A review of this — 2 years ago
This was quite the rollercoaster book, as the Americans might put it; yes, in the sense that it throughout the first 20% was quite dull and linear, the later 30% made me go on from some elegant sentences – structure, punchline – and the following 50% bored me completely. Bar the graphical chapter. You’ll know what I mean. That was good.
Too bad Egan’s introductory quote from Marcel Proust was so self-condemning without her knowing it:
“Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success.”
There are some funny, Sam Lipsyte-ish moments in the book, bar the puns. Example:
His son took a fat pinch of gold flakes and put them on his tongue. Bennie tried not to think of the money. The truth was, he’d spent eight thousand dollars on gold in the past two months. A coke habit would have cost him less. Chris sucked on the gold and closed his eyes. “Dad,” he said. “It’s, like, waking me up from the inside.”
“Talk to me, Scotty,” Bennie said. “You have a demo tape you want me to hear? You’ve got an album, a band? Songs you’re looking to have produced? What’s on your mind.” He was leaning against the front of the black lozenge, ankles crossed—one of those poses that appears to be very relaxed but is actually very tense. As I looked up at him, I experienced several realizations, all in a sort of cascade: (1) Bennie and I weren’t friends anymore, and we never would be. (2) He was looking to get rid of me as quickly as possible with the least amount of hassle. (3) I already knew that would happen. I’d known it before I arrived. (4) It was the reason I had come to see him.
The interpersonal moments are the best in this book. The author’s reflections aren’t as up-to-speed. And then you have a few funny bits, like:
“So,” Kitty said, “is this where you bury the bodies?” The general glanced at her, not understanding. Arc stepped quickly forward, as did Dolly. Lulu came too. “Do you bury them here, in pits,” Kitty asked the general in the most friendly, conversational voice, “or do you burn them first?” “Miss Jackson,” Arc said, with a tense, meaningful look. “The general cannot understand you.” The general wasn’t smiling anymore. He was a man who couldn’t abide not knowing what was going on. He’d let go of Kitty’s hand and was speaking sternly to Arc. Lulu tugged Dolly’s hand. “Mom,” she hissed, “make her stop!” Her daughter’s voice startled Dolly out of a momentary paralysis. “Knock it off, Kitty,” she said. “Do you eat them?” Kitty asked the general. “Or do you leave them out so the vultures can do it?” “Shut up, Kitty,” Dolly said, more loudly. “Stop playing games.” The general spoke harshly to Arc, who turned to Dolly. His smooth forehead was visibly moist. “The general is becoming angry, Miss Peale,” he said. And there was the code; Dolly read it clearly. She went to Kitty and seized her tanned arm. She leaned close to Kitty’s face. “If you keep this up,” Dolly said softly, “we will all die.” But one glance into Kitty’s fervid, self-annihilating eyes told her it was hopeless; Kitty couldn’t stop. “Oops!” she said loudly, in mock surprise. “Was I not supposed to bring up the genocide?” Here was a word the general knew. He flung himself away from Kitty as if she were on fire, commanding his solders in a strangled voice. They shoved Dolly away, knocking her to the ground. When she looked back at Kitty, the soldiers had contracted around her, and the actress was obscured from view. Lulu was shouting, trying to drag Dolly onto her feet. “Mommy, do something, do something! Make them stop!” “Arc,” Dolly called, but Arc was lost to her now. He’d taken his place beside the general, who was screaming with rage. The soldiers were carrying Kitty; Dolly had an impression of kicking from within their midst. She could still hear Kitty’s high, reaching voice: “Do you drink their blood, or just use it to mop your floors? “Do you wear their teeth on a string?” There was the sound of a blow, then a scream. Dolly jumped to her feet. But Kitty was gone; the soldiers carried her inside a structure hidden in the trees beside the landing pad. The general and Arc followed them in and shut the door. The jungle was eerily silent: just parrot calls and Lulu’s sobs.
The best moments are quoted above. The worst are the ones where you feel the author has recognised a brain-wave when writing this book, and thought “Oh! This will throw them!” – and yes, it all sadly did. Instead of this, let me recommend Kevin Sampson’s “Powder” (for the music) or Chuck Palahniuk’s “Rant” (for truly innovative time-warped writing) instead, for more revelatory and shining moments.