Smackdown Books 2017

Arlene's smackdown17 book montage

The Memory of Things
Hour of the Bees
The Gospel Truth
Ultraman, Vol. 1
Ghost
The Bunker Diary
Echo
Trouble Is a Friend of Mine
Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy
The Hired Girl
An Ember in the Ashes
The Porcupine of Truth
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans
Goodbye Stranger
Beautiful Blue World
The Blackthorn Key
One
Updraft
All American Boys
»

Tuesday, March 26, 2013






Everyday vs Rotters

Well, much to my surprise, I actually liked Everyday. I’ll admit that A has a few issues and is as annoying as hell sometimes, but I’m willing to cut the kid some slack since he’s lacking a few things that tend to enhance one’s ability to grow up well-adjusted. Things like parents, friends, a body etc.

As noted in previous posts, Levithan seems to play fast and loose with the rules of the game he has created, and for a guy who so clearly wants to discuss issues of gender and identity, he seems incapable of taking these discussions beyond a very superficial level. This may seem a strange thing to say given the alternate heapings of vitriol and praise that have been served up in relation to this novel, but it actually could have used another hundred pages. Despite an attempt at closure, Levithan has left enough up in the air that a sequel looks like at least a possibility, but I’m not sure that a sequel will resolve the fundamental structural choices that limit the book’s potential: 1) an unwillingness to explore the profound metaphysical issues that this consciousness without a body evokes and 2) a slavish devotion to the “true love” framing narrative. Ultimately, I see these as flip sides of the same coin.

I understand the allure of the one true love concept – particularly when you are young and trying to make sense of the emotional overload that is day-to day life –but in order for that concept to play out successfully in a literary work, you need some scope of character development and actual space and time. Regardless of whether you loved or hated The Time-Traveller’s Wife (the novel, not the crappy film) the author was able to establish the love story as a framing narrative because we were able to see the central characters grow, develop and reflect, even with jarring shifts in chronology. In Everyday, Rihannon actually gets what A seems incapable of understanding: because of his youth and his circumstances, he doesn’t “get” love in any meaningful way. If a kid in one of our classes came to us with a dilemma involving his/her one true love, we’d likely, gently, suggest that the kid allow for some time to get a bit more perspective. Even if A’s arguments about the strength of his own unique perspective is true, he’s probably going to need to at least day 7000(?) to sort it all out. To have this kid devoting all of his time – such as it is – and energy chasing after Rihannon, while showing relatively little introspection into the larger dilemmas of his situation, rings a bit hollow to me and actually seems like a huge opportunity missed. I could have maybe got behind the Rihannon story-line if Levithan had established more about A’s character early on. I also think the whole Reverend Poole/Nathan subplot could have been used as an effective means of exploring some of the existential angst that A has to be experiencing.

Let’s consider how Daniel Kraus would have handled this in Rotters, a book not without its issues, as well. Kraus would have likely built up an extensive mythology around the Reverend Poole character that would have allowed us – and A – to delve into both the mechanics and the meta-physics of A’s dilemma. In the process, we would likely see A giving evoking some real thought and emotion as he considers his larger circumstances beyond simply lamenting his inability to be with Rihannon.  I still liked Everyday – I actually wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen, unlike (Why not poke the sleeping bear?) my experience of Raven Boys –but again, and I still acknowledge all my previously stated reservations about Rotters, I think Kraus has offered us a protagonist who is more fully-fleshed out (Sorry, I couldn’t resist) and ultimately, a more evocative narrative. As Brad noted in his post, it is possible that Everyday is falling victim to overly high expectations given its intriguing premise, but as of right now, I would move Rotters on over Everyday. I would welcome a smack or two to get me to change my mind.

5 comments:

  1. Okay, this is Robin weighing in on the books above - I'm glad Brent said everything so eloquently so that I can be succinct, which is all I have time for! I agree with Brent's choice to move on ROTTERS over EVERY DAY, although not without some reservations. I found myself upset while reading ROTTERS - not because of the ghoulish descriptions of the state of the bodies constantly being disemboweled from the earth (if that phrase works here), but more by the degree of bullying at this kid's school (and by a teacher no less!) and this young lad’s oh-so-sad existence. However, that being said, I was certainly gripped from the beginning by the quirky Dickensian characters and “hard-luck life” of our protagonist. Can’t say I could “stomach” the novel for a whole class study, but I think as a modern Dickens it works well and would grip many young readers...maybe not too young, though. EVERY DAY was a cool premise, but I, too, thought it didn't quite go deep enough – although given that I read it in our first round, I’m going on memory here. Happy smacking!

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  2. 2 for Rotters and though I'm not on this side of the draw I agree (except for the comment on Raven Boys). The first half of the book is definitely stronger than the second half but the story and the characters are more motivated and interesting to read. There are problems with Rotters but Kraus is a promising writer and I would read more of his work and luckily for me he has a new book out called Scowler.

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  3. I agree with everything that's been said here. I wish that Every Day hadn't been a love story. It would have been so much more interesting. I read Rotters last round and agreed that the first half is what hooked me enough to care in the second half.

    I worried that I'd be comparing apples to oranges even more than usual in this round, given that I enjoyed Rotters in text format and experienced Every Day in audio format (the only format available when both hands are holding bottles these days). Despite my worry that the difference in formats would make it hard to feel confident in my choice, the twins and I are sure that Rotters should win this round.

    I don't have a zombie pick from my previous reads that I'd feel strongly enough about to pick. So my zombie pick has to be for a book I am looking forward to reading. If something weird happens and The Fault in Our Stars doesn't make it in, that's my zombie vote. Otherwise, I'd like to read Raven Boys. I'll probably get around to reading both, but Smackdown will determine which ones get read / heard first!
    -Laura

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  4. Halfway through Rotters and hoping the second half has some redeeming qualities.

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