Friday, August 31, 2012

Quick Hits

How many times can I come here and rant about Stephen King?  Actually, this one is kind of a new rant: Mile 81 is way less troubling than a lot of his other recent stuff.  It's a Kindle Single, meaning a short story/novella, so that helps--too long is not the problem.  And, even better, it's pretty tight, not getting too distracted by some of the things that lead to his digressions.

No, my only complaint here is that dude, I know you have a very rosy picture of what a rough and tumble punk you were at age ten, but that is a LOT of swear words that this kid is spouting.  Not just out loud, but in his thoughts, which I think is even less likely.  I mean yeah, a ten year old says swears to impress his older brother, but he doesn't think the f-word in every sentence.  And I highly doubt that a six year old girl thinks of her brother as an asshole quite as frequently as your character does.  I realize that kids are not the pristine innocents we want them to be, but you might have tipped over into the opposite end of  believability.

Let me talk a little about Safekeeping, a new novel by Newbery-winning writer Karen Hesse.  I've never read anything of hers before; I got this advance reader's copy based mostly on the blurb, which is about how the main character, a teenager named Radley, is away from home when the American People's Party takes over the country and the arrests begin.  She makes it back into the US, but now she needs to find her way home to Vermont; and from there, to somewhere even safer when things go downhill.

I wanted to like this book--it's got a good premise--dystopian road trip!--and, based on the blurb, promised to be immediate and intimate.  I was pretty sad to find it disappointing.  There are a lot of ways a book like this can go that would satisfy me--either deep into the day to day details of how the characters keep themselves alive and safe, or on a nerve-wracking series of close calls and scrapes, or into a broader view of the world through the eyes of people they meet and news that trickles through.  This book took none of these paths. 

It seemed like almost every opportunity for tension is wasted.  Radley considers herself to be in danger, but it's always completely unspecified, both why she would be targeted and what the dangers would be.  There are almost no details about how she lives--dumpsters, gardens, hunger, how she spends her days, all are touched on vaguely, broadly.  This is not a book where you worry about food, like Life As We Knew It.  And it's not really political--she gets almost no news, and everything is very vague.  It's really sort of a poem on nature, and discomfort, and sort of the Zen of living in the moment and wanting what you have, and learning to value things you never did before, some of which are now lost to you. 

Emphasis on poem.  There's almost nothing concrete here to hang your hat on.  Radley is pretty passive, and not much happens to her either.  There just wasn't a lot of there there in this book.  I can imagine appreciating it on the level it works on, but it's a little too YA even for that.  Sorry to call this one a no.

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