Sunday, July 24, 2011

That Was a Long-Ass Book

Yes, I'm talking about Neal Stephenson's 'REAMDE'. And, here's the thing, if it weren't written by Stephenson, I would probably be bitching and moaning that the book really needed a good trimming; that there are probably 200 pages of description of surroundings, or trekking, or clothing that could have been cut without the book losing any impact. But, it was Stephenson, so a.) I expect long-assedness and b.) he can make that boring shit pretty much not boring. I will admit that there were parts that I skimmed, some of it just because I was exhausted and needed to skip some of the more brutal goings-on. But, in the end, for a nearly 1000 page thriller, it mostly moved at a jaunty clip. It helped that Stephenson broke up the various players into smaller groups and only followed each group for a handful of pages before switching off to the next, which kept me from getting restless and talking out loud to the book in an attempt to move things along. I will also admit that some of the various plots held much less interest for me than others and, unfortunately, the ones I wasn't as fond of were, I think, supposed to be the primary focus of my attention, and the stuff I found most intriguing was supposed to be peripheral. In most thrillers, in fact, the scenes I was most interested in would have all taken place off-screen and been revealed in bits of boring exposition when the characters once again converged. And, that, ultimately, is why I'm not bitching about the length. Had Stephenson not been allowed such a tremendous page count, I would have proabably quickly lost interest in the central narrative, while my mind wandered to what might be going on with all those other characters we had met and who seemed like they might have important things to do to get us to the final saving-of-the-day.

'Those Across the River' by Christopher Buehlman is a creepy novel set in Georgia during the Great Depression. It's not until fairly late in the game that the reader comes to realize that this is an out-and-out horror novel, and not just a bit of a Southern Gothic. There are echoes of both Harper Lee and Shirley Jackson in these pages, leading to it feeling a bit like what might have happened had Stephen King been writing in Georgia, rather than Maine. The monster in this novel is a fairly common one, but Buehlman does a good job of not making it obvious from the get-go and instead allowing the reader to put the pieces together alongside the narrator. He also does a good job of building the pace and the tension until the final, deadly showdown erupts violently onto the page and then winds quietly down to an epilogue that manages to be both creepy and heartbreaking at the same time.

Slowly but surely I'm getting caught up with my list. I hope to be fully up-to-date by the end of the week.

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