Monday, May 13, 2013

Mondays on the Margins: Bad Things Come in Threes

So I'm still in a strange reading frame of mind. I'm all too ready to watch an episode of Buffy on my ipad when I crawl into bed instead of reaching for a book (I love my husband so much for giving me the ipad except when I think it might be the kiss of death for my intellectual life). I still read every night, but not always for the hours I usually do. And it's been a while since anything really sucked me in. I've recently accepted that I might as well just get used to living with really poorly controlled anxiety and depression, and sometimes some of that drips onto the reading experience, so I acknowledge that it's not (always) the books that are to blame.

I also have this annoying habit that I can't seem to break, where I go to the library and pick up my holds, and then instead of going straight to the checkout, which I SHOULD BE doing, because IN NO WAY do I require more books to pile onto my.... pile. I have towers and turrets and elaborate mazes of books that I own or have borrowed that sit there day after day crying out to be consumed, so why do I keep putting this buffer of books-with-an-expiry-date between me and those books? In case of a zombie apocalypse, shouldn't I be laying in canned fruit and bottled water, not science fiction and classic literature?

Last week after getting my holds, I went over to the science fiction shelf. There were two books that I had looked at on past visits but not taken that I decided to take this time. This one I haven't read yet, but the premise is interesting. On the week-end I read Pure, by Julianna Baggott.

The plot synopsis from Goodreads: We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . . 
Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run.

Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . . 
There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it's his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her. 

When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again.


It started out well - as fresh a take as possible on a post-apocalyptic world. The singlemost striking conceit, I think, are the fused people; when the Detonations occurred, nanoparticles in the blast caused people to be fused with whatever they were closest to. So Pressia, the main female character, has a doll head for a hand; her grandfather has a small fan embedded in his throat. And Bradwell, Pressia's love interest, has live birds trapped in the flesh of his back. The characters themselves are also well-drawn and believably flawed (Pressia reminds me a bit of Katniss from The Hunger Games, in a good way - she knows she shouldn't allow herself to be co-opted by the luxuries offered by the Dome, but at the same time she is tempted by the promise of a normal life). 

About halfway through the book, inspired by nothing in particular, I suddenly had an unpleasant thought. I flipped to the last page, and sure enough - *insert melodramatic minor chord* - there were the fateful words END OF BOOK ONE.

Why? WHY? I've sort of resigned myself to every goddamned Young Adult fiction book that takes my
fancy turning out to be the first in a trilogy. I didn't think this "scourge of the literary world", as Marilyn so rightly calls it, had infection adult literature as well. Well, okay, it was in the science fiction and fantasy section, so I guess maybe it should have occurred to me - but it didn't have that look that trilogy books usually have, by which I don't even know exactly what I mean, but look! Look at it! It's a nice, attractive hardcover with high production values. It looked like a nice, normal, standalone novel that just happened to have subject matter that relegated it to this section. And this brings me to my next point: If a book is the first in a trilogy, the publisher should have to be upfront about it. BOOK ONE OF WHATEVER should be on the front damned cover in large print. I'm going to have to start interrogating books before I read them: "Are you or have you ever been part of a trilogy?"

I'm joking, mostly. I should, by now, be in the habit of checking whether a book suffers from trilogyitis before I start reading it. Do the publishers actually hope that people won't notice until they're hooked by the first book? My tendency is definitely not to read Book One of any given series until I know I can get the next books quickly, because my memory just doesn't hold up over the intervening year I have to wait otherwise, and I like to reserve my rereading time for more weighty books. Presumably this doesn't fall in line with the publishers' preferences, since they're not getting their hardcover price from me for each successive book. 

And what IS with the whole trilogy thing? Is there really something fitting in the elegant tripartite structure that lends itself to the medium? Is it a phenomenon that reflects a resonant archetype, or just a crass cash grab? 

I think it's probably a bit of both. When it's done properly, it can really work. A beginning book to set out the principal conflict and lay the groundwork of character. A middle book to show character growth and flesh out the action. A concluding book to, well, conclude things. But when it doesn't work, it's so much worse than just a single bad book.

Last night I started reading this. I have some things to say about it. But I'm fairly sure that the end will really be the end, so at least there's that. 

8 comments:

lmrwells said...

Well I've ranted about the trilogy issue all over the internet, probably here too, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself. This past Summer I discovered midway through a book that I suddenly could not stand to finish/read/pick up even one more YA postapocalyptic and/or dystopian book with plucky a female heroine that will probably turn out to be the first in a trilogy. I just . . . took the book back to the library without finishing it.

Pure was the penultimate book in my Summer burn out. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but upon finding out it was going to be a trilogy I was unreasonably irritated. I still have yet to read any book 1 of anything and it's nearly a year later. The trilogy trend must stop. Bah!

Bibliomama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bibliomama said...

Always nice to meet a kindred spirit - one who has read the same, relatively obscure book, no less. Should we mount some kind of anti-trilogy telethon?

Mom of the Perpetually Grounded said...

I have to admit-I carry a cross and holy water to ward off anything even hinting at a series. I read a V C Andrews book as a teenager and it prejudiced me forever. The last thing I ever wanted was to read more of it. I go with the money grab theory. I'd rather love it or hate it in one 500 page sitting if possible. Or just watch Buffy.

Nicole said...

I don't read many books that are trilogies, now that I think about it. Hmm. But then I don't enjoy sci-fi or similar genres, and it seems like they are trilogy-heavy.

lmrwells said...

Yes, I'm on board for a stop-the-trilogies telethon. Whatever it takes to make it happen!

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

It's true. TRILOGIES ARE A SCOURGE. About a month ago I decided that I was going to shun YA fiction for awhile because I was DONE with the endless sequels...and then I read the 13th Sookie novel so THAT SHOWS THEM!

Also, my book club chose "The Light Between Oceans" as our choice this month - a choice of which I was vehemently against and have therefore not bothered to pick up yet - but my friend, Teresa just finished it and her GoodReads review says "If you like to have your guts ripped out, stuffed into your mouth, spit out and then shoved back into your body, then this is the book for you. Will leave you completely emotionally spent and wishing to die. Other than that, it's great.", so I'm think this might be a pass for me this month. YA may be all angsty and sequel-y, but I usually come out the other side with my guts still firmly in one spot.

Sasha said...

The "collateral" book thing (picking up your holds and then browsing) - I hear ya. Although something that might help? Kids. Young ones. Old enough to deposit in the children's section but not REALLY old enough to leave them there. I've tried, I really have, but I can't stand the stink-eye I think I'm getting every time my kids come to look for me (like, every 30 seconds).

(If you want to borrow some - kids - I can help you with that. Generous loan periods and no fines).

And I really REALLY need a book to fall into. Soon. The short story thing is wearing me thin (I feel like a literary swinger - or more like a non-swinger that keeps going to the parties). I'm kinda stressed that I have all my geocache maps cached for London ,but nothing to read. May take a stab at the airport book store. After all, I picked up Alias Grace in Munich (!?!!) and couldn't put it down. But then again there was that whole "The Story of Longitude" fiasco. #bookfail