I am a sucker for survival stories, especially those set at sea. Have no idea why. Perhaps it's for the visceral, vicarious thrill of experiencing the I am a sucker for survival stories, especially those set at sea. Have no idea why. Perhaps it's for the visceral, vicarious thrill of experiencing these terrifying events unfold from the safety and comfort of my reading chair. Which probably makes me an asshole, but let's be clear -- it's not the SUFFERING I get off on, but the grittiness and ingenuity required of the survivors to live through the ordeal so that we can all learn from it in some profound way (there is a part of me that uses these stories as self-help manuals -- what to do when stranded on an island, in the desert, in the Andes, in the Pacific ocean, on Mars!)
(waves to Mark Watney -- yes I know he's a fictional character but you get my point).
To call Salvador Alvarenga's true survival story of 438 days (!!!) adrift at sea "extraordinary" just might be the understatement of the century. His tale is the very epitome of extraordinary and then some. Can we just invent a new word please? So okay, extraordinary, but also terrifying and amazing and shocking and unbelievable. How can it be humanly possible for a person to survive so long adrift at sea with few supplies? What will this person eat? Where will they get their drinking water to stave off death from dehydration? Supposing food and water challenges are addressed, how does a person go about developing a mental toughness, a spiritual and emotional resiliency to go on in the face of insurmountable odds, immeasurable aching loneliness, crippling boredom and sensory deprivation?
Jonathan Franklin does a great job here fleshing out Alvarenga's story with as much specific detail as possible pertaining to the 438 days, but also balances this side of the story with accounts from other people who have survived long periods at sea highlighting similarities and differences. He also quotes from scientists and psychologists who have studied survival and the mental, emotional and physical changes humans undergo in extreme survival situations. This helps put Alvarenga's experience into a larger, more meaningful context.
If you do the audiobook thing, the reader for this one is excellent. His voice kept me immersed in the details and drama with very little opportunity for my mind to lose focus and wander. This is a gripping tale of extreme human survival that left me exhausted, humbled, and inspired.
A before and after of Alvarenga and his first haircut and shave:
Hey look! It's Margaret Atwood does the Stepford Wives! Hilarity and perversity ensues! But with an underbelly of nastiness that will make you examine Hey look! It's Margaret Atwood does the Stepford Wives! Hilarity and perversity ensues! But with an underbelly of nastiness that will make you examine your darkest desires! Your commitment to your significant other(s)! Your notions of free will and (ugh!) what it means to be happy! Happy at last! Smile goddammit!!!
I had a lot of fun reading this one, probably because it's easy to tell while reading it Atwood had a lot of fun writing it. It's the best kind of satire, one that doesn't take itself too seriously, while still having something serious to say. But this is medicine that goes down smooth and delicious, with little burbles of laughter and giggles and snorts along the way. I'd become so used to Atwood as "the serious novelist", the "literary icon", the dabbler of the dark dystopias and sharp feminist critiques. And that Atwood is here, but it's like she got a little drunk and smoked a huge bong and wrote this one with her hair down and shoes off.
This book actually started as an ebook serial project back in 2012, with the first installment I'm Starved For You. I jumped on it back then because I thought it looked interesting and read the first three installments before it fell off my radar. I'm really glad Atwood decided to finish the project and release the entire thing as a full length novel.
There's probably some filler here -- Atwood might have gotten away with shaping this into a tighter leaner novella -- but I enjoyed the world-building aspects of Consilience and Positron (the Stepford, 1950s-themed too good to be true community and its accompanying experimental prison). The devil is in the details and what seems so delightfully absurd on the surface, reveals some heavy, sinister truths when that first layer of paint is scratched away.
Surrendering your freedom of choice for the greater good always seems like the right thing to do, but somehow such social experiments are always destined to go off the rails eventually. I love the nasty implications of such social experiments gone horribly wrong, or hijacked for other nasty purposes. Humans do weird things when they are rigidly controlled. It seems it's not in our nature to respond well to being mere mice in a maze. We'll always find ways to act out and act up. I am not an animal! I am an individual! What's more, getting rid of "the man" in this scenario also seems impossible. Somehow, someway, things must be monetized. Someone has to be shown the money. And lots of it.
Atwood has a lot to say here about human sexuality too, and the nature of love -- both of the romantic variety, and the more lustful. As others have mentioned in their reviews, this is at heart a cautionary tale -- a be careful what you wish for narrative. It shows us at our most selfish and self-indulgent, revealing our perpetual hunger for assurances we are in the right place, doing the right thing, sleeping with the right person. That we are happy. Self doubt is a bitch. But wherever we are right now, whatever we're doing, whoever we're doing it to, it's by choice. We've chosen it today. We might choose it again tomorrow. The nagging doubts might be a pain, but they're our doubts. Replacing personal, individual uncertainty with a cold manufactured certainty imposed from without should never become more appealing. ...more
It's easy to compare this one to The Girl on the Train or even Gone Girl. It definitely has that vibe of psychologically damaged minds perpetrating da It's easy to compare this one to The Girl on the Train or even Gone Girl. It definitely has that vibe of psychologically damaged minds perpetrating dark deeds in the midst of a twisty, sinuous plot. It also shares the multiple POV narration, which when done well, can add SO MUCH to these types of stories.
As it does here. I would actually argue that The Kind Worth Killing is an even stronger and more page-turning book than The Girl On the Train (whose underwhelming ending left me sort of underwhelmed by the time I was done, especially after such a great build-up).
If you're going to write a page-turning psychological thriller piece like this you had better stick the landing, otherwise all your hard work leading up to the main event is going to feel wasted. It's all a house of cards, an illusion built using smoke and mirrors; you are asking the reader to suspend their disbelief and come along for the crazy ride. When it's all over, don't leave them feeling like they've been had. Play fair. Don't cheat.
The Kind Worth Killing has a very noir sensibility in its tone and execution that I just lapped up like cream. And no surprise because the author is channeling Patricia Highsmith's classic crime novel Strangers on a Train that Hitchcock adapted into one of my favorite film noirs. When people start talking and planning the perfect murder, you know anything can -- and usually does -- happen.
Along with its noir vibe, The Kind Worth Killing is also reminiscent of the old pulp fiction crime novels churned out on cheap paper during the first half of the 20th century -- where sex and violence are expected to go together like PB&J -- a marriage made in heaven if you will, or more accurately, hell. The characters are not meant to be likable, or even relatable, and the dialogue and writing style is strictly utilitarian -- nothing fancy -- just let's move the plot along here, we've got places we need to end up. It's not always easy getting from A to Z leanly and meanly.
I really enjoyed the multiple POV narration here. It's probably what the novel does best. Sometimes there is some overlap too -- you get the same event described to you again but this time by a different character. It would be easy to screw that up and just have things seem repetitive. Here it's executed with aplomb and adds depth and interest to the story. At least it did for me. I would love to see this as a movie, especially if they fully committed to a noir style.