Monday, December 17, 2012

Swiss Cheesy

I already touched on The Tragedy Paper, but now that I've finished it and started reading Ally Condie's Reached, I feel like I need to talk a little bit more about believability, or at least common sense.

Let's start with The Tragedy Paper, which I wrapped up earlier this week.  Throughout, there seemed to be some behaviors and reactions that didn't quite strike me as realistic.  But it was pretty clear from the pacing of the book that we were building up to some reveal, and it wasn't clear how it would affect all the characters.

You have Tim who likes Vanessa, who has a boyfriend Patrick.  Tim is narrating his version of the school year to a student the next year, Duncan, who's listening to this audio recording.  Duncan likes Daisy.  Tim and his class were seniors last year, so you don't expect them to be on campus, but it's clear that something happened and it's not clear how the year ended, so Duncan's tension, his being drawn to the story, all of these could theoretically be resolved if their behavior feels authentic in light of the big reveal.

Now, right away that's off-beat.  It's a pretty daring move to write a book that feels wrong for the first 80% and depends entirely on the payoff at the end.  Not unheard of, but risky.  And then there's the reveal, which I won't spoil except to say that, while the circumstances were crazy enough to be a crisis, the actual way things play out is not satisfying.  People who are blaming themselves for things need to be able to come to that conclusion with at least a slim layer of rational thought for it to be satisfying--otherwise you've got a psychological drama with no psychological weight.

But the least convincing part of the book?  So the whole thing is structured around the notion of the classic, literary, dramatic tragedy.  The students are studying tragedy and writing a HUGE (I cannot overemphasize the HUGENESS of this assignment) paper on the subject.  And then the events of the year parallel the elements of tragedy that they're learning about.

I'm trying not to give away the end.  But let me say that when the principal of the school comes to you and says "maybe we've been teaching you too much," I find myself strangely unconvinced.

So how has Reached unconvinced me in the first 50 pages?  Well, the first two books and 50 pages?  We'll move beyond the Teenage Love May Save The World plot, or the whole Yes, The Rebellion Matters, But Not As Much As My Heart thing.  Let's touch on the little things.

Like Cassia being called in to do an important Sort, and making a mistake on purpose, knowing that if the failsafes aren't in place, she'll be caught instantly.  Tell me, if they know the "right answer" to the sort she's doing, why did they call her in the middle of the night to do it?  Now, this can be lifted out of the realm of unbelievable by finding out that it was a test, but if that's true, why didn't she think of that?  What powers does the Society have, and what do the citizens believe it can do, anyway?

And Xander's repeated, drilled-in conviction that the Rising can cure the Plague (because Xander is a Good Guy, and Good Guys only infect little kids with curable Plagues) has me already wondering about his lack of skepticism.  As does everyone's constant debate about the true identity of the Pilot, with no one saying, "Hey, maybe this Pilot who is everywhere and always is Metaphorical, and there is a Pilot In Each Of Us."  No one seems to have thought of this.

Honestly, it's not like I loved the series.  And there's no way this one will be as tough as the second boo, so I'll read it.  But dude, I am SO Spartacus.

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