Stephen King is always hit or miss with me. When he misses, I generally cite a ludicrous premise made more unappealing by hasty plot contrivances addeStephen King is always hit or miss with me. When he misses, I generally cite a ludicrous premise made more unappealing by hasty plot contrivances added for shock value. I also cite (even in his best books) his penchant for truly unnatural dialogue. I often stop myself while reading a conversation between his characters to literally say out loud "No one would say that. Nobody talks that way." His misses have left me wondering if I should take the risk with each new book (and he seems to put one out every few months, so that's an investment of time I have not always been willing to make).
Ah, but when he hits, he hits in spectacular fashion. And "11/22/63" is a big, big hit.
Is the premise ludicrous? Absolutely. Are there plot contrivances added for shock value? There most certainly are. Is the dialogue written in King's characteristically unnatural style? You bet your ass it is. But then, there's the concept. And what a concept! An ordinary man given the chance to rewrite history as we know it. And what an ordinary man! Someone the reader can truly champion, not because he is pristine and heroic, but because he is just a slightly "smarter than average" schmoe with our flaws and desires and mistake-laden past trying deperately to do what he feels is "the right thing" despite the toll it may take on his own small but precious life. And what makes it work? The fact that our hero's inner dialogue feels genuine. The conversations he has with others may seem a bit unnatural at times, but inside his head this guy is real. He thinks our thoughts, he has flashes of irony and comedy at inopportune times. He struggles with ethical dilemmas and doesn't always choose the best path. A few chapters in, it occurred to me, "Jesus. I just really like this guy." And that made all the difference.
Now, add to that character foundation the fact that the story revolves around one of the more interesting times in American political history and around some of the most troubled and dangerous characters of that decade. I am not sure if I am pleased or embarrassed to admit that I may have learned more about the Kennedy years and about the political machinations swirling around his presidency - and about the character of people like Oswald and Johnson and others - than I ever did in a classroom. King did some truly impressive and extensive research into the era, and it really added immensely to the spellbinding quality of the text. The moves our characters made felt believable because they were reactions to actual events in their proper historical perspectives. That might make this book sound dry or overly manipulated, but that's the beauty of this book. It feels as if history is spilling out of the characters, as if suddenly the things we learned in school have human faces and beating hearts and deperately troubled minds behind those pesky, debatable "facts." King has made the era, the zeitgeist, the historical figures, the settings, and his fictional characters all come to life in the midst of a very long, very complicated story filled with twists and turns and stylized backstories and all manner of added plot fillers - and somehow it only rarely becomes too overwhelming or bogged down. I would consider it a monumental achievement of creativity and research to have written just this one book in a normal human lifespan. How King seems to do this over and over again I have no idea.
And to write a few misses in between.
Well worth the wait.
I won't tell you the rest. You know what happened in 1963, even if - like myself - you were not even born yet. But...you have never heard the "what ifs" stated quite like the ones in this book. Suspend disbelief for the first few chapters and you will be highly rewarded with a story that takes you through a time you have not experienced in a way that might change your perspective forever.
If you saw my reviews for the first two books in this series, then you are well aware that I raved about them as if I had just discovered a vein of goIf you saw my reviews for the first two books in this series, then you are well aware that I raved about them as if I had just discovered a vein of gold in the backyard or stumbled upon a homemade cure for crow's feet. Subtlety is not my strong suit - I absolutely love those books. But, as someone who has traversed the jaw-dropping scenery of the Bavarian Alps just to get to a trash-strewn field full of heavy metal concert-goers, I also learned long ago that very often the journey is far more satisfying than the destination. For every spectacular sight, exotic landmark, and sunset boat ride along the way, there's often a corresponding turbulence-filled airplane flight, grungy taxicab ride, or tense wait in an awkward queue at the customs counter or rental car place. For me, "The Hunger Games" and "Catching Fire" were amazing journeys, full of the excitement, novelty and romance of all great travels. "Mockingjay," on the other hand, was the final destination, and like all final destinations, it harbored a little bit of the letdown of the journey's end, as well as an acknowledgement of the strings being pulled by the travel planner.
**There may be some spoilers in the rest of this, so if you don’t want to know about the trilogy’s end, you may want to stop reading now.
My main problem with the book was that I felt as though Collins was scrambling to take all the plot elements she had so brilliantly set up in the first two books and somehow make them all come together in a BIG finale that would not only be plausible to her now-loyal fans, but explain everything, AND look really cool onscreen when the films came out. Because of that, it seemed like a very self-conscious book, one that dragged out all the bells and whistles, sometimes in place of deeper character development, more believable occurrences, and a greater emotional impact. I won’t go into long passages about it, but here are a few bullet points of the things that bothered me a bit in the novel:
• The regression of Katniss – she is headstrong and capable in the first two books while still being sympathetic, but in the third book she becomes a bit grating and arrogant. Her lack of understanding in the face of Peeta’s ordeal particularly disturbed me. • The vilification of Gale (made inexcusable by the unnecessary cause of a beloved character’s death at the end of the book). I know Collins did this in order to make the choice of suitors acceptable, but as someone who adored the Gale character in the first two books, this left a bad taste in my mouth. • The contrived manner of death of the aforementioned beloved character. It’s not the death itself that bothered me as much as the haphazard way it was handled. There is no reason for the character to be there at the time of her death. Some sort of logical progression would have helped. I’m not a fan of contrivance when it is painted with such a heavy brushstroke. • The ludicrous series of events that lead to the small gang of fighters leading an ill-planned and ill-fated siege on the Capitol. Defied believability. • The all-too-grotesque manners of death within the grid. Even in a video-game world, it was a bit of overkill (pun intended).
And finally, I was really unhappy with the resolution of the “love triangle.” When Katniss finally makes her choice it is not even a choice at all. It disappointingly becomes little more than a matter of proximity. “Oh, you’re here. I guess I’ll try to love you then.” Considering everything he went through for her, I would have liked it if maybe she had shown him a little declaration of something more passionate than just “Real.”
So, even though I still highly recommend this series to absolutely everyone on planet Earth, I would now caution that every trilogy ends, and endings are not always the most satisfying part of a great journey. That said, Collins has given us a YA gem of a series with much to say about our civilization, our politics, our culture’s missteps, flaws, joys, and strengths, and all of those elusive traits that make us human. She can plan my travel itinerary anytime (as long as it’s not a trip to the Capitol in Panem by way of the grid). ...more
Michael Connelly is an excellent writer. This book was well-paced, well-plotted, and completely engrossing for all of 352 pages. Unfortunately, the edMichael Connelly is an excellent writer. This book was well-paced, well-plotted, and completely engrossing for all of 352 pages. Unfortunately, the edition I read had 434 pages, and therein lies the problem. If you haven't read "The Poet," but you intend to do so, I do not want to dissuade you from that endeavor, because Connelly really is a very good writer with an inventive mind and an evocative style. On the other hand, you may want to skip the rest of this review, as it is about to contain some possible spoilers. Without revealing the spoilers, I would be unable to justify my three star rating. ******************************************************************** "The Poet" started out with a lot of promise (news reporter Jack McEvoy's twin brother - a police homicide detective - is found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound after having obsessed for months over a particular homicide victim). But all is not as it seems, and McEvoy uncovers a series of serial killings of homicide detectives all across the country that have cleverly been made to look like suicides. Great hook. Really captivating. The creepy suspected killer is a pedophile and truly horrifying character, and Connelly does a fine job of making him disgusting and realistic at the same time. Once the FBI becomes involved and McEvoy has to blackmail them into letting him join the task force in order to keep the story under wraps, it all takes off brilliantly. For genre fiction, this had me reading past my bedtime on work nights and looking forward to the next time I could open its covers. Which is why I was so truly disappointed when right at the peak of the story, our supposedly intelligent and savvy reporter does something so absurd and unbelievable, I felt not only let down by the story, but questioning of Connelly's abilities to bring this thing home properly. And I was right to feel that way, because after that first lapse, the rest of the plot devolved into even greater absurdities that made the book feel false and insulting. Sure, throughout the book there were a few things that happened that felt somewhat inauthentic or seemed a bit too convenient, but at the time, I thought it was intentional staging for an ending that would incorporate all of these things and make them seem more necessary to the plot. I really felt that Connelly had put all of these elements into the storyline on purpose in order to lead us along until the big reveal, when their vital nature would be explained and his inclusion of them, vindicated. (Yes, I tend to expect too much at times. I'm aware of that.)The most glaring of these contrivances was the all-too-formulaic romance that ensued between Connelly's McEvoy and the "beautiful but troubled" FBI agent he is paired with on the case. I assumed her seduction of him would have searing implications later on and be part of a really clever game that had been played on McEvoy, the FBI, and/or the reader. I was assuming Connelly had a far more clever mousetrap set than he actually did. But some of the formulaic elements turned out to be just that, and some of the contrivances were merely to move the plot along from A to B to C. It wasn't so much a creative journey as a serviceable outline. There were a hundred different ways this book could have ended and still surprised the reader while maintaining its realism and integrity. Instead, Connelly decided to travel a route that made zero sense and left anyone who knows anything about actual crimes shaking his or her head at the ridiculousness of the contrivance. It seemed like such a smart book for such a long time, I guess I never thought Connelly would go for blatant sensationalism instead of a really clever outcome. With his background in news reporting, I thought he'd prefer a well told story to tabloid dreck. So, even though I enjoyed the writing and the pace, the ending was a real disappointment. That said, I may actually try him again someday. Just not someday soon.
Oh, and just as an aside, I think of this as a modern story, but because it was written in the late nineties, there were some technological references that came off as archaic to a modern reader. I was pulled out of the story several times when it referenced scenarios that would not have happened in a modern setting merely because the characters lacked cell phones or easy computer access (detectives having to rely on "pay phones" and "pagers," people faxing things instead of sending them electronically, the plotline that hinged on "newfangled digital cameras," so common now. I kept thinking to myself that the story played like something from the 1970's instead of something recent. That's not Connelly's fault, of course, but for some reason, it was really a strange distraction. ...more