A Reading Update

I hate forcing myself to finish books, but I just had to do it with Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. It was a library book, so it wasn’t like there were any sunk costs at play, but I did borrow it along with Iain M. Banks’ Feersum Endjinn, which I just couldn’t get along with at all. I would have felt bad returning two books unread, and I’ve loved everything else of Bradbury’s I’ve read, so I felt like I owed it to him, even if I did skim the last fifty or so pages.

First of all, Feersum Endjinn. I’m used to Banks’ experimental turns; I’ve read Use of Weapons, so his fragmented narratives don’t surprise me. And I did really like the structure of Use of Weapons, the way it goes forwards and backwards and somehow arrives at the same devastating point. It’s cool, and I like it when that kind of formal inventiveness comes off. When it doesn’t, like in Feersum Endjinn, hoo-boy. I’ll describe it to you if you haven’t read it. Four different narrative threads, one chapter of each in each section. So it’s like, 1 2 3 4 / 1 2 3 4 / 1 2 3 4. If you see what I mean? I very quickly lost any handle on the story at all. And one of these narrative threads features a character that has an implant that lets him dive into other people’s consciousnesses. And another narrative thread is written entirely phonetically. I applaud Banks for his attempt to represent the writing of someone who is neuroatypical, but in the context of this particular novel, it just adds to the mess. Probably the fault is mine. It made me think of all the people who bounce off Infinite Jest because of the first Wardine section, or who put down Ulysses when it goes “Ineluctable modality of the visible”. I just couldn’t get any handle on Feersum Endjinn at all, and I couldn’t just let it go and enjoy it on its own terms. Oh well. I’ll try it again someday. The next Banks I read will probably be a Culture novel. Maybe The Hydrogen Sonata, because there’s a copy of that in my local library.

Ok, sorry for the tangent. I just finished Something Wicked This Way Comes and I really didn’t enjoy it. It’d be too easy to say I found it trite, but… no fuck it, it is trite. Maybe the way to defeat evil… is love? Ugh. A lot of Bradbury’s themes boil down to simple moral judgements, (correct simple moral judgements I might add), but in this case it being novel length exposes the weakness of the idea, I think. Fahrenheit 451 might have a pretty simple moral judgement at its core, but Guy Montag experiences doubt, experiences shades of morality, and changes his mind. In Something Wicked, Jim and Will are utterly one-dimensional by comparison. Which makes sense considering that they’re kids, but that brings me to my next point.

I think a lot of Something Wicked is supposed to hinge on nostalgia, on a wistful looking over lost youth and a contemplation of what that youth still means in the young people you see around you. It is supposed to evoke that nostalgia and get you to feel it so you can drag you along. And it just didn’t work on me. I didn’t grow up in the American Midwest, I’ve never particularly liked carnivals, and the abdication of father figures in my own life has made me eternally suspicious of them. I can tell that this is the kind of novel that people might read and say “it wove a spell on me”. I can see why they might say it, I can see how Bradbury tries to do it. It just didn’t work on me.

I love Banks, I love Bradbury, and I don’t want it to be their fault. Feersum Endjinn is probably just too complex for my tiny insect brain. Something Wicked This Way Comes probably can’t work its magic on my cold husk of a heart. I returned both books to the library with a sense of failure and guilt.

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