A post-apocalyptic book review part 1: The Host by Stephenie Meyer
I've found a connecting thread between several of the books I've read this summer - the post-apocalyptic trend. Or at least they say it is. I wouldn't know that much because I don't totally keep up with trends. But post-apocalyptic settings captivate my imagination because growing up I feared and imagined things like nuclear war or major government meltdown. There's also a little bit of fantasy to it, the idea of leaving behind all the technological innovations that complicate our lives and returning to simplicity. Or maybe my soul is just feeling a little post-apocalyptic lately...
So... I started with The Passage by Justin Cronin, which I thoroughly enjoyed for its well-written adventurous survival tale. Then I ended up getting hooked into The Host by Stephenie Meyer, which I hadn't planned on reading, but it happened like this...
It's that dang Kindle. You know, the one I won for free? (Awesome!) Turns out I love the thing. Turns out Amazon is getting way more of my hard-earned money than ever before. It goes a little something like this... I browse the Kindle store, I download a book sample, I like it - and tada! I can't stop myself from buying it immediately.
So I'm browsing the Kindle top sellers trying to learn what makes the top the top and downloading a few samples when I come across The Host- and hey, I've always been curious about it, so I download a sample and I'm hooked. I buy the book.
At first I'm ripping through it. I'm glued to my Kindle for hours. Good thing I was on vacation.
But then after awhile, I got stuck, frustrated, irritated. I swore I never wanted to read another first-person narrated book again. But after reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I realized first-person narration isn't really the problem.
Here's what was driving me crazy. First of all, in The Host (as well as in those other books Stephenie Meyer is famous for) she seems to use first-person narrator a certain way and fall back into a pattern. The reader is constantly being inundated with the narrator's feelings and inner angsty dialogue - and these aren't deep world-changing revelatory sorts of inner dialogue. It's more of the "I'm in pain, I'm tired, I'm hot, I'm cold, what did that kiss mean, are they going to kill me" sort of thing. It feels kind of melodramatic, egocentric and going round and round. We know every in and out of the narrator's inner world, while the other characters often feel like dim shadows.
It's odd, because it takes a giant story about a post-apocalyptic world and makes it feel "small" in the end - not intimate, but small. When I went to the writer's conference this summer, many people talked about novels feeling "large" or "small" which was something I'd never thought about in those terms before, but now I'm seeing it everywhere.
The whole initial intrigue I had with The Host was: Who are these parasites, how did they get here, and can the humans fight them off? It felt very "big".
But that sweeping premise was stretched out too long, filled up with too much personal melodrama that churns over and over the same ground and in the end makes it feel small.
For me, it's the same in the Twilight saga- it's not really about vampires taking over the world, or even Forks for that matter - it's about what happens to Bella. I found that to get a little old too - the constant melodramatic introspective whining.
Because here's the thing - my life is FULL of melodramatic introspection - my own. I've got too much of it in fact. The funny thing is I think these books reflect the way many women really are - drama queens, over-thinking everything. The problem is, sometimes when I'm reading I don't want something to be that true to life - I want a break from life, I want a break from whiny over-thinkers (even if that whiny over-thinker is me). I don't want to know every little thought and feeling the main character is having - especially if it doesn't add much to the story - I want to see what happens, I want to see what they do.
All that being said - I struggled to write this much - to be honest about what I thought, because I don't like saying negative things because I know, now more than ever, how much work writing is. I have tremendous respect for Stephenie Meyer for getting off her bum and making it happen, even if it's not perfect. How many of us can say that? She came up with a great idea, a big idea, a crazy idea - one that was probably hard to explain and sell, that she started out with a compelling beginning and then wrapped up with an impossibly happy satisfying ending. That deserves some credit.
Next up in part 2, how I ended up reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in 3 days!
p.s. I wanted to embed the "End of the World" music video by R.E.M. because reading these books puts me in the mood, but technical difficulties prevailed. Check it out if you want a flashback to simpler times...