Two things. Makers is near-future speculative fiction, projecting the “next cycles” of technological boom and bust — and with all the changes forecast in media and interactivity, the important forms of broadcast remain “blog” and “tweet.” And (he writes, electronically, and posts to a blog) the effortless move into monetizing set out here seems just simply unproblematic — charitably, due to the future setting, where the publication marketplace has settled; uncharitably, because it comes from one of the few bloggers to get rich from the link economy. Suzannne, the “she” here, a tech blogger, is able to succeed, wildly, through internet advertising: by catering to the enthusiasms of myriad faceless others.
Speaking of enthusiasts: Cory Doctorow is one. And Makers, whatever else it is, is a novel of enthusiasms in the shape of a novel of ideas, which means it’s full of speeches like this one — interesting, often counterintuitive, and delivered by characters most often set up as concrete embodiments of ideas, theories, enthusiasms. He’s writing in a territory bounded on one side by William Gibson, and on the other by Ayn Rand.
“They’ve been saying it for years, haven’t they? The scientists and the bleeding-heart liberals. World War III! Nuclear reactors melting down to the center of the earth! Y2k computer freezes! The end of the ozone layer! Melting ice caps! Killer hurricanes! Global warming! Chickendirt weak-sister atheists who won’t trust in the will of a loving, caring God! Who refuse to believe there is such a thing as a loving, caring God!”—The villain, of course. Right close to his end, of course.
King’s constantly pulling from a deep well of references — the recurring James McMurtry song that’s his epigram, the Bible and Warren Zevon, TV and advertising and endless brand names. It’s one of the things we expect from him, all of the detail about what people watch and listen to and buy, and also a good amount of detail about what King himself thinks is cool. Most is fine, a few bits inspired: the scarecrow with the quote from “Play It All Night Long” on his tee, for one. But the chapter that wraps up a day’s activities with a line or two, here or there, from Eliot is strange even for him, because of the vast difference in diction and in intent between the poem and the book. It’s as if any idea or passing fancy, however momentary, that will fit is made to fit, like the book was written at a dead run, with payment by the page.
Not quite halfway through: nearly four pages on the 2004 Lady Wildcats, the functional purpose of which is to define “feeling it,” Big Jim’s preferred phrase for the state more commonly known as “in the zone.” The phrase “feeling it” is used with decreasing frequency for the next few hundred pages, and then disappears.
And here you have it — if not the whole story, then some of the major components. Technology in contrast to rural life, a violent and detailed death, and a mordant joke to cap it off. This is page 34 of nearly 1100.
From an interesting, pleasantly commonsensical, if rather deeply unnecessary book: an indication that the author either has a considerably more well-developed sensorium than I, or that she has a deep ascetic streak, or that the job of professional-writer-about-drinks leads inevitably to a highly jaded palate.
Which is also a nice reading, and hits Hornby’s pop-music sweet spot. More, it introduces the absolute best moment in the book, the most alive part — which is in itself a total digression, featuring a pair of aging Northern Soul dancers, out for an all-nighter. In the middle of this book about a cultish and solipsistic musical obsession, Hornby nests a little vignette of a dying little subculture, equally deadended but social in a way that the internet message-board obsessions Duncan cultivates isn’t. It reminds us that, even when he’s being skillful and sensitive in his portrayal of loneliness, Hornby’s greatest strength is as an enthusiast.
“Annie wondered whether there was, anywhere in the country, a DJ wondering how to break into the business. It seemed unlikely, given the number of establishments that seemed to think they needed one. On the contrary, she suspected demand was such that young people had to be coerced into playing music in bars whether they wanted to or not, like a form of national service.”—
It’s the last bit that puts the point on this. Hornby, of course, is nobody’s notion of a Great Novelist; what he is, rather, is pleasant and entertaining when he’s at his best, and this book is considerably better than his last couple. Even so, he does observe well and can build characters that reflect back clearly — and the last phrase here catches that long-term urban adolescence, that shows in our iPhones and $600 work boots, that seems to be defining our cultural moment.
Complete mastery of pacing. So much of what Goodis does is crude and lurid — simple plotting and overcooked psychology, brutal violence. And so much of his writing is functional, if not exclusively so, interested in moving the plot and characters forward — that the grace notes are easy to miss. But this is beautiful.
Stylistically clean as Hemingway: no fat, no embellishment, no fancy punctuation, just facts. And each of the facts carefully selected, dispassionately sorted, to give the clearest possible picture, and to allow the story to continue building velocity, because the forward motion of the story, its inevitability as a tragedy, is the most important thing.
This is the kind of sentence you’d expect to see used in the first paragraph of a novel, because when it crops up at the end it sure seems like things have gotten far enough out of hand to, well, make exhumation sound routine.
And with the flashiness of the concept, and the arch humor in the opening scene, and even with the success of the Lily-Lloyd storyline, I really wanted to love this book. But there’s just a little too much on the surface, with too little to back it up. Here, it’s not just the overbaked sexual threat of an artillery demonstration (yes, an impromptu artillery demonstration, meant to read a little like Straw Dogs), it’s the pileup of metaphors, which are finally evocative enough but imprecise (poached eggs in cups?). And when most of the book is like this, amusing but a little too overheated for its own good, it gets tiring.
This relationship, this story arc, between main-character Lily and library-stalking perv Lloyd, is the absolute best thing in the book. Mauro uses the interactions between these two to tease out all of the important themes in her book, right down to the singleminded obsessions and tunnel vision that dominates the novel’s end, and it also delivers a much stronger and more nuanced examination of the consequences of following your obsession than the conclusion does.
Probably wisely, Connelly doesn’t do much of this kind of voiceover-style hard-boiled. Less with his Mickey Haller books even than with his Harry Bosch ones. This bit sticks out because of that. Instead, he plays to his strengths, with a constantly forward-moving plot, largely unreflective, speeding you through pages and chapters, making a very satisfying diversion. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to what you do well when you’re able to do it this cleanly and directly.
See below. This is interior monologue — but the trouble with Mathilda, which contributes to the trouble assigning her an age, is that she is so purely id, willing to do or say whatever she pleases however poor an idea it is, without sensitivity toward anyone else or circumspection to any degree. And she does this to the point of disbelief: children are bad and selfish, sure, but not entirely and not all the time.
Narrated by the title character, who is incredibly frustrating for the first half of the book or so because with a voice like this her age is impossible to gauge; we aren’t told (she doesn’t tell us) and however unreliable her narration is, she is likewise uninformative on such basic issues.
Which, ultimately, is the form Jonas settles on for his own work, and is similar to the way The Discoverer progresses — with one story breaking off to show another nested within it, constantly commenting on and complicating the initial story, until it gives way to a third nested story. The effect works like a set of Russian dolls, and makes for a branching, digressive, resonant whole. And the complexity and commentary that Kjærstad codes into his narrative make a fascinating formal achievement, a slow reveal of character and circumstance through a resolutely modernist experiment with form.
“One weekend I stumbled upon a fresh source of inspiration. I was on a visit to my parents at the house in Grorud, and when I went out into the garden on the Sunday morning to look at the apple trees I saw the sun glinting off some silken threads strung between two gooseberry bushes. I bent down to look, and there was a cross spider. It had just finished attaching the first frame threads of a web. What with the cross on the spider’s back, I could not help feeling that this would be as good as a church service just to sit here in the grass for an hour, observing with creeping fascination how the creature slung its wonderful wheel-web between the branches.”—
That is the section of Woolf’s novel that takes place in an empty house, with little more than the beam of the lighthouse sweeping through empty rooms. It’s both highly experimental in narrative, in the way Kjærstad wants to be, as well as very cold and empty. And while Jonas constantly protests that he is not a reader of novels, nor a reader of any sort — he makes television programs, and can spend weeks in foreign hotel rooms studying BBC soap operas, without bothering to crack the cover of a book given him by his beloved — Kjærstad makes the point that Jonas for all his accomplishments cannot stand a story without a hero at the center, providing a focus for action.
Given Jonas’s self-regard, it’s only natural that he should see the Beatles’ music as the “worthiest” soundtrack to his adolescent despair. Underneath this enormous self-regard, though, is the movement of Kjærstad’s book: Jonas’s movement from a child’s belief in his exceptionalism to the realization that he is defined by his failures, his inability to live up to a nature he believes is exceptional. Kjærstad often verges on irony with his main character, and having only read this third book in a trilogy, I wonder what kind of character Jonas cuts when seen through others’ eyes, as he is in the previous books.