I got this because it was free. I am never going to read it, and I never got more than one page in, but I don't want to just delete it because that me...moreI got this because it was free. I am never going to read it, and I never got more than one page in, but I don't want to just delete it because that means I'd lose that one star rating.
This strikes me as a (slightly) more polished version of something a pubescent early bloomer might write after reading too much Twilight slash fiction, much in the same vein (ha, get it? vein?) as Fifty Shades of Grey. I think I wrote better vampire fiction when I was in middle school, and I wrote terrible vampire fiction. It's a pleasure to remove it from my backlog.(less)
I really wanted to like this book. I haven't read much lately that could be straightforwardly classified as fantasy; this was going to be a welcome re...moreI really wanted to like this book. I haven't read much lately that could be straightforwardly classified as fantasy; this was going to be a welcome relief, the kind of book I could read without worrying about its greater significance or blah blah blah. A fun book, without being simple-minded.
I've read The White Tribunal and The Wolf of Winter, both by Volsky, and I enjoyed both. The Wolf of Winter felt very... Siberian, or Russian, or something along those lines, and seemed to be a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, while The White Tribunal felt like a weird take on The Count of Monte Cristo. I've re-read both, and they stand up as being entertaining but not world-shaking. It helps that I read them in high school, when my predilection for tortured, outcast, and/or complicated characters was at its height; both books satisfied this desire. I believe she uses the same setting for most of her books, but there's still continuity beyond geographical names.
Illusion was just too unwieldy, too slow to start, too fragmentary. Volsky re-tells the story of the French revolution, giving her ruling class magical power instead of the monetary and political sort. The main character, Eliste vo Derrivale, is part of this ruling class and strikes a nice balance--she swallows enough of the social norms to be realistic, but questions them enough that she does not alienate readers. She's a mostly good person who's never had to question her place in the world; it would definitely be interesting to see her forced into that questioning.
The problem is that even after getting through a third of the novel, revolution is still fomenting, has not mustered the carbonation required to bubble over and ruin the fine silk tablecloth. Eliste is still courting, attending the queen as a handmaiden, taking erstaz cocaine to keep up with the chores, the parties, the gifts, the men. Volsky intersperses this with passages from revolutionaries' perspectives, which are interesting but disruptive. Everything was at least mildly interesting, but the pacing was so slow that it just wasn't interesting enough. And, not being a French revolution buff, my historical interest wasn't enough to overcome the flaws of the text.
I had to put this one down. It breaks my heart, as I liked the other work I've read from Volsky, and she writes well. Granted, I never stopped to marvel at a particularly beautiful or well-written passage, but neither was I tripped up by bad writing. Her prose is invisible, and in non-"literary" fiction, I'd say that isn't a bad thing. But that's one less reason to keep reading, and I'm afraid Illusion needed it.(less)
I went into this anthology of short fiction thinking it would be the perfect way to clear my palate. I had just given up on Paula Volsky's Illusion, a...moreI went into this anthology of short fiction thinking it would be the perfect way to clear my palate. I had just given up on Paula Volsky's Illusion, a fantasy re-casting of the French Revolution with an unwieldy front-half I didn't have the patience for.
It isn't that Porter's writing is terrible, far from it. I never had to stop and shake off a fit of grammatical outrage... but I never paused over a sentence and marveled at its construction, wanted to read it out loud and savor its music, its bobbing ebb and flow. It's functional prose, and not much more.
It's just everything else. Porter is great with his ending paragraphs--you could read them individually and get that same thunk, that impression of finality and importance and great meaning. I just don't think he can back it up with the beginning and middle. I was skimming from the title story on, and it all just felt the same to me: another first-person tale of suburban woe, character conflict with normal, flawed people going about their lives. Like a character-based indie movie, or romantic comedy. Formulaic. They read like the output of a very serious twenty-something who's taken too many creative writing classes with other very serious twenty-somethings, trying to make a statement about "the modern human condition" without ever saying anything original, or doing anything original, or really doing anything all that memorable at all. I'm sure that a month from now, I'd be hard-pressed to detail anything I've read.
Maybe, given the space to really dig into his characterization, Porter isn't so bad. Maybe his novel In Between Days is better. He's certainly got a list of awards long enough after his name, though the smug picture of him on his website is a little jarring. He's even from Lancaster county, just to the west of where I grew up, and now lives in San Antonio, which is just to my south. I have so many granfalloonian reasons to like him.