Friday, November 20, 2009

Sometimes quirky isn't enough.

I recently read Aimee Bender's An Invisible Sign of My Own.  I'd never read any of her short stories, but since I'm more of a novel person anyway, I decided to pick up her novel when I saw it on sale at The Strand.  I've heard her stories are very strange in their content, the things that happen, and so I was interested to see how this voice translates into a novel.

From the very beginning, I could tell that this was going to be a very quirky novel.  The character is strange in the way she is, and the rest of the novel is infused with that strangeness.  I like it, because it's strange and fresh and interesting, and I found myself curious about the protag and what she was up to, because anything could go.  Ultimately, I enjoyed the novel, especially the way it ended.  However, after reading a couple of her short stories, I think she was more successful in sustaining the voice in her short stories than in the novel.  The primary problem that I see is that the detachment we feel for a character in a short story due to the weirdness is hard to translate over in a novel.  You can get away with not caring for a character in a story, but in a novel it's much more difficult.  It's not that I disliked Mona, but I found it hard to get into her head and completely empathize with her, which sometimes meant that I wasn't as compelled to keep reading.  I also wanted to get to know the science teacher more, and the kids sometimes felt bratty to me, which made me resent Mona for not being more in control (and for doing something crazy like have an ax in her classroom).  I think these are all elements I'd have been okay with in a short story, but in a novel, I needed for some internal working order that wasn't completely clear to me.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed it, and it was a fast read.  It was definitely different, which made it fun to examine and look at, and some of the ideas inside are so off the wall, that I appreciated them.  I also love how it comes full circle, with the beginning story being retold at the end in a different fashion.  That to me was a bit of brilliance on Bender's part.  Her prose is also really fresh and fun, which makes the read a good read.  She is supposedly working on a new novel, so it will be interesting to see if some of these issues are resolved a bit.

Yes, you won me back.

I'm a terrible friend.  I read my good friend Matt's book awhile back and have just been so busy that I haven't had time to blog about it.  And now we are, a good month or so later, and all my initial thoughts have flown out of my head.

Matt likes to joke that I hated his last book, Mexican WhiteBoy, which isn't true.  I didn't hate it.  It just felt younger to me and I didn't like it nearly as much as I liked his first book, Ball Don't Lie.  And I really really liked BDL because it had so much heart.  There were a few technical craft things here and there, but I could overlook all those issues because Sticky was such a wonderful character that lived for me.  Anyway, so Matt always joked that he was going to win me back with We Were Here, which is ridiculous since, well, it's not like he ever lost me

Anyway, I thought We Were Here was awesome.  Technically, it was well-crafted, well-plotted out.  It had movement and was making some clear choices, and I liked that.  I loved Rondell (with two L's) who was hilarious but lovable.  I liked the journal format.  The fact that we didn't find out what happened to Miguel til the end (although I sorta figured it out).  And Mong was SUPER interesting.  He was such a creepy sad guy, and I actually really wish we had stayed with him for a little longer.  He was so intriguing, I wanted to dig even deeper and follow him a little more.  But alas. 

As always, Matt has such a great ear for language.  It's edgy and urban yet lyrical and poetic at the same time, so that the prose never feels "young" even though the book is a YA book.  It's still sophisticated.

One of my favorite parts is right here:

And I just realized something.  Mong left some shit out when he said only trivial things don't matter.  It's so much more than that, yo.  Nothing matters.  Not when you break it all down like I been doing in my head all tonight.  Trust me.  Nothing.  Not me.  Not you.  Not the guy in the liquor store with the bat.  Not the Bible.  Not the pretty girls.  Not being the watcher-over of this park.  Not The Catcher in the Rye.  Not this damn book I'm writing.

Nothing, man.

It's all meaningless.

Everybody.

Is.

Nobody.
--[pg.284, We Were Here]

Good job, Matt!  Yay!