Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday Review; The Hickey of the Beast

So, I've taken on this task, and, as I sit down to do this, I suddenly realize that I don't actually have a plan for doing this. Perhaps I should start at the beginning. For those that missed my announcement last week, I've purchased a subscription to the Candlemark and Gleam serial publication of Isabel Kunkle's The Hickey of the Beast, and have thus, for the past 4 weeks, been receiving a chapter of the novel every Tuesday. I announced that I would engage in some long form review of the book on Wednesdays (theoretically, that gives me time to read the chapter first), but I've run into a problem. The only examples of this style of review/critique are designed to attack the work under discussion, and I don't want to do that. First, because Izzy is an acquaintance, possibly a friend (I'm not sure - I only know her online, and I'm not fully clear on where the line is between online acquaintance and online friend. Hell, let's call her a friend.), and it wouldn't be nice to subject the work of someone I like to that sort of violent critique. Second, I don't think the book needs that sort of critique - what I've read so far is quite good, and I've enjoyed it. If the book suddenly veers off into some unexpected region of bad writing, I'll let you know, but I suspect that is highly unlikely.

So, how to proceed? Well. I've read 4 chapters. I can tell you this - the book is set in a boarding school. The heroine is Consuela (Connie) Perez and her mother is the head(mistress) of the school. ETA: I really impressed by Izzy's choice to make her heroine a person of colour. She does this without cliches, but does highlight the fact that a non-white head of school has some problems inherent. I'm looking forward to seeing if there is any conflict which stems from this.

Connie has just started at the school (although her mom has been head for quite some time). She is having nightmares which are sequential, involving a large vase and giant mosquitoes. She is also dealing with all of the sorts of things that one might expect her to be dealing with - difficult classes, the food in the cafeteria, boys, the boyfriends of her girl friends, and making the JV soccer team.

The book has started off fairly slowly. Based on the title, and the prominence of the bad dreams, I'm expecting to discover that Connie is somehow involved in something demonic, but I also suspect we're going to take a little while to get there. Right now, I'm enjoying the description of early high school, and of boarding school life. It's the sort of thing that seems to be a lot easier to read about than I remember it was when I was experiencing it (well, high school. I've never been to boarding school.)

The format is first person narrative, Izzy has framed the narrative as a letter from Connie to a friend from summer camp, Amanda. Obviously I can't say if this framing technique will remain through the whole work; if Amanda will, at some point, write back, if Connie will write letters to other people, or what. Thus far, it is a pleasant conceit which doesn't seem to add anything to the work, but does not detract either. Were it to become an epistolary novel, I would not mind - I like that format, when it is done well - provided that Izzy avoids the chief pitfall of the format. That pitfall would be the problem of conveying action in a meaningful way. However, if the whole novel is told in an after the fact sort of way, that pitfall would seem to be avoided.

The narrative voice feels authentic - Connie sounds like a teen; perhaps a little exaggerated, perhaps not. The chapter breaks are good - as a reader, I feel compelled to read on, and not just because the chapter has arrived in my e-mail. I am anxious for the next one. Although the plot is building slowly, it is clearly building, and I see no reason to suspect that it will be anything less than satisfying.

Ok. Specifics about chapter 4.

Chapter 4 opens with the second bad dream of the novel, which picks up where the first dream ended, with giant mosquitoes filling Connie's living room. As Connie puts it:

I was so glad that part had stuck around for Episode 2. Really. 
Thanks, brain. 
 The dream sequence feels realistic - in the way that, when someone describes a dream after the fact, and you know that they were terrified when they were having the dream, but the description doesn't sound so awful. I accept that Connie was terrified - I believe that she was terrified - but I am not terrified by her description of the dream. (Note, I'm not saying it was poorly written; I don't think the purpose of this dream is to make the reader terrified. I anticipate some terror later in the book, though.) Connie sleeps poorly, and thus indulges in more coffee than normal to compensate. The description of caffeine overdose combined with sleep dep feels accurate as well - Connie is distracted and irritated for the rest of the day. The chapter ends with a revelation tying the dream from the beginning of the chapter into an event from the previous chapter - thus setting us up for the revelation that the dreams are connected to some weirdness in Connie's waking life. I can't wait!