After months and months and months of reading, I finally finished “2666” by Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano. I liked “2666,” and I’m glad I read it. But it took me a long time to get through — longer than “Moby Dick,” “War and Peace” and “Infinte Jest” — and by the time I finished I was in the mood for shorter books. Specifically, books I could read in less than a month.
After returning “2666” to my bookcase, the first book I read was “Catching Fire,” the second book in “The Hunger Games” trilogy. “Catching Fire” was the perfect thing to read after completing Bolano’s masterwork. This dystopian young adult novel is genre fiction at its finest: a fleet, compelling read with strong, sympathetic characters, crisp writing and twists and turns aplenty. I enjoyed “The Hunger Games,” but “Catching Fire” is better. Readers are attached to the characters, which gives the second book a greater depth of feeling. This time around, the stakes are even higher, which makes Katniss, Peeta and their friends and loved ones seem more vulnerable than ever before.
What makes “Catching Fire” even more tense and suspenseful than “The Hunger Games” is the spirit of revolution that infuses the book. Katniss and and Peeta’s dual victory in the first book has given the Districts hope, and even inspired uprisings. Much of “Catching Fire’s” drama concerns Katniss’ internal struggle: Her sense of self-preservation is quite strong, and she fears that getting involved in the nascent revolution will bring harm to her and her family. But her sense of justice is also quite strong, and she hates the Capitol. Will she flee, or become a revolutionary leader? The answer is obvious, but author Suzanne Collins makes the process of arriving at the answer completely absorbing.
Because I seldom read all the books in a series at once — it took me quite a while to get through the Harry Potter series — I turned my attention to “Long Division,” the debut novel by Kiese Laymon. I went to college with Kiese, so I should say up front that I wanted to like “Long Division,” and that if I didn’t have anything nice to say about it I wouldn’t say anything about it at all.
“Long Division” is something of a young adult novel, as it documents the coming-of-age of a group of teens in rural Mississippi. And it is also something of a science-fiction novel, as much of the plot concerns a mysterious hole in the ground that facilitates time travel between the years 2013, 1985 and 1964. But “Long Division” doesn’t fit neatly into either the YA or science-fiction genre, and I’m hard-pressed to think of anything to compare it to, perhaps because the book focuses on a seldom discussed demographic and is written in the voice of its protagonist, a 14-year-old black boy named City.
“Long Division” tells two stories. In the first, we follow City as he travels to rural Mississippi to visit his grandmother after getting in trouble at home. In the second, we read the book City has in his possession. Called “Long Division,” the book is about a boy, also named City, who travels from 1985 to 2013, and then to 1964, with his friend Shalaya Crump. “Long Division” is a very funny book, written in a fairly lighthearted style. But the story grows more serious when the kids arrive in the year 1964 and encounter the Ku Klux Klan. This is a tense, frightening confrontation, and it made me think of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy who in 1955 was lynched after reportedly flirting with a white woman. Once Till popped into my head, it was impossible to forget about him, and his spirit hung over the rest of the text, underscoring the fragility of City and his friends and making me wonder whether they would encounter similar violence.
“Long Division” is definitely worth a read and makes me interested to see what Kiese will do next. If you’re interested in learning more, he’s reading at The College of St. Rose on Oct. 23.
After finishing up “Long Division,” I picked up “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. I’ve owned this book for a while, and I wanted to read it before the David Fincher movie adaptation comes out this fall.
I’m only exaggerating a little bit when I say that I couldn’t put “Gone Girl” down. The book was such a gripping read that I’m finding it difficult to critique: Flynn turned the screws so adeptly, and brought her characters to life so vividly, dissecting the dysfunctional marriage at the heart of her story with such elegant precision, that it seems a bit churlish to wonder how substantive “Gone Girl” actually is. Yes, it’s thrilling, darkly witty and twisted. But is it about anything beyond the high-stakes battle between Nick and Amy Dunne? And does it matter if it isn’t? Perhaps not, when the mystery and drama is as involving as it is in “Gone Girl.”
A couple of friends warned me that I would hate “Gone Girl,” and that I would particularly hate its ending. Well, I didn’t have any problem with the ending, though I did think it was a bit of a letdown, as the endings of thrillers often are. Not that the ending was bad — it just couldn’t quite live up to everything that came before. Overall, “Gone Girl” is an undeniably entertaining read. I zipped right through it, and now I’m ready to see the movie.
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