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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Novel Without Much Hope. Sigh.

     Last year, during Spring Break, I was in the amazing Minnesota bookstore The Wild Rumpus (Minneapolis St. Paul area -- and well worth a visit) and one of the books I picked up was Mal Peet's novel Life, An Exploded Diagram.  I had read some pretty great recommendations of it, I liked the title, and the cover looked really cool (schematic drawings of missiles).  So I bought it and brought it home where it sat in my book pile for almost a year (more important stuff kept getting ahead of it.  Last week I finally read it. 
     It looked so promising.  The book weaves together the story of Frankie and Clem, two adolescents growing up in semi-rural England and the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis that is going on at the same time their romance is blooming.  Clem is working class, while Frankie is the daughter of the community's richest member.  The premise sounded really interesting to me. 
    But it is really the story of desperation.  I won't give away the whole plot, but will say that just wehn things are looking good for Frankie and Clem (and pretty desperate for the world based on the situation in Cuba), Frankie and Clem's world blows up in their faces and the Russians back down and the world is not destroyed.  And yet, strangely, the book leaves us with little hope for the future.  Frankie and Clem's lives move from desperate and passionate to disillusioned and pointless.  And though nuclear disaster is averted, there is no reason to suspect that it might not happen sometime in the future.
     And you might say in response that you think books should be about life.  They should accurately depict life on this planet -- and sometimes that life is neither pleasant nor hopeful.  I hear you, but I would also say that, at least in my experience, life is equal parts tragedy, brokenness, and sorrow on the one hand, and unlooked more moments of grace and absolutely unlooked for joy on the other.  If you take away either the brokenness of this world in all of its horrifying pain or the hope and grace that surprises us in the form of a blue sky spring day after months of gray, or a child's pure laughter some distance away just when you feel like crying, or a moment of anonymous kindness when you desperately need it -- well then was you have is not truth, but only a half of the real picture. 
     To be fair, the book is written well, and interesting, and kept me turning pages, but many books do that.  It had beautifully described moments too, and characters I cared about.  But it wasn't enough to overcome its own hopelessness.


     Finally, although I will stand up for excellent books when they are challenged or censored for elements that are necessary to grasp the brokenness and the beauty of this world, I also believe that some books aren't worth the battle.  This one seems to sprinkle in drug use, illicit sex, vulgarities, and gay characters not to say anything about any of these elements, but to gain the equivalent of an R rating -- and perhaps some kind of street cred from jaded teenagers.
      I wanted to like this book, but it has no reconciliation, little hope, and in the end can only promise that the randomness of life may treat you better than it did these characters.  . 

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