Somewhere, buried deep in this middling book is a really, really good story. The kernel is there. The core of the narrative is an interesting (if famiSomewhere, buried deep in this middling book is a really, really good story. The kernel is there. The core of the narrative is an interesting (if familiar) concept with shining moments of creativity and engaging narrative. But Ernest Cline suffers from a bad habit of an ex dungeonmaster: he needs to explain everything. Moments are lost in extraneous descriptions and minutia. Each new location is described in painstakingly boring detail that adds nothing to the story. But it's not just in setting the scene.
The book is bogged down in exposition and never trusts its reader to understand the subtext. After giving an extensive description of Wade's life hidden away in a darkened room with nothing but OASIS hardware, never leaving his house, Cline has the audacity to finish this chapter-long description with "I had made my own prison," or some such equal nonsense. Not only is his description extensive, he also has to state the point he is trying to make. This kind of thing happens all the time. There's a scene early on where Wade reflects on how much he loves Family Ties. The author feels the need to then add, "I guess I liked it so much because it was the life I wish I had." Trust your reader!
The constant 80s references feel jarring and constantly took me out of the story. Cline said in an interview part of the reason he used so much pop culture and sci-fi in this book was as a kind of short hand, because that's how geeks speak with one another. I could get behind that, if he didn't then go on to explain what those references were in detail as well. It felt unnatural and overly self-indulgent. There are definitely times when the pop-culture references are a benefit, and I get that nostalgia is a major factor in the book's concept and appeal. But it goes into the well too often.
Cline is also exhaustingly repetitive. Not only does he bog the book down in constant exposition, he then repeats that exposition multiple times. The book is in dire need of a better editor that could rein in some of Cline's bad habits. (He also has a frustrating tendency to have his characters use the phrase "of course" in their dialogue and narration, which as the book went on made everyone seem condescending and unlikable.)
Overall, the book was enjoyable enough, but it could have been a much stronger, much tighter story if he cut down on some of the exposition and world-building. Trust the reader enough to lead them to the point you're trying to make without stating it outright. This book is a great example of "telling, not showing." Descriptions rule the book, rather than any kind of character movement or advancements in the plot. Much of these long diatribes could have been more organically folded into the narrative, instead we got chapters and chapters up front of a kid sitting bored in school and describing the entire history of this fictional world. I understand needing to set up that the character's life is boring, but don't do it by boring the reader!
I also kept expecting the 80's nostalgia to pay off in some way, perhaps Cline was trying to describe the dangers of nostalgia and living trapped in ones own fandom at the expense of living a real life. Nope. The final resolution in the book--in fact, its last line--feels hollow because nothing in the book set it up. If that was the point Ernest Cline was trying to build toward, he failed.
Again, the book is OK, but I was so disappointed in the pedestrian storytelling on display. So many fundamental errors. To the point where I couldn't fathom what his intended audience was supposed to be. Is it young adults? Well, the consant 80's references and the extended, unsettling description of the main character's masturbation habits would lead me to say that is probably not it. Adults? Well, the teenage angst and poor writing would make me think it isn't really the right audience either.
I look forward to Spielberg's adaptation. This book will make a far better movie than a novel, especially with a more skilled storyteller making the creative choices. I think that will bring the concepts in this book to a far more satisfying realization....more
As I Lay Dying is an absurd book and it is meant to be so. The Herculean struggles of the Bundrens are to fulfill a meaningless task, and ultimately mAs I Lay Dying is an absurd book and it is meant to be so. The Herculean struggles of the Bundrens are to fulfill a meaningless task, and ultimately may even be manipulated selfishly. Dashing feats of heroism or sacrifice are ultimately without purpose and in some cases result in further hardship and tragedy. It is a study in the futile.
I don't know how I feel about this book. It's difficult--to follow, to understand, and to analyze. It was only with the help of other sources I was able to come to any fuller understanding or conclusions on the story. I was at turns frustrated and glued to the par. It is difficult; almost impenetrable. I still don't know whether or not I even enjoyed it, but it constantly kept me thinking and the stream of consciousness style allowed for a great deal of human pathos.
As I Lay Dying deals with coming to terms with grief, identity, and mortality and the decreasing divide between Vardaman and Darl's sections is one of the most interesting and poignant tricks Faulkner plays in the novel. It is littered with beautifully poetic prose and dripping with irony and the absurd...if for no other reason than to have a reading experience not quite like anything else it's a book to explore....more