Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Whole New Lineup

Please excuse the overlong silence: Blogger was uncooperative, and I'm not one of those ambitious people who can eschew the ease of a do-it-yourself blog publisher and build my own Web Presence.  Though, with the help of my brilliant web programmer husband, I have learned to do this:

Passage Look at that! Exciting, isn't it?  Anyway, I finished Passage the other day, and it was a relief. It's kind of sad to say that, because I did enjoy it, and I think of myself as a huge Connie Willis fan, so I just want to gush about this book.  But the fact is, it's too long by almost a third.

You get a good, solid start with 100 pages or so of setup--meeting our characters (Doctors Joanna Lander and Richard Wright), learning about their motivations and lives (researchers trying to establish the scientific basis of near death experiences, and whether they serve a biological function; lots of running around the hospital, answering phone messages, and scheduling conflicts), and get an idea of the main driving story of the book (Mandrake, the spiritualist whose research discredits their own, and Joanna's feeling that she's close to the truth about near death experiences).

Then, we have the middle part, which should be much, much....well, I want to say shorter, but the problem isn't that it's too long, it's that it loops around itself.  Willis does an amazing job of creating the tension of the everyday busy person--too many voicemails, pages that you don't have time to answer right now, people rescheduling on you when you really need to get this done by Tuesday.  This does a good job of ratcheting up the tension, but I think that was the problem: the level of tension was hit early in the book and didn't climb gradually, but stayed frenetic for too long.

The story was so good, though, that I can't un-recommend the book.  It's a book that's about the ride, and you need to be willing to climb on and watch the scenery go by, get to know the people who work at the hospital, fish around in the imagery that Joanna is trying to parse (and I won't spoil anything by giving away the details here).  I loved Maisie and Kit and Guadalupe, and I was annoyed by Tish and Mr. Sage.  I really wanted to know when the cafeteria would be open, and I want the recipe for the ham dip.

I can't say I didn't enjoy the book.  I just would have enjoyed less of it more.


Brenda Pike said...

I just started reading Blackout by Connie Willis, and it's got exactly the same "tension of the everyday busy person--too many voicemails, pages that you don't have time to answer right now, people rescheduling on you when you really need to get this done by Tuesday." Is this just something Connie Willis does? I'm 10% into the book, and I thought the chaos was just to establish how some sort of time-travel accident could happen, but it's not stopping. Seriously, you're writing about time traveling historians, and the best you can do is talk about how their drop times are being rescheduled left and right so they don't have enough time to prepare? Really? Sigh.

LibraryHungry said...

I think there are some very practical purposes served by this style, but that she completely overdoes it. First, it creates its own tension--everything is frantic and rushed and that adds energy to the story. Second, it gives space for certain plot things to happen--things get forgotten, overruled, or potentially obvious courses of action are ruled out by the constraints of the frantic situation.

But she totally overdoes it, to the point where it's distracting. In Passage, the problem was that huge chunks of the book served no purpose but to add to the level of craziness--there were a lot of scenes with no point. I didn't see that problem in Doomsday Book (where the frantic energy followed actual activities that needed to happen) or To Say Nothing Of the Dog (where it was used to comic effect).

Ugh, I hope I don't have the same problem with Blackout.