There is a reason I hate stream-of-consciousness novels. I can't follow it. I like my novels to travel down a path - it may veer off every now and the...moreThere is a reason I hate stream-of-consciousness novels. I can't follow it. I like my novels to travel down a path - it may veer off every now and then, and that's okay because those little detours may prove to be wonderful, terrifying, heart-stopping, mysterious or whatnot, but they are almost always revelatory. Sometimes immediately, sometimes long after the fact that you need to really remember and say "Oh yeah, I remember when that happened! Huh! That's what that meant." Either way, it doesn't matter. Because the detours had meaning, they had purpose, and you can trust that a good (read: conscientious) writer will have a reason for taking you down that path. And in the end, it will be okay. You've traveled from Point A to Point B and took a dozen turns here and there, but you got there, and there was a point to it all. And in the journey, you were entertained, bewildered, thrilled, sickened, fell in love, hated someone passionately. In other words, you were cajoled out of the quotidian confines of your life temporarily, living vicariously through some fictional character's (mis)adventures.
My problem with stream-of-consciousness works comes down to this: I get lost way too easily if I can't see how anything is connected, and when I start getting lost, I get distracted and don't care to pay attention anymore, and the work just becomes tedious because all I can think of is "Where is this going? What just happened? Crud, I have to get the clothes out of the dryer. Wait, don't I have to go to the grocery store? Phooey, I'm out of kale. Is that the phone? I need to send that bill out. Oh, sigh, the dog needs to go out again. For a walk. In the rain. And she wants to roll around in the mud. After all the worms have come out. Great!"
And before you know it, 40 pages have gone by (and yet you have the distinct feeling that nothing has happened, but the character's thought processes have brought me from Point A to Point M to Eastern Jabib and the next thing I know, I'm in the slums of Qatar and I still have no idea what's happening because of all the navel gazing going on). The worst part is, not only do I not know what happened in the last 40 pages, but I don't care. And that bothers me, because when I read, I I want to care.
And while I stick to it and hope that at some point, it will all come together and make some sense (I am not that deluded to think it will all make sense), and there will be some big reveal that will tie everything together, there is a sinking feeling within me knowing that I am too far gone and the last two days have been a loss, and I get caught up thinking of what I will say in my review.
That was how I felt reading Zone One. Exposition galore. Ruminations about everyone and everything, past and present, tediousness and ennui all rolled into one. In the middle of a zombie attack, I want to feel that my hero is in peril (and by extension, that I myself am in mortal danger). I want to know how the next few minutes will play out...within the next few minutes. I do not want to be in the middle of a zombie attack with four very hungry zombies who want to eat me, and think about how people are holed up in Chinese restaurants where no one is allowed to have fun anymore, what my high school GPA was and how average I was back then, questioning the purpose of insurance forms years ago when people weren't zombies yet, what the crazy old coot from my old neighborhood was doing, running down an empty street, talking into a headset when all communications were down. Nope. I want to know if a zombie will pierce through my armor and will get to my wonderful meaty and bloody skin and whether the zombie will get a chance to eat me and turn me into one of them.
But no, I need to slog through pages upon pages of meandering, aimless, spaghetti exposition (beautifully written spaghetti exposition...I'll give Colson Whitehead that much, albeit begrudgingly). And for what? For what? Another 20 pages of blathering on and on about things that are totally unrelated to the attack that was supposed to last five minutes. It was the longest five minutes of my life. More like two hours.
For a great review of this book, see Mark Monday's review on goodreads. It was fantastic! I wish I'd read his review before I bought the book, but I didn't. Oh well. Weekend gone. Much like our intrepid zombie hunter.(less)
This was a beautifully written book. On a purely technical level, it was near-perfect. The imagery was fantastic, the prose was lyrical, and the chara...moreThis was a beautifully written book. On a purely technical level, it was near-perfect. The imagery was fantastic, the prose was lyrical, and the characters were very well developed (and that includes the biggest character of all, the circus itself).
However, from a reader's emotional point of view, I felt that it took such a long time for things to come together that at times, I couldn't help wondering "Where is this all going and do I want to stick with it?" I like well-written narratives but when the technical beauty gets in the way of the story, I have a tendency to think that it detracts from what drew me to the book in the first place: the promise of being caught up in the story.
One of the things that I found annoying was that Morgenstern kept switching perspectives and person (as in first, second or third person). It was distracting and I felt that it broke the flow of the narrative. I must admit, having the first chapter written in second person was very disconcerting and I wondered if I could handle an entire novel in second person. Thankfully, it wasn't, but she did switch back and forth between first, second and third person. This was also part epistolary (the first person parts) and while I am a huge fan of the epistolary, I am not all that convinced it added a significant benefit to the narrative. I can see why she did it; after all, something critical happens to the character speaking in first person that had wide-ranging effects in the narrative. It was a good literary device -- again, from a technical perspective, it worked, but from an emotional one, not so much (at least for me).
So, rating's-wise, I gave this a 4 for how well-written it was, but a 3 for the story itself. (less)