Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wool 4: The Unraveling

Wool 4: The Unraveling, by Hugh Howey

There is a legend in their past of an uprising, a war they have learned about, but have learned nothing from.

Nobody knows what went wrong. Nobody talks about what happened. Such are the silo taboos.

Now, nearly two hundred years later, the people of the Silo will get a chance to learn more about that distant uprising.

They'll get to start one of their own...

My Reaction:
This is probably my least favorite in the series, so far.  (I think...)  It's not that it doesn't have its high points-- because it does-- but the story is largely split into three strands set in different places, among different people, and when you find that you're groaning to yourself every time one of those strands comes back up (which is roughly a third or more of the book), it's not a good sign.  Also, this is definitely a "middle of a series" effort.  You pick up from one cliffhanger and leave off with another.

I'll have to finish the series to know more about how I feel about this book, I think.  Also, it might have hurt the book that I took a break after reading Wool 3 before starting Wool 4... Actually, though, I think what was more of an issue was that I got distracted by life and took a week or so away from the book before reading what turned out to be the final three segments.  Never a satisfying way to finish a book, in my opinion.  Much better to read the last bit while more of the whole work is fresh in your mind.

(SPOILER-filled) Specific Comments:

--  There are a lot of (apparent) suicides and suicidal thoughts in the silo.  Now, I'm fairly sure that some of these so-called suicides will eventually be ruled as murders (or if nothing else, we're certainly meant to have suspicions), but even with those aside, it's a pretty dark series.  I don't doubt, however, that there would be suicides in this sort of situation, with people holed up in close quarters from birth to death, with not much hope for an improvement in circumstances.

--  Juliette uses vats of soup to clean her suit.  I found myself wondering how those could still be wet enough to pour, if the people in the building were evidently so long dead.  Wouldn't all the liquid in them have dried out, leaving nothing but a solid "soup brick"?  If she found the soup inside a refrigerator or freezer, maybe that would make a difference, but I'm a bit skeptical.  Later on, Howey does mention something about water in open containers having long since evaporated out-- and we eventually discover that the soup must've been sitting there for well over thirty years.  I'm just curious. (Now that I think back, it seems like maybe she had to struggle to open the soup.  Was it sealed in airtight buckets?  If so, that would explain it. Duh! (g))

--  Lest there be any misunderstanding, the "strand" of the book I found comparatively boring was Knox and the people of Mechanical and Supply rallying to war and marching up the silo.  Up until they started actually mobilizing, it was interesting, but the further along that storyline went, the less I wanted to read with it.  Parts of it felt clichéd, and I'd have much rather spent more time in the new silo.  (Maybe one reason I dreaded this thread was that it was bound to end badly.)

--  Knox's speech to Supply... felt embarrassing and too grand to be realistic.  I squirmed.  Maybe that's just me, though.  I tend to find that sort of thing (whether in a book or a movie) unrealistic when supposedly concocted on the spur of the moment.  I think he does take some time to stop and think before speaking-- probably an attempt to mollify us over this very point-- but it wasn't enough to convince me, I guess. (g)  Perhaps it's just that since I'd be very unlikely to make such a speech (because I'd feel so silly doing it and am not generally an eloquent speaker), I find it difficult to imagine other people doing so-- especially without time for writing and preparation.  Even Lincoln didn't deliver the Gettysburg address impromptu.  ;o)

--  When Juliette finds tomatoes growing in the second silo, she wonders if tomatoes require seeding or "come back every year like weeds".  That gave me pause.  How long, again, are people supposed to have been living in these silos?  Hundreds of years, right?  It has to have been a long time, for people to have forgotten/failed to pass down through an oral tradition stories of so many animals... and speak/think about whoever built the silos as almost mythical-- not historical, flesh-and-blood-- figures... and there was an uprising that occurred 200 years ago.

Anyway, all this to say that with all that time to remove and destroy existing weeds-- and no new weed seeds coming in on the wind or from birds... How does Juliette even know what a weed is?  I doubt she would-- especially since she has nothing to do with the farming levels of the silo.  ...Unless the concept of a weed has somehow stayed alive in the silo longer than the memory of so many animals (despite the existence of children's books, which frequently focus on animals).  I guess it's possible, but I doubt it. (Another possibility:  They keep weeds alive in the silo simply to avoid the extinction of the species-- or in case they should prove useful later on.  But this is a no-nonsense world, and unless the weeds serve some purpose, I doubt they'd be purposely cultivated.  After all, they "steal" precious nutrients that could otherwise go to the food-producing plants.)

--  "Juliette wondered if she would start talking to objects, now.  Start going crazy."

Ugh, it's one of my pet peeves.  No, Juliette, talking "to objects"-- or simply aloud to yourself-- does not mean you're crazy or even simply "going" crazy.  Now, if you start imagining that they actually feel or think-- or if you're talking to them and expecting or hearing answers... ;o)

--  I know thirty-four years is a long time to be alone in a silo... and Solo is somewhat immature / stuck in the mindset of a teenager, since that's how old he was when he was deprived of human contact... but there were a couple times when I had to roll my eyes at the things he said.  He was sixteen when all that happened, if I recall correctly.  Sixteen is plenty old enough for him to have matured to the level of not blushing over the concept of, ahem, "waste elimination", for instance.  And when he says, "I talk to things sometimes, and whistle.  I'm a good whistler"... I just don't know.  Is that realistic, do you think?  Maybe it is.  To me it feels slightly less "50-year-old guy who's been completely alone for 34 years" and more "someone that even Forrest Gump would recognize as 'simple' and treat with extra kindness and sensitivity".  But I do like Solo, poor guy.  I hope he makes it along with Juliette back to "her" silo.  He deserves a nicer life.  Of course, then there's the question of how well he'd be able to adjust to an existence suddenly crowded with other people...

--  There seemed to be more cursing in this book than in the previous parts of the series, something I noticed with a certain degree of disappointment.  However, most of the time, the cursing comes from a handful of bad apples / generally disagreeable characters (except for the very end, when Juliette drops a couple of f-bombs on Bernard)-- and if you're going to complain about something, Lukas' contemplation of suicide seems much more objectionable / bad influence-y than "bad words"-- but still, I noticed it, so I mention it.

I was interested to see that someone pointed out this issue in a review on Amazon-- someone who was evidently much more bothered by the cursing than I was-- and that the author himself replied.  His response noted what I'd already observed-- that most of the cursing comes from "bad guys" or people in extremely emotional situations.  (And let's admit that it's fairly realistic.  I'll admit it: I curse, too, sometimes-- though I try to stay on the milder end of the spectrum. (g))  What really struck me, though, was his apologetic and respectful tone.  I'm impressed by such handling of negative feedback!

Final word:
I may take another break before picking up Wool 5.  (Variety: the spice of life.)  I think that's the last in this series (though there are also at least two prequels).  I'm hoping for a strong finish!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

(An Edited) Publisher's Blurb:
Celebrated novel traces the moral degeneration of a handsome young Londoner from an innocent fop into a cruel and reckless pursuer of pleasure... As Dorian Gray sinks into depravity, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait reflects the ravages of crime and sensuality.
 (I edited the blurb because part of it gave away a critical plot development.  Perhaps the publisher thinks that with such a famous story, there can be no spoilers, but I disagree.)

My Reaction:
I decided to read this on a whim.  It was a "classic" I'd never heard much about, apart from the obviously most well-known aspect of the portrait that ages in the main character's stead.  I believe I saw it listed as horror, which is what excited my curiosity, since I'd never seen it described as such.  Now that I've read it, I'd say that labeling it as horror may be going a bit too far, even by "classics" standards.  There are certainly horrible happenings, but that doesn't make this horror. 

While reading, it felt like it took me a while to slog through this short novel.  Even before the half-way point, I really just wanted the thing over and done with.  Once the story is going and things are actually happening, it's a speedy enough read.  The problem is that there are long stretches with very little non-repetitive dialogue or action of any significant kind.  One could easily condense the book into a short story and leave very little (worth reading) out, in my humble opinion.

So no, I was not enthralled.  The basic concept is intriguing... but it suffered from having too few really likeable characters to balance out the horrid ones.  It was interesting at points, but those points were too few and far between.  The wit sparkled, but soon it felt like a loop of the same old same.  If it wasn't a repeat of the same exact sentiments, they were close enough to seem like repeats.  The clever, wicked sayings grew tiresome.  An excellent command of the language can only carry you so far-- especially when you are overly conscious of your own cleverness.

I doubt I'll ever want to revisit The Picture of Dorian Gray, but I suppose it is one of those things that are worth reading once.

More Specifics (with one spoilery one at the end):
--  After reading a little about the book online, after finishing the novel itself, I learned that the preface was added after the novel's initial outraged reception.  I'm not surprised.  It certainly felt very defensive:

"There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.  Books are well written, or badly written.  That is all."

I don't quite agree.  Can the book itself-- the printed words on paper-- be moral/immoral?  No, it is only an object.  But it is possible to write a book that leads people astray more than not-- a book whose reading sullies the mind and excites unworthy impulses in the hearts of those who read it.  To completely ignore that truth-- to wash your hands of it after the writing and say, "It's not my fault if they behave badly after I've shown them how it's done!"-- is a rather pathetic attempt at self-deception. If you believe in morality/right vs. wrong at all, you must recognize that a book is an expression of thought-- a communication between minds (those of author and reader) -- and of course they can contain moral or immoral messages and intentions.

--  "We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.  The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely."

No, I disagree.  Why not admire a useful thing?  Why cannot a thing be useful and admirable (beautiful) at the same time?

--  "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."  Many of the "sayings" in this book feel extremely familiar because they have become famous in their own right.  There's no denying that Wilde was clever with words. 

--  Lord Henry/Harry... Ah, what can I say about him?  Perhaps that he is possibly the most loathsome character I have ever come across?  Or at least, the most loathsome (and misogynistic) in recent memory.  His speech to Dorian-- the speech on the all-importance of youth, stirring the seeds of vanity and wickedness in the boy to life and growth-- is one of the most noxious, depressing things I have ever read.  He really is horrible.  Anyone over the age of thirty reading it must feel a draining away of spirit while reading it.

--  On the one hand, this books does seem somewhat dangerous to the young and impressionable.  Some of the sentiments expressed are nothing short of vile and poisonous.  On the other hand, we look at what happens to Dorian and see the story as a warning against hedonism...  Still, not a story for children-- not that many children would even be interested.

--  Henry is definitely a man who loves the sound of his own voice, and it's obvious that Wilde enjoyed using the character as a mouthpiece for some of his own most scandalous and witty observations.

--  Though nothing is stated explicitly (in the probably edited version that I read, at least), all the male characters act and speak as though they are gay-- including those who are married or who have dalliances with female characters.  (The one exception is the rough Jim, Sybil Vane's brother.)  For instance, look at Dorian's detailed description of what Sybil was wearing one night... I think very few straight men would remember a woman's dress down to such tiny details-- and certainly not describe it thus.  What was the point of that?  Are they supposed to be gay, or did Wilde simply find it difficult to write about sophisticated males in such a way that they didn't seem affectedly feminine?

--  What was with that long chapter covering Dorian's actions over the space of many years?  It went on forever!  Also, there is nothing inherently evil about a fascination with jewels, music, etc.  I suppose Wilde couldn't/didn't wish to go into details about the truly awful things Dorian has done, so we get pages about famous gems instead... ???

--  "Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man's face.  It cannot be concealed.  People talk sometimes of secret vices.  There are no such things.  If a wretched man has a vice, it shows itself in the lines of his mouth, the droop of his eyelids, the moulding of his hands even."

I disagree.
I don't think such things are always visible.  If a person acknowledges to himself that he has a vice, and if it troubles him night and day, then it will likely show-- but not always.   Also, that does not account for those who don't recognize their sins for what they are.  Or rather, those who know that what they do is deemed wrong by the world (so that they know to hide it), but who are lacking in conscience to the degree that the knowledge doesn't trouble them.

--  "She laughed again.  Her teeth showed like white seeds in a scarlet fruit."

Um, gross.


I thought the portrait might burn in a housefire (or similar) with the same essential result as what actually happened in the book (sudden reversal of appearances between Dorian and his portrait)-- but I didn't foresee Dorian himself destroying the portrait. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

At Sunwich Port

At Sunwich Port, by W.W. Jacobs

(My) Blurb:
In a charming seaside village in Edwardian England, the (humorous) fates of two sea-faring families (and assorted other townsfolk) intertwine in interesting ways.  

My Reaction:
Before I found this novel (at a great resource for free books), the only time I'd come across this author was through his famous (and quite creepy) story, "The Monkey's Paw".  This book is as far from horribly-twisting, wish-granting, mummified animal parts as you can get. 

I found the book a little slow getting started-- it begins when several of the main characters are children, then skips ahead to when they are young adults-- but once it's fairly underway and you're familiar with the characters, it's clear sailing. 

I read this aloud with Donald because I'd seen it compared to P.G. Wodehouse, one of our very favorites for shared reads.  While it's not quite on the same level as the best Wodehouse, it's good.  (I'll confess, though, that I didn't even try to read the accents accurately.  I didn't drop all the h's, for instance.  Not my thing.)

I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys the Wodehousian style.  It has that nice, cozy atmosphere that makes a book a true pleasure to read.  I want to stroll down Fullalove Alley and take in the sights-- but since that's not possible, I'll have to be satisfied with trying something else by Jacobs-- maybe Dialstone Lane...