Nathan's Reviews > Soon I Will Be Invincible

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
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's review
Jul 14, 2008

it was ok
Read in July, 2008

First off, I loved the idea of this novel. And even after the disappointment of actually reading Soon I Will Be Invincible, I can still honestly say that I love the idea of it. It's just the novel itself I've got a problem with.

When I first saw this on the shelf, my mind raced frantically back to the long cardboard boxes of comic books that I still keep stored up in the attic, each comic tucked safely away into a plastic sleeve to protect its "value"--a concept that my incredulous wife mockingly insists will someday be reduced--if I'm lucky--to a pitiful amount of actual legal tender. Ha!, I say.

Anyway, back to the book. One of the things I found most interesting about this novel right off the bat is that, through and through, it's a pairing of opposites. Just look at where its bright blue and pink cover shows up in the bookstore, somehow sitting in the "G" section as if it actually belongs mere inches away from one of my all-time favorites, Ernest J. Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying (except at Borders, of course, which is a different story altogether) (and by the way, A Lesson Before Dying should be stored on a throne far, far away from Mr. Grossman's awkward debut). But my point is that this thing has the heart of a comic trapped inside the body of a novel--a wedding of two mediums that have probably never thought all that much of each other. So if someone could pull that off, what a beautiful thing it would be.

But the novel does more than just pair the two opposing mediums--the story's unique touch (well, others have done it better, but still) is that it burdens near-invincible superheroes and villains with the banality of everyday modern life. Another interesting combination of opposites, and it's funny at first to think of these superheroes having to struggle through the same trivial obstacles we all go through, treasuring the same little hopes, harboring the same frustrations. In the first few pages, one of the supervillains describes being locked up in jail: "I'm the smartest man in the world. Once I wore a cape in public, and fought battles against men who could fly, who had metal skin, who could kill you with their eyes... Now I have to shuffle through a cafeteria line with men who tried to pass bad checks. Now I have to wonder if there will be chocolate milk in the dispenser."

Something about that contrast excites me, and I guess it's hard to describe--that in transforming into a novel, in moving from the shelf with all the exciting color drawings to the section with all the hefty works of literature, this comic shifted its focus from the super to the ordinary... And there was a chance that in shedding its comic-styled lettering for pages and pages of pictureless prose, this could have taken on the best of both worlds. If the author had pulled that off, if he had found a way to blend all that together and bury some actual substance inside of it, this would have been something special. Unfortunately, he didn't. And it isn't. Really, when you get right down to it, this thing is mediocre at best, whether you measure it as a comic or a novel.

As far as the comics side of it goes, the actual story itself is terrible. Maybe it's purposeful, I guess it probably is, but the whole novel centers around a plot that's cliche, predictable, and boring. I can see fans of the novel already saying, "But that's the whole point!" Well, I don't know. I guess so. But I don't get that, and anyway, it doesn't seem special to me, just tedious. There are plenty of comics that have brilliantly original and engaging plotlines, and I would have much rather spent my time reading one of them. Or if the author wanted to have a cliche storyline, he could have gone way overboard, having fun with it and actually being creative (Superhero League of Hoboken? anyone?). But this doesn't do that; instead, it takes its cliche a little too seriously, and that gets uncomfortably boring real fast. If you want a comic with an actual heart, better stick with Watchmen, or Sin City, or Stray Bullets, or Dark Knight, or Jimmy Corrigan, or Astro City, or any of a thousand better, more creative stories than this one.

And if you were thinking that maybe the novel side of things would save the day, not so much. I'll admit that the writing is exciting and sharp for the first few pages, but after that it takes a pretty ugly nosedive. There are actually a few long patches when this $14.95 paperback (choke!) feels more like a rough draft. At times, the author seems so afraid of describing something wrong or making a bad transition that he just skips it altogether. Whenever I hit one of those confusing, disjointed patches, I learned simply to plow ahead and either I'd figure it out later or it would turn out to be not important in the first place, so no big loss either way.

Another problem is that the writing style is so inconsistent it's distracting, almost as if a few different people (high-schoolers, maybe?) took turns hacking away mercilessly at this poor thing. One thing that is consistent, however, is that the author uses the exact same descriptions for a few things repeatedly throughout the novel (each time trying to pass them off as if they're new), so at least he knows how to cut and paste. At first, when I read one of those repeat descriptions, it sent me into a sort of deja-vu vertigo--Wait, did I read that before?--until finally I adopted the zen mindset that it takes to get through this book and just stopped caring. And I am not exaggerating when I say that there are sentences in this book that do not make sense. I'm not kidding, they don't make sense. But again, zen mindset--just keep reading and soon the book will be finished.

So as far as the writing style goes, Mr. Grossman needs to fire his editor. Or hire one in the first place, I don't know. Either way, whatever he needs to do, it would've been a lot better if he'd done it before this book came out.

Despite all my bitter disappointment at everything this novel could have been but completely failed to become, it's still earned a place on my shelf for now, if only to remind me that: a) some day, someone is going to do this right, and when they do, it's going to blow my #$!*&ing mind; and b) I seriously need to renew my public library card.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Donna (new)

Donna LOVED your review Nathan. I'm quite sure it was better than reading the book

message 2: by Erin (new)

Erin Ha! I laughed out loud reading this and thinking of all you pristinely packaged comic books, collecting dust - or a high rate of return.

Russ Linton I liked the book better than this, but I enjoyed reading your viewpoint and you have some valid criticism. HAving written a superhero novel, it really is difficult to steer away from stereotypes and cliches given the sheer volume of comic books out there - it has all been done before. Many times, authors simply embrace this and move on or, as I have tried to do, embrace it and approach it from a different angle.

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