My first novel, the thesis I have been working on for the last 3.5 years, is an experimental piece of literature. Yes, yes, I know this sounds arrogant, and perhaps, pretensions--but I was not the one to first say it. It was my thesis adviser who told me, "This is a hybrid novel." A term I didn't know at the time. A hybrid novel is a novel that is made up of many stories, all connected through thematic motifs, characters, places, and one central plot, while also having many miniature plots woven throughout.
The other day I spoke with someone who read it and they mentioned that the "Glue" of the piece--the sections that tie all the stories together and make up the "novel" part of the book, could be cut. He he felt, as a reader, that he could read each story without those sections and not feel cheated. I brought this up with my thesis adviser, which sparked some interesting conversation.
My thesis adviser felt as though the "Glue" sections make the piece more experimental than the "Hybrid" sections. He mentioned, if I was to remove the "Glue," why not make the central story it's own novel, take the rest of the stories and make a short story collection, and bam! two books form one--and not only that, but this gets into the publishableness of conventional form versus experimental structures.
He mentioned that if my publishing career is the most important thing to me, creating two different works--one conventional, chronological, suspenseful novel... and another collection of short stories, makes more sense. The conventionality of said novel would appeal to more people simply because it is more conventional and people will understand it. On the other hand, a structurally experimental novel will appeal to less people, as less people will understand the meta of the work itself--however, the people who DO enjoy it, will enjoy it specifically for the fact that it attempts to move beyond convention, attempts to be new and strange and different.
My favorite hybrid novel is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It's without a doubt one of the the greatest books of the last twenty years, in my opinion--and I'd actually go back further in time and rank it among books from the last half century.
One character in this book speaks about conventions in an astonishing way: "All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention if only one can first conceive of doing so." Here, Robert Frobisher seems to address the structure of the book he is a part of, and though he is speaking about music at the time, the line above certainly adds an awareness to the book that is both reassuring and clever. I feel as though I've written my first novel with that line in mind. The fact that it is now finished and that line is still relevant makes me think, or hope, that I've written the novel I wanted to write.
The other day, one of the most unlikely upsets in Football (Soccer) history took place. Iceland knocked England out of the European Championship. To put this in perspective, England is roughly 180 times larger than Iceland. Over 50 cities in the United States, alone, have a population greater than Iceland's--which is just 300,000. I'm from Seattle and Iceland defeating England is akin to 1/3 of the greater Seattle population slapping together a rag-tag team of players and defeating England. This kind of thing just doesn't happen. In fact, one English news caster even mentioned that Iceland has more volcanoes than they have professional soccer players who play exclusively soccer for a living. That's right folks, a lot of the Icelandic players also have day jobs. And the Icelandic coach! He's a part time dentist. This competition marks the largest ever congregation of Icelandic people outside their home country. When the Blue of the Icelandic fans fill the stadium, it's estimated that 8% of Iceland population is in attendance.
The team has played so heroically, being efficient with chances on goal, and excellent at defense when pressed, that many citizens have called for statues to be made of and for the players. A former Prime Minister of Iceland suggested, after they beat England, that the Icelandic goalkeeper should be awarded the metal of honor.
The crazy thing is, England is bad at soccer. Just plain bad. They have so many superstars, and yet, can't seem to win a knockout phase game (it's been 10 years since they've done so). The announcers of the game mentioned that the English Premier League is partly to blame. The English players are paid stupid amounts of money and play great football--against each other, but once stacked up against teams from around the world (even Iceland) they fail to impress. Frankly, I think England has a case of severe exceptionalism concerning English soccer players. They think they are special, even when they are not. They think they are better than they are, because they play well against themselves. And though there are plenty of foriegn players in the English Premier League, English players still make up the bulk of the talent. Can English soccer sink any lower? Maybe. But on the other side of the coin, Iceland remains to steal the hearts and minds of those who watch them do the seemingly impossible.
Welcome to the first ever Snap Judgment Book Review. This was written in 10 minutes. Hopefully it's not just a bunch of blather.
1) What book is it and what was the plot?
I just finished The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani. The plot follows two different protagonists, Sunil, a sikh from South Africa, and Detective Salazar, an old detective who is trying to close out his last case (cliche, I know). After two years, a rash of murders starts up again and Salazar is forced to contact Sunil, who is a psychologist, in order to construct a profile on conjoined twins Salazar finds at Lake Mead, where a collection of bodies had been found. Salazar and Sunil both work through their own trauma and past as they seek the answers of a mass murderer, and the psychopathic nature of humanity.
2) What are the strong points of the book?
Chris Abani has a narrative flow that works so well. It is sparse, and immersive. Not for a moment did I feel outside, looking in, instead I constantly felt as though I was right along for the ride.
3) What doesn't work?
Detective Salazar, despite Abani's best efforts, takes a back seat to the story next to Sunil. I didn't mind too much, as Sunil was a much more interesting character, but at times I felt as though Salazar was a place holder for every run down, beat down detective.
4) What is the subject matter/deeper nature of this book?
This book deals with a couple overlooked historical monstrosities. Apartheid, and the nuclear bomb tests during the 1950s in Nevada and the consequential mutations and deaths both events caused. This book, first and foremost, is how people justify the means to do what they think will make the world better. Sunil's past is filled with regret, his actions were monstrous, but he justifies them in a multitude of ways. The story question, if there is one, is this: How do we see ourselves, and live with who we truly are? Does that reflection leave us broken and violent? Or does it propel us to be better? Oftentimes, the book says, the former wins out.
5) Who will like this book?
Anyone who enjoys literature of the weird. Here, I'm thinking Thomas Ligotti, Jeff VanderMeer, even H.P. Lovecraft. This book is billed, judging by the back cover, as a detective novel, but it's much more of a weird, horror story. As much as I dislike comparing books to movies, if you enjoyed the films, Pan's Labyrinth, or Beasts of The Southern Wilds, this book may be to your liking, also.