The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon)'s Reviews > Swan Song

Swan Song by Robert McCammon
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Swan Song by Robert McCammon

Every now and then, you come across a book where it seems that the complexities of life have been disassembled from reality and reformed within the pages and text. A story that, sometimes in its simplicity, captures the moving parts and varying angles of spirituality, psychology, physiology and sociology like a prism, separates them by colour, strength and depth. Then uses the differing colours to paint a kaleidoscopic tableau that opens our minds to that which is known to be there, but can hardly be seen or touched or felt. An hourglass where all the strength and beauty of humanity dances on fine white sand as it slips slowly from underfoot. How do you describe courage? How do you describe tenacity? Fear? Or desperation? What does hope feel like? Or Evil? It never fails to surprise me how these things sprout out of a fertile imagination in the most unlikely of places. It’s a pleasant surprise.

For me, Swan Song, by Robert McCammon is one of these books. This is a tale of survival and desperation, conquest and freedom, kindness and brutalities, good versus evil, and hope versus despair. Now, I know that finding philosophic, symbolic or coded messages in text is a lot like seeing images in clouds. No two people look at clouds the same. A storm arises and the golfer is angry because he can’t play while the farmer is pleased because it will slake the thirst of his crops. Sometimes only a very few people are able to hear the message that lies beneath the text, like my son seeing ice cream scoops in the bloom of fireworks while I only see sparkling lights in the night sky.

The ability of a person to perceive a wonderful gift of understanding wrapped in a dark, but powerful story does not prove the author’s intent to put it there. It’s like the crabs off the coast of Japan that Carl Sagan spoke about while cruising the universe in his “spaceship of the mind’s eye.” Crabs with faces on their carapace that resemble the face of a samurai put there by semi-natural selection because of superstitions sailors who did not want to anger the gods. A practice of tossing back any crab that seemed to resemble a face over the centuries produced an entire sub species of marine life that now, as a biological marker in its gene pool grows something resembling the face of a samurai warrior on its carapace. The warriors did not intend to create a species of face bearing crabs. They only wanted to appease angry gods. Yet, the faces are there. Like the crabs, some stories take on a second life that their author never intended, and, over time, the meanings are formed held for a while, and then lost within the pages and lines of type that a writer had never intended.

So let it be with Swan Song.

I don’t know if McCammon intended to write a spiritually conscious story, or not. I do know that the characters were rich. It was as if the players were tuning forks and with minimal effort but exquisite precision McCammon found perfect pitch in only a few words. Break this story down and you will find nothing complex. The characters are rich but there are many and each one fits into the tableau like the tiny cogs and gears of a precision watch. Some so tiny as to be insignificant on their own, almost invisible, yet, together they mark the passage of time. I’d liken this story to a post apocalyptic “Crash” (Oscar wining Movie) where nobody could see the entire picture until the end.

The characters were gritty, hungry and so desperate. I felt like weeping at the horrors that befell them, and feared the villains at their heels. “The meek shall inherit the earth?” Not on your life, they’ll have to take it. The strong want everything. Most walks of life were represented here and no group or social standing too the burden of the heat. McCammon left the earth so scorched and dark that I felt pangs of regret, then, at the last moment, there would be a single ray of hope, or blossom of sunshine. Admirable people that started the story as we are, simple humanity, then they became champions of heaven to lead the rest from purgatory or trying to swallow their souls and condemn to burning black of hell. , Josh’s strength, Swan’s Hope, Sister’s faith, Rusty’s Kindness, Rolland’s crazed loyalty, Macklin’s black heart with the Shadow Soldier looking over his shoulder. I even liked the wickedness of the villainy. Yet, amid the spectrum of humanity, broken down into its rainbow form through the characters, McCammon wove a tail of good versus evil. Faith versus the devil with mankind as the tools of righteousness and destruction, weakened by the same free will that is both a blessing and a curse.

I haven’t gone into detail about the plot or story because I don’t want to spoil it for you. Surprise is much of the fun in this story. I will say, McCammon gave the most mind blowing ground zero view of the apocalypse I’ve ever read. FANTASTIC! This is down as one of my “five star reads.” The story is long, but you’ll be on the edge of your seat from cover to cover. Where the action isn’t whipping at your soul like a riding crop, it’s playing your heart like a harp.

It’s recommended.

Short this time. There is every kind of violence you can imagine in this book. I believe it’s well written, but, I have to concede that it is gritty, and realistic. There is gore in this book. It’s not for the faint of stomach any more than the faint of heart. However, like other reads, there is hope which, for me, overcame the horror and made it all worthwhile.

I probably need to add a statement about some of the background characters. I listened to an audio book. I thought the Narrator was very good. However, some of the ethnically black characters spoke in what, as a young man born and raised in the south in the 1970s, remember to be ethnic accents that I heard every day as I'm sure Robert McCammon did, growing up in the Alabama. Now days, these are the voices and words that are used to ridicule those of African heritage. I found these characters to be courageous, dignified and more human than most others. In fact, the ethically black supporting cast, is where McCammon went to show that Humanity still lived, and there were people who cared about others left in the world. He does not belittle these people but, as I understood it, put them ahead of the Caucasian America on the road to regaining humanity. Don't let the dialect of our rich cultural south mislead you. These are wonderful characters who are well cared for and respected.

I would add, that where there is such obvious distinction as a dialect makes in a book, the enemy uses those phrases and words that are intended to incite hatred and anger in People of African decent. Their bad guys, just let em be bad and the story will be wonderful. If you are sensitive to words, and some people have legitimate reasons for that, then, as this book gets towards the end, you will hear some of the uglier side of our cultural rich southern heritage. Do not be discouraged. If you see these racially charged words, don't let them blind you like the man with the red eye, follow them and you'll see more hope and strength in those voices than anywhere else in the book.

I say this because, as I listened to the Narrator, who was wonderful with voices, my head almost snapped around when I heard these patches of ugly dialog. Either the Narrator, or McCammon (or both) dragged these out of memory with an authenticity that could only come from a person who had actually heard these words and phrases in person. For the record. I believe the Narrator is also black. Trust me...the audiobook is very good also as audiobooks go.

Five stars.
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Reading Progress

03/22 page 60
6.0% "Wow, the imagery is very dark and scary, even heartbreaking but very interesting."
03/22 page 120
13.0% "I was just about to ask "What the Devil's goin' on here?" When he showed up and I decided that "now" wouldn't be a good time to ask that particular question. (Good book. Very Dark with unpleasant things, but so far, I like it. Good Vs. Evil and the loudest words so far in print "I forgive you.""
03/25 page 160
17.0% "Wow, scary, freaky, mind blowing Apocalypse scene here. Such despairing and such courage. I'm okay with Sister Creep bing considered a strong heroine... if I was sure she was a heroine."
03/26 page 200
21.0% "Wow, amazing writing, but very dark, definately not for children, gore and violence warning, but very "Tim Powers-esque" ...or maybe Tim Powers's writing is very "McGammon-esque?" I'm not sure which is fair. There's a lot of characters to deal with, but I'm enjoying them."
03/26 page 230
24.0% "This is good, but a real tear jerker. Dark destruction everywhere, gloom, doom and despair, and now, when least expected, tiny sparks of hope. (so far this is really good, if also gory, dark and twisted.)"
03/28 page 300
31.0% "This is a wonderful book. It's dark and gory, but, like the characters, I kind of got used to it. I find it very interesting that there was a bag of bread and fish that fed everybody in one scene... heh. Clever, I almost didn't spot it, but it was referenced in a following scene. Genius stuff here."
03/28 page 370
39.0% "Just wow. I got used to the devistation and scary stuff, and now the hope starts springing up, along with evil. I may be the only one, but I'm enjoying the book."
03/29 page 450
47.0% "Ruht-rho, Raggy... it's getting scary again. Still good. Maybe a hair draggy in the middle but, where the plot's moving slower, the character's are building up. Works for me."
03/30 page 590
62.0% ""Blue Light Special...come and get it!" Have you ever cheered when listening to an audio book?"
03/31 page 650
68.0% "This is still an awesome read. The action has slowed down, but the human story is unbelievably sad, tragic, even traumatic but very good. It's strange that, I am routing for the ugly and difigured, oun the outside. When it comes to my reading, I tend to be a bit fussy about liking the beautiful people to be heroes and heroines. Now that's a curse, the "marked" people are the strong ones, the people to admire."
04/02 page 650
68.0% "Quote of the day..."You damned fool, what do you think an orchard is but one tree after another?" (Sly-Moody-Robert McGammon)"
04/03 page 750
78.0% ""Do Cowboys cry?" Wow, still getting surprised. It's good."
04/05 page 956
100.0% "Finito! whoo, hooo.. good book!"
02/05 marked as: favorite-reads

Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-21 of 21) </span> <span class="smallText">(21 new)</span>

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message 1: by Jonathan (new) - added it

Jonathan What's it focus on?

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) I think the main focus is good vs. Evil, or probably more correctly stated, "Evil vs. Mankind (Free Will)." There's a very spiritual theme through the book, but it's also a tale of survival and a great many things. Technically it's Dystopian and I believe there is a warning in there about the cold war and the dangers of nuclear weapons, though, I've read some of the author's statements which don't really support that. McGammon was writing a deep tale to entertain and if there was a message, it's more likely about the strength in the spirit of man and man's capacity to do evil as well as good.

It's set in a post-apocalyptic setting. The main characters are likable, even endearing. He has written some wonderful imagery, chilling, and frightening at times. It's not for children, though most YA could process it well enough. It's also not for the squeamish or faint of heart. It's a tough read, but tough in a good way.

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) Hope that helps. I'll write a review soon. I'll get more specific if you like. Some of the main characters are not the people you would normally cast in that role.

message 4: by Jonathan (new) - added it

Jonathan Oh very nice. It sounds a worthwhile read. Now my TBR pile is overflowing like yours.

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) THeres always room on your TBR. It's a "Gritty" read but it's good.

midnightfaerie 5 stars from the curmudgeon? gotta add it to my tbr list.

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) yes, something about this book really appealed to me. And, it is rare! but, it happens. 5 star read.

message 8: by Jonathan (new) - added it

Jonathan "Every now and then, you come across a book where it seems that the complexities of life have been disassembled from reality and reformed within the pages and text."

Now that's a nice quote. Great review.

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) Thank you Johnathan. I try. Thank you for your support!

message 10: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Thank you for the review - this is an excellent analysis. I read this book so long ago yet I can still remember the story, the characters and the settings so clearly. I still have my original copy and refuse to part with it.

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) Mike wrote: "Thank you for the review - this is an excellent analysis. I read this book so long ago yet I can still remember the story, the characters and the settings so clearly. I still have my original copy..."

Mike, thank you for the praise. I found this book really moved me (in one of those deep and esoteric ways). It was really a good read. McCamon is making rounds again (more books coming out), you might get a chance for him to sign your original copy sometime. He's got a website, I bet he might be near you sometime.

Between McCammon and Tim Powers I've been finding my roots in scary, fantastic, creepy, fun fiction. Wolf's Hour is also a good read, I've got Boy's Life in the cue to be read soon from McCammon and I just finished "Last Call" by tim powers. Good reads too.

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) Thank You for the like Richi

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) If you are an member, Swan Song is $4.95 Unabridged. It's a good audiobook. Narrator does a great job.

Pam (E.P. Scott) Great Review Hugh!

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) Thank you Pam

 ~*~Princess Nhya~*~ Awesome review :)

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) Thank you Nhya! The best books get the best reviews out of me...I think (hope?). :)

 ~*~Princess Nhya~*~ I, Curmudgeon wrote: "Thank you Nhya! The best books get the best reviews out of me...I think (hope?). :)"


message 19: by Lila (new)

Lila Beautiful review....

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) Thank you.

message 21: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Truly outstanding review.

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