basic review template

41817578just a buncha Sad People being Sad and not much else

Mostly Dead Things was such a depressing book. No narrative is good without conflict; the problem with this book is that there was nothing in it but conflict. I genuinely cannot think of a single moment from this book that was even remotely close to positive—not a single scene or line or relationship that wasn’t drenched in sadness or angst or repressed feelings. Emotion is not dynamic in Arnett’s novel; it doesn’t have highs and lows. There are only lows and then even lower lows. All of this didn’t make for a particularly enjoyable, or even tolerable, reading experience. A novel doesn’t need to be happy to be good (in fact, I would argue for the opposite), but it also needs to present characters that experience emotion along a spectrum rather than a single point.

There is also the matter of the disappointing characters. The characters of Mostly Dead Things are going through a lot, I get that. But they are so unlikable. It felt like there was nothing redeemable about them (and the novel’s sad attempts at a resolution definitely didn’t move them to a point where it felt like they could redeem themselves). And to be clear, I don’t want to blame these characters for the trauma they’re going through, of which there is a lot—the main character finds her father’s dead body after he commits suicide AND the person she’s in love with abandons her and her brother—but I just felt like Arnett never tried to unpack and work through her characters’ trauma. It felt like the novel was saying here are characters in pain rather than here are characters in pain and here’s how they negotiate and understand the things they do because they are in painArnett gives us some characters and then writes a novel where all she says is, here are my characters!! That is not a novel because that is not a narrative—that’s nothing more than just a bunch of character descriptions.

Also, I don’t think I will ever like novels about taxidermy. It’s just SO painfully on the nose. Like oh the main character is like her taxidermied animals, she, too, is trying to reanimate herself even though she feels dead!! It feels gimmicky, like the novel is straining for a depth of meaning that it doesn’t have by way of this very obvious—not to mention overdone—metaphor.

Honestly, this novel was less Mostly Dead Things and more Fully Dead Things. That is to say, it had no life.


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Image result for NINTH HOUSE

•••some thoughts•••

• by far my biggest issue with this is how plot- and exposition-heavy it was. it was like bardugo did a shitton of research and just wanted to include as much of it in the book as possible. which, like, great, research is good, but i don’t need to hear about every tiny little detail of every single secret society. there’s a fine line between world-building and info-dumping, and ninth house did not walk that line well–or at all, really.

• worse than that though, ninth house‘s plot was convoluted. it felt like at any given moment, there were like 5 plot threads that we had to keep track of, all of which i couldn’t keep track of, let alone care about…

• so, uh, turns out i don’t really give a single shit about secret societies. or mysteries involving secret societies.

• the writing was fine; there was nothing glaringly bad about it, but i expected so much more from leigh bardugo, given what i know she’s capable of (hello, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are masterpieces). sadly though, there wasn’t a single moment in this book that was memorable to me in any way, not a single moment that i found impressionable enough to remember after finishing this book.

• because the plot dominated so much of the book, it felt like the character work just didn’t get the time it needed. alex is definitely the main character here; the plot only moves because she does. but even though so much of the book is about her, i never really felt like i saw her grow. we find out more about her throughout the book, sure, but character knowledge is not character development.

• yeah, this was underwhelming. i may or may not have zoned out multiple times while listening to its audiobook. and i didn’t really care that i did, to be honest. my patience ran out about halfway through this, and after that i just wanted it to be over.

• probably won’t be reading the sequel ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


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Severance by Ling  MaSeverance was a very capital-L Literary book, and not in a good way.

I’m usually wary of post-apocalyptic stories because to me, they privilege commentary over character, the abstract over the actual. And as a reader primarily invested in character, I just can’t really abide by that. (I’ve read very few post-apocalyptic novels so take my opinion with a grain of salt.)

Preface aside, I thought I’d give Severance a chance because I felt like reading it and the reviews didn’t seem too bad. And lo and behold, everything I disliked about it had exactly to do with its privileging of commentary over character. It felt like Ma was force-feeding me the commentary she was so desperately trying to make with the disease that spurs her novel’s apocalypse. It was almost as if I could pinpoint exactly what certain Literary passages were supposed to be about: here is the passage about Capitalism and Labour and, oh, here’s the one about Consumerism and Materialism. It made me roll my eyes. Like, yes, I get it. Society is materialistic. I didn’t need to read about a post-apocalyptic world to know that. 

Here are some examples of what I mean:

“I looked at her eyes, upside down. They were open but unfocused. They didn’t register me. The pupils didn’t move. The closest approximation for this gaze is when someone is looking at their computer screen, or checking their phone.”

comparing those affected by an epidemic—one that basically makes people routine-obsessed zombies—to humans’ use of technology ? wow what a groundbreaking comparison, i’ve definitely never heard that before… honestly though, what irritates me about passages like these is that they try so hard to make explicit comparisons that aren’t just on-the-nose, but also extremely tired and overdone. 

“Memories beget memories. Shen Fever being a disease of remembering, the fevered are trapped indefinitely in their memories. But what is the difference between the fevered and us? Because I remember too, I remember perfectly. My memories replay, unprompted, on repeat. And our days, like theirs, continue in an infinite loop. We drive, we sleep, we drive some more.”

time and again, passages like these basically shove the book’s commentary down your throat. i am an active reader, you know. i can make these parallels myself, no need to spell it out for me.

“Such a sound is mesmerizing. It comes into your body. Your breath syncs up with its rhythm. You can feel cells struggling, breaking down, or otherwise proliferating with overcompensating energy, engaging in mitosis and dividing and dividing. . . . The pins and needles pulsated, squeezed me like a fist, performed the Heimlich, issued lashings of pain, masticated me, palpitated me, pummeling me with crashing waves of nausea.”

that’s all well and good but what the hell is this supposed to mean? i don’t mean what do the sentences mean, but what does a passage like this mean in the larger scheme of the story? when i say this book was extremely Literary, passages like these are what i mean—paragraphs that are so abstract and grandiose that it feels like the author writes them just because they can rather than to actually contribute anything substantial to the story.

There were some passages I enjoyed, but those were few and far between. For example,

“Leisure, the problem with the modern condition was the dearth of leisure. And finally, it took a force of nature to interrupt our routines. We just wanted to hit the rest button. We just wanted to feel flush with time to do things of not quantifiable value, our hopeful side pursuits like writing or drawing or something, something other than what we did for money. And even if we didn’t get around to it on that day, our free day, maybe it was enough just to feel the possibility that we could if we wanted to.”

More than anything, it just didn’t feel like Ma’s take on a post-apocalyptic world was at all different from one like, say, Colson Whitehead’s Zone One: an epidemic begins, those affected by it are stuck repeating their old routines ad infinitum, those unaffected are subject to some hierarchy, to some ruling figure who is more often than not tyrannical for no discernible reason. I appreciate that her novel incorporated Candace’s bicultural experiences as an immigrant from China, but I also felt like the way she executed that narrative made the novel feel like a bunch of disparate parts rather than a cohesive whole. 

To put it simply, Severance was a novel that was literary in all the ways that I dislike. Needless to say, I didn’t really enjoy this one.


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