paula's Reviews > The Marbury Lens

The Marbury Lens by Andrew  Smith
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's review
Jul 01, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: adult-fiction, young-adult, your-neighborhood-librarian-s-fetis, something-wicked

This book doesn't come out til November, so I am not going to post the review on Pink Me until September or October. But while it's fresh in my mind, here it is...

What is this?

I know about teen novels with alternate worlds. Usually those worlds are carefully mapped out, explained, lovingly explored by the author. And I know what is a book with a teenage protagonist who endures a terrible, traumatic experience. Although usually those are girls. It can be rough these days to be a girl in a YA non-fantasy novel. You might get buried alive, or raped, or raped a lot, or die, and you will almost certainly be kidnapped. I even know horror. I have read a lot of horror, especially when I was a very young person, and very unsure about things.

So I think The Marbury Lens is horror. But it is non-cheap, un-easy horror.

Really good horror generally functions as metaphor, in addition to scaring you til your flesh creeps on your bones. The haunted house stands in for the disordered mind, or the family with secrets. Ghosts represent trauma not yet assimilated. The killer clown - yeah actually the killer clown doesn't need a deeper layer of meaning. Killer clowns are just messed up.

So in this book... jeez can you tell I'm procrastinating about committing to saying something about this book? I feel a bit underqualified here. This is a harsh damn book. There are flesh-eating beetles and dismembered corpses (emphasis on "member") in a desert world called Marbury. There's a boy who is kidnapped by a murdering rapist in Ventura County, California. But the connection - between Marbury's dreadful postapocalyptic desert world and our own - is through the boy. The boy is Jack, of course his name is Jack - and he goes to Marbury, acts and lives in Marbury, only after the psychic apocalypse of his kidnapping and torture.

I don't want to stretch too far here. There are demons in Marbury - one of them is his best friend. Are these the demons in Jack's head, left there by his kidnapper? Is Jack really still a captive, hallucinating his experiences in Marbury and in our world as a result of the sedatives injected into him by his kidnapper? Or did he die?

But the book fairly forces speculation of this nature. Regardless of how awful, how filthy and dangerous and punishing Marbury is, Jack feels a physical need to return there. It's all he thinks about, even after meeting and falling in love with a sweet girl who loves him back. The parallel to addiction is so obvious his best friend even brings it up. But the reader may then think about the addictive nature of self-loathing - the kind of self-loathing that victims of violence often fall prey to.

I read this book in two days. I was fascinated and enthralled, in the sick way that I associate with reading horror, but also because it's a deep damn read and I could not figure out what was cause and what was effect. I never did, even at the end. Some things, many things, are left unresolved. Either I need to think about them more, or they were, in fact, beside the point.

I found myself comparing The Marbury Lens to Going Bovine by Libba Bray, and Jacob's Ladder, that movie with Tim Robbins as a hallucinating Vietnam war veteran. When people review horror, there's always a Stephen King comparison. Well, let me tell you. Stephen King is just beginning to write with this kind of psychological insight. I told a friend, "I seriously don't know what to make of this thing. It's like Kafka, but more scenic."

So there you go. Like Kafka, but more scenic. That's just great.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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paula Ha, Andrew! Because all the way through I absolutely felt like I DIDN'T 'get it'. A slightly more OCD person than myself might be frustrated by the lack of explanation - I think it's part of what makes the book more like literature and not like crap. (This is still complimentary by the way!)

The other thing that occurs to me about Marbury Lens is that there will be comparisons to MORPGs if I get that acronym right. Multiplayer online roleplaying... I swear, gaming is the one phenomenon that makes me feel old. I just don't do it.

But I know about it - it can be addictive, and people can be different online, and the landscape is truncated, and there is always movement, and guns. I would have mentioned all this in the review but the book is too emotional, too personal - the parallels didn't even register until later.

And maybe gamers can work out their personal issues online, but Jack's experience of Marbury just seemed too visceral... I didn't want to bring it up.

Anyway. It was the 1st thing I started after ALA. Look for the review Sept 30 on Pink Me.

message 2: by Karen (new)

Karen I heard Andrew speak about this one at the YALSA coffee klatch and our whole table was excited to read it. Looking forward to it after reading your review.

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