Oh good gracious, three months in a row? Here’s a look at some things I read in March!
I want to talk about The City & The City by China Miéville first, not because I read it first, but because it absolutely knocked my socks off forever. I’ve only read one other Miéville (Perdido Street Station) and found it challenging (and gross, but I loved its characters), so when I came across this one, I was hesitant, not sure how much brain I wanted to devote — sometimes you don’t want a complicated bowl of haggis, you want easily identified ice cream. BUT.
This book. I couldn’t put it down. It is more a book about places, rather than people, and yet we still get into the cracks that make up Borlú’s heart. We explore two cities and a third between, and the horrible death of a student archaeologist. Or was she something more? There was just nothing I didn’t like here. This book hit every right note for me.
The other book I can’t get out of my head is Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s the end of the world, and I feel fine, right? I always love a good post-apocalypse book, and this was definitely that — though I remain a smidge confused as to why the copyright page says it involves time travel, as that is not strictly true. It is certainly a book that is told in a non-linear fashion, but time travel? No. (I love reading copyright pages, I have no idea why!)
This book was very engaging, and yet I’m left with some dissatisfaction regarding it. There were small stumbles, things that didn’t make entire sense. For instance, let’s say it’s the end of the world and you guess that 99% of the population is simply gone, because plague. It seems to be there would be a LOT of supplies left, and yet this does not appear to be the case — perhaps there is a longer time line than indicated, when much of that population is still living/struggling/consuming. I was also baffled as to why people lived in airport concourses when hotels still stood, and how one character got her detailed text tattoo in a world without electricity. I couldn’t help but be charmed by a group of people who live their lives around a Star Trek Voyager saying, however, and no matter that the final POV was perplexing and disappointing (we stay with a character who is not in motion) this is a book that gives a reader plenty to ponder. I suspect it will end up on plenty of ballots to come.
Speaking of apocalypses, I finally leaped off the cliff and read Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. I had read Parable of the Sower years ago, and deeply loved it, but felt reluctant to approach its sequel, knowing it would be dark. And holy crap, that book was like getting punched repeatedly in the face. On the one hand, it was disappointing, this unrelenting violence toward women, but I also understand that was part of the story Butler meant to tell. A hard read.
Another apocalypse arrives in Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm. What a strange and creepy book. I had no idea what to expect with it; this is a tale of the world ending, of humanity finding a way forward through cloning. That goes as well as you might think it would… What I liked best about this book was the sections that had characters venturing into the changed world and exploring/mapping. This kind of narrative always reminds me of 19th century SF, a genre I do love. So these kind of wanderings remind me of A Princess of Mars or Out of the Silent Planet.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi shows us another changed world, and yet a world where little has really changed. People are still assholes and god help you if you’re a woman. I liked Emiko a good deal, but really hated her circumstances; hated that Bacigalupi takes us down a very worn path with a female character, and just overall wanted more from this world. I wanted it to be better.
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka came to me via the library’s new arrivals shelf. What a curious little book. Its story is told in first person plural, which was somewhat vexing, which makes it fortunate that the book is so slim after all. This book tells the story of Japanese women who came to the US as brides after the war. I was unhappy with the POV in the end, because we never really get into anyone’s heart; we are held at a distance for the entire story. We aren’t allowed to grow close to anyone, and then, in the very end? Even that POV is taken from us, as we are thrust into the POV of others who can only guess as to what has become of the cast we vaguely grew to know. It’s a curious way to tell a story and just didn’t work for me.
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead did work for me. Set in the 80s, the story (short stories? it almost seemed so) follows a group of friends growing up in Sag Harbor. This book made me think of my own summers as a kid; we get to see Benji and his friends working and playing both, and figuring out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. The tragedy of New Coke, the ice cream shop scenes, it was all a really nice escape from the post-apoc reading I found myself doing…
Other books devoured: Collected Stories (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and Mr. Fox (Helen Oyeyemi).