In looking over other people's responses to this book, I'm finding I had a pretty different experience with it. I guess some readers found it disjointIn looking over other people's responses to this book, I'm finding I had a pretty different experience with it. I guess some readers found it disjointed or hard to follow? But that wasn't my experience at all. Admittedly, I love it when a book's structure is only clear once you've finished it, so maybe I'm a good reader for this one. But I found the story to be pretty straightforward, just told in a non-linear way. I didn't feel like it ended up being super mysterious or even leaving much unresolved.
I guess people were also looking for this to be more of a thriller or even a horror novel. I would've been stoked for it to be a horror novel, but I think it became pretty clear pretty quick that even if it was a horror novel, it was the kind that was a lot more focused on these characters and what brought them to the horror stuff than it is on having lots of horrific stuff happen. You know? It's really a novel about melancholy, loss and what we do with the circumstances we're given - resigning ourselves to the only lives we'll ever have - with some unnerving-verging-on-horrific images near its center. There's definitely a sense of dread, and it's not a red herring exactly. That dread is the story. But by the end that sense of dread is resolved and ... okay, let's spoiler the rest of this review.
(view spoiler)[Toward the end of the book, when it becomes clear what those central horrific images actually are - specifically, the people with the pillow cases over their heads and ropes around their necks, but also the others - it's a lot more sad than it is terrifying. This isn't Rob Zombie's Universal Harvester. You know? I've never been a huge fan of the Mountain Goats - which is not a critique, they're just not really my thing - but the depth of humanity and empathy for the characters involved, for me at least, seems consistent with the serious emotional depth of Darnielle's music, and I think it's more affecting than a horror novel type resolution would likely be.
As for the structure, which some reviewers have found opaque or hard to follow, I think that what it does is this neat trick of giving a lot of depth to a relatively short book. And I love a short book! I love it when a book I'm excited for barely cracks two hundred pages. Again, this is just me. I dunno. But since we're still under the spoiler tag, my understanding is this:
The first part, set in the late nineties, gives us a premise and a setting: the midwest, the videos with the disturbing stuff edited into them. You kind of get the impression that the boy who works at the video store is going to be the protagonist, but that won't ultimately be true. I think the book has less a main character than it does a character whose life is at its center, and instead of that kid from the video store being the main character, the things that he's seeing on the videos are arrows directing us to that central character. (It's interesting though - that initial character who seems like he'll be the protagonist has lost his mom in a way that echoes the loss of the mother that the central character has also experienced.)
In the second part, we go back in time and cover a couple decades to get a lot of that central character's back story - although technically part two is her mother's story, the story of her mother's disappearance, which is at the center of our central character's motivations and actions.
In the third part, we're back to the late nineties, where the first part is set, and we get more of the story of that initial video store kid and the people around him, as well as some of the work they're doing to find that central character, to figure out how she's related to the videos.
Then, in the last part, we seem to be introduced to a new set of characters entirely - a family in the future (or the maybe reader's present, years after parts one and three are set), the son and daughter of which are looking into the questions established in the first part. They're unrelated to the characters in the first three parts. But what we find out in this section (and this is really the biggest spoiler, so if you haven't read it yet, seriously it's pretty powerful and you might not want to spoiler yourself here) is that the whole time, the narrator - the occasional "I" or "me" which up until now hasn't been attributed to anyone as far as we know- has been that central character. The one everybody's looking for, whether they know it or not. She's been telling us this whole story. Ultimately, she's been telling us the story of all these people who are looking for her in the same way that she's been looking, the whole time, for her mother. Only she's leaving clues in a way that her mother hasn't. So she's telling the story of a different, unrelated set of people who are looking for her, and she tells it in a way that shines a light on what's happened to some of the other characters we've met. In a sense the fourth part is a smaller version of the rest of the book.
That's just the skeleton of the story - the characters who are not that central character get their own lives and arcs and by the time you get to the fourth part of the book, set years after the earlier one, you get that bittersweet thing where you find out what happened to some of those characters.
Ultimately at the center of this book is the story of a woman whose mother disappeared who's been doing weird stuff to try to heal that loss, and the effects of that weird stuff on some other people. And of course it is very much a novel about the midwest.
I think Darnielle has talked about focusing in this book on the sense of tension and dread that you get in a horror movie, which ultimately releases with the monster being killed or the final girl getting away or whatever. I think what he's done here is to crate an atmosphere similar to that, but to give us an emotional payoff toward the end of the book which is less about things being solved through violence or escape than it is about emotional understanding. The resolution comes when you learn who's been doing this and why; it's resolution, but it's not relief. People don't live happily ever after. It's almost like in the end you realize that what you'd been reading as dread was actually just a very midwestern kind of melancholy. (hide spoiler)]
I loved this. I loved Wolf In White Van, too, but I think this one aims higher and I think it succeeds. It's not structured like a Shakespeare play or a Nightmare On Elm Street movie, but I think that if you let go of those structural expectations and trust that the author knows what he's doing, you'll find that this is a book that will fuck you up in the best possible way....more
**spoiler alert** Look, I don't want to spoil anything for you, but Victor LaValle pulls off some REALLY sick stuff in this little book. He just keeps**spoiler alert** Look, I don't want to spoil anything for you, but Victor LaValle pulls off some REALLY sick stuff in this little book. He just keeps getting better.
[edited five minutes later:] Okay actually I'm just going to put this under a spoiler tag because HOW AWESOME IS IT to thump racist ol' HP Lovecraft in the head with a bunch of Five Percent Nation stuff! Malone's memory, near the end of the book, of the last thing Black Tom said to him is such a powerful moment and after finishing this book I've got the floaty feeling I get from a book that tries to do something audacious and complex and pulls it off with apparent ease. Heck yes. Now I'm just bummed that I'll have to wait a while til LaValle publishes another one....more
wow did i not like this! i don't want to be a jerk about it because people i like and respect really like it (hi) but ender seems like such a mary suewow did i not like this! i don't want to be a jerk about it because people i like and respect really like it (hi) but ender seems like such a mary sue - he's this kid who's oppressed for being smart not only by his peers but also by the authorities! and he doesn't WANT to respond to bullying with disproportionate, appalling violence, or to hack the school computer system to call his bullies gay, but everybody just keeps making him do it! i mean no gravity stuff was interesting but it was so hard for me not to think, the whole time, about how much the whole book felt like adolescent wish fulfillment. i mean he, like, never loses! at anything! but his life is so hard and he is so mopey about how hard his life is, but it just fills him with resolve to continue never to lose at anything. i mean i get that he is a kid but i'm not that interested in the persecution complexes of self-righteously intelligent kids. i lived there for a bunch of years! that was me! and now i am a grownup who [hopefully] knows a little bit better.
i hadn't read this when it came out a few years ago that orson is a big self-righteous homophobe [actually i just looked it up and i guess he's been publishing explicit homophobia since at least 1990], but now that i have read it i'm kind of surprised that people were surprised. i mean this whole book felt to like he is a smug nerd patting himself on the back for being so wise and misunderstood - and i listened to an audiobook version that had an extra bonus half hour of orson himself doing just that, explaining about what a bunch of stupid jerks everyone in hollywood is and how they kept trying to trick him but he kept triumphing. it was just so self-righteous. i felt like i was listening to the comic book guy from the simpsons. did orson weigh in on gamergate?
ACTUALLY THAT'S ANOTHER THING! the part where ender is super into playing the video game he's playing and the commander of battle school is like 'you have to stop playing and go to battle practice' and ender gets SO ANGRY that he has to stop playing video games just felt like such a perfect representation of the whole book. SHUT UP MOM I'M PLAYING VIDEO GAMES.
**spoiler alert** this was good! i haven't been keeping up with uncle steve very well recently 'cause i thought under the dome was too long without a**spoiler alert** this was good! i haven't been keeping up with uncle steve very well recently 'cause i thought under the dome was too long without a payoff awesome enough to justify its length, but Revival felt pretty tightly edited. Not to mention scary! Plus (this is the spoiler stuff) i think he does a really good job with the Lovecraft stuff toward the end, and there's even some pretty subtle mary shelley / frankenstein stuff. i feel like uncle steve is not known for his subtlety! i'm glad that, when i saw this one wasn't thousands of pages long, i decided to give it a shot. ...more
Yknow if Chuck could just back off the rape jokes and racist tropes for one single book, it would be so awesome. He's really good at making a plot gatYknow if Chuck could just back off the rape jokes and racist tropes for one single book, it would be so awesome. He's really good at making a plot gather steam and then sending it off the rails - but he always puts whatever momentum he's built into the most boring, predictable white dude misogyny and dick jokes. The most interesting thing in this book is a very elaborate rape joke! What if he had put that his very real storytelling skills toward, I don't know, like, anything else? It could be awesome! But instead, UGH. If you like rape jokes, you'll love Beautiful You. If you don't like rape jokes but you manage to read through this anyway - like I did - you might find yourself as frustrated as I am that dude keeps wasting his really powerful talents on such toxic lowest common denominator pointlessness. ...more