Glorious, Buffalo Trail & Silver City (Book Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game. Continue reading

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Boy, Snow, Bird (Book Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Don’t you just hate it when adaptations of beloved stories take huge liberties with their source material? No? Well, some people must, because critics everywhere went nuts over the fact that the subject of today’s review, Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, a supposed re-telling of the Snow White story, didn’t follow the plot of the original fairy tale. But, here’s the thing: if you actually read this book, you realize that it’s not really Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Sure, it’s got elements of the Snow White mythos in it–there’s a “wicked” stepmother who dislikes her beautiful, fair-skinned step-daughter, and frequent references to mirrors and apples–but it is ultimately its own animal. It’s got its own story, its own universe, and its own resolution. I honestly think that the only reason it got marketed as a Snow White re-telling is that the publishers didn’t know what to make of this surreal, highly original work, and decided to give potential buyers a categorization they could understand.

But, all that aside, you’re probably wondering what this book is about, and more importantly, if it’s any good. Well, concerning plot, the novel begins with a young blonde white woman named Boy–trust me, the color of her hair and skin are actually important–running away from her abusive father in New York, and moving up to a small town in New England. There she meets Arturo, a jewelry maker with a daughter from a previous marriage, they court, fall in love, and get married. Everything seems hunky dory until Boy has their baby, a little girl named bird, who is born Black. Boy doesn’t know what to make of this until Arturo explains to her that he and his whole family are actually fair-skinned African Americans who have been passing for White in order to avoid discrimination. This whole story takes place back in the 1960s, so race is a huge deal here. Now, at this point, you’d think the story is going to be about Boy overcoming her prejudices, and learning to love her husband and step-daughter, Snow, who, like her father, is White passing. BUt it isn’t. We just jump ahead 12 years, and find ourselves being told the story from the perspective of Bird. Apparently, Boy sent Snow away to live with her Black family, and Bird doesn’t know her sister because her mother doesn’t let Snow come back. All this seems like good material for conflict–maybe Bird will run away to be with her sister, maybe Snow will come back and kill Boy–but, once again, the author does nothing with it. We just read some of Bird’s diary entries, as well as some letters she and Snow exchange, and then the narration switches back to Boy, who explains that Snow is living with them again, and that she and her step-daughter have made up. But what is perhaps the most infuriating about this novel, besides its wasted dramatic potential, is the last fifteen pages. They throw in a brand new story element that, while it does, admittedly, explain some weird aspects from earlier in the book, changes the tone and themes of the novel completely. Imagine if you were reading a book that, up until the last ten pages, seemed like a straightforward murder-mystery, but then, in the very last section, was revealed to actually be an Alien invasion thriller. If you can imagine the amount of shock and frustration you’d feel at something like that, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of how nonplused I was at the end of “Boy, Snow, Bird,” because that’s basically what the author, Helen Oyeyemi, did. She took a seemingly straight-forward drama about race and identity, and just flipped it on its head.

Now, before I go any further, I just want to be clear and say that I don’t think this novel is all bad. The characters are interesting, and you get to know the three women of the title pretty well. In addition to this, Oyeyemi has a unique and quirky voice that I find very enjoyable to read. The problem is that, very often, it feels like she is focused more on showing us how quirky, off beat and original she is than telling a story that makes logical sense. For instance, there are several scenes in the novel where characters describe not being able to see their reflections in the mirror, as well as conversations they had with spiders. (I’m not kidding about that latter part.) And while you could make the argument that the mirror bit is in keeping with the overall theme of identity being a fluid concept that isn’t always clear, the spider part contributes nothing to the overall narrative, and never gets explained. So, when you combine these odd, unexplained story elements, with the completely out-of-left-field ending, you get a novel that is entertaining to read, but ultimately frustrating.

For that reason, I have decided to give Boy, Snow, Bird a 6 out of 10. It’s not the best thing out there, but it isn’t half bad either. If you can accept the strangeness, you’ll probably like it. If you can’t, well, do your best to avoid it.

American Gods (Book Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

And if you’re like me, you probably grew up reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson And The Olympians series. The epic story of a 12-year-old boy who discovers that he is actually the son of the Greek god Poseidon, the books are exciting, funny, filled with likable characters, and have introduced the people and places of Greek mythology to pre-teens everywhere. I loved them when I first read them, and they still hold a special place in my heart. One of my favorite aspects of the books is the whole idea that the old gods are still alive, and here in America. It’s a brilliant premise, and an extremely original one to boot.

Or is it? See, I recently discovered that, back in 2000, a whole five years before the release of the first Percy Jackson book, British graphic novelist Neil Gaiman wrote a story about the gods of old still being alive, and in this country. When I heard this, I knew that I had to give this earlier novel, American Gods, a look. Well, I did that, and today, I’d like to share my thoughts on it with you all.

So, for those of you who haven’t read it, American Gods is the story of Shadow, an ex-con who finds work running errands for the Norse god Odin, or Mr Wednesday, as he likes to be called. The novel’s basic premise is that, when people immigrate to the United States, they bring they’re beliefs and customs with them. As such, the mythological figures from these immigrants’ homelands follow them across the sea to the New World, and exist here as well. Now, however, the descendants of these first immigrants have stopped believing in the old gods, and, as a result, they’ve become frail and weak. Instead, new gods–ones of television, internet, and big business–have sprung up, and are looking to exterminate the old timers.

This is an extremely interesting idea–a war between new and old gods with our world as the battleground–and Gaiman develops some really good characters. His prose is also very conversational, and easy to get into. So, why am I not as crazy about American Gods as I am about Percy Jackson?

Well, one reason could be the fact that certain characters, and plot lines, feel either unnecessary, or out of place. For instance, there’s a character that Shadow gives a ride to named Sam Black Crow, who shows up a few more times in the book, has several pages devoted to her life and backstory…and she serves absolutely no purpose. Seriously. It’s not like she’s his love interest, or helper. She never really contributes to the main storyline–that being Shadow and Odin traveling across the continental United States, recruiting Old Gods to fight in the war against the New ones. She just shows up from time to time, talks to him, and in one scene, kisses him. And that’s it. And it’s not even like the kiss she gives him is out of attraction–Gaiman establishes pretty early on that she’s a lesbian–so she really doesn’t serve any purpose. The only reason I can think he’d bring her up more than once is the fact that she lives in this small town that Shadow hides in for a period. And speaking of, the whole section where Shadow hides in the small town of Lakeside Michigan feels completely out of place. When I was reading that section, I thought I’d picked up a completely different novel, a David Lynch-type murder mystery, instead of the epic fantasy adventure I was promised.

And that’s the other thing I didn’t like about American Gods–its inability to keep focus on one story. The Percy Jackson series has just one protagonist, who is also the narrator. You therefore see everything from his perspective, and never leave his side. This, in turn, makes the story as a whole easier to follow. American Gods does have a protagonist, Shadow, but Gaiman has several chapters and interludes where he’s not even mentioned. I guess the reason Gaiman did this was to build a universe, to weave a complete tapestry . But, in the end, these cutaways and interludes ultimately prove distracting. And remember how I mentioned that the small town section felt really out of place? Well, it does, and its distracting too. If you’ve ever read the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, you know that Frodo destroying the ring isn’t the end. There’s a whole section after that where he, Sam, Merry and Pippin go back to the Shire, find that it’s been taken over by Saruman, and organize a Hobbit uprising. This section always felt completely out of place to me, and I’m honestly quite glad that Peter Jackson chose to leave it out of his film adaptation. It felt like a totally new novel, one that had just been tacked on as an after-thought to a previous one. The reason I bring this up is that American Gods has a similar situation. There’s a big climactic battle between the new gods and the old ones, and when it’s over, you think the story’s finished. But it isn’t. The book doesn’t end there. Shadow then goes back to the annoying town from earlier, and picks up a plot-thread that had been introduced, but no one had really cared about. As I was reading it, I kept asking myself, “Why is this here? Why is this here? The main story is the war between the old and the new gods, which is done. So, why is this here?” All I can say is that, if Gaiman hadn’t spent so much time on universe-building interludes, and just kept the focus on one story, the book would have been a lot better.

But, as I said before, this isn’t a bad book. The characters are well-rounded and likable, the world is interesting, and the prose itself is easy to get in to, and enjoyable to read. So, as many gripes as I might have with this novel, I can’t really give it a bad review. It’s a 7 out of 10. If you do read it, feel free to skip the sections with Sam and the small town.