately, the novel was more straightforward than I anticipated. The writing portrayed the oil-drilling site as a hectic and dangerous place to work, and though it highlighted the different types of problems that occur, it caused the novel to seem unfocused in the beginning. Understanding that fast reactions and resolutions are necessary in an environment where time is money, the quick turnover of issues does make sense and does seem to accurately pertain to the type of environment the author is writing about.
The former half of the novel also seemed to be fueled by Mike’s worries of what could happen in the future, whereas the latter half put focus on real-time consequences that were occurring. When the possibility of prison time for Mike comes to light, for example, the writing appropriately described urgency about the situation. The second half of the novel was stronger than the beginning and the pace picked up quite a bit. The ending felt a bit abrupt but it was well-rounded, sure not to leave any unanswered questions and was consistent with the pacing of problem solving that was seen in the other parts of the novel. Overall the read was enjoyable and provided a nice look at the oil business, though it took some time to get in to. This may not be a novel for everybody, but I think readers who go into it without predetermined expectations and an interest in a non-cliché, different setting for a popular fiction novel will find Drilling on Troubled Water pleasant.
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