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Another fine mess

Reader fan critic teacher reader fan.

Currently reading

Ottessa Moshfegh
Knife Fight and Other Struggles
David Nickle
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity
Andrew Solomon
The Good Lord Bird
James McBride
Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie
Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (New Edition)
Derek Bok
Dissident Gardens
Jonathan Lethem
Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s
Kim Newman
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
James Gleick
Complete Novels
Dashiell Hammett, Steven Marcus
The Breach - Patrick  Lee What the--? Five days I ago I knew nothing about this novel, and then trying to avoid people during a week's stay in Omaha, noodling about the web for something (anything) to do other than talk to people, I followed a link, to this next link, to this next link, then somehow got to a rave for this novel:

A rip in time/space, which produces strange objects (some of asskicking and earth-destroying power); secret government agencies and secret counter-agency villainous organization; an ex-cop who is also an ex-con thrown into the fray when he saves an asskicking scientist, the two now throwing coy glances at one another as they run from the fiendish villains. The book opens on a mysterious plane crash in Alaska.

I figured I could write this novel's plot in my sleep, that it'd be some dozey testosteriffic X-files-ish retread, without any wit but lots of lovingly-described weaponry, with prose gnarled and rocky which I could thump through in my big reader boots, just looking for a popcorn-thriller contact high.

I was wrong. The best thing I can say about this novel, hoping not to give anything away, is that it made me recall when my father--seeing all the lurid potboiler paperback crap I was borrowing from the library--handed me a copy of The Andromeda Strain. Like that one, Lee's novel has a wicked sense of how to puzzle the reader, how to trot out well-worn conventions with a few new steps (or at least a surefooted expertise), how to shape character without all that italicized expository thinking which makes so many pop writers' work so metronomically unexciting. (I'm looking at you, Dan Brown.)

I'll admit that, besides my penchant for a good clean well-lighted action sequence and for what evil Ben Harrison calls "weird shit," I often jones for two lovely pulp-sci-fi and -thriller tropes:

1. Big (and small) Dumb (or Inexplicable) Objects. Alien artifacts, empty floating spaceships, new illnesses -- in a nutshell, the best kind of puzzler McGuffins, pushing against the boundaries of what is known, forcing all kinds of investigation, open to all kinds of bedazzling writerly trickster shenanigans -- 'cause, really, you can make these Things do whatever you want them to. Sky's the limit, let the imagination off the leash -- and feel free to ratchet up the implausibility. 'Cause the best of these kinds of Objects DO NOT GET EXPLAINED. Explanation is exactly what we do NOT want as readers. We want the game of trying to explain...

... and the exact same kind of narrative fuel sparks my number 2: Extraordinarily Canny Secret Plotters. Conspiracies, evil Supercomputers, master serial killers, Moriarty -- in a nutshell, the narrative stand-in for the Author her- or himself, always three steps ahead in the nefarious scheme, the protagonist always racing toward some grand revelatory action which is--ta da!--folded right into that Master Plan, fully expected by the E.C.S.P.

I love novels--escapist fiction--where the game is such that it feels like you will never get away, never know it all, never get outside of let alone resolve/solve the Plot. Now, Lee isn't too Auster(e), doesn't go in for inward-gazing pomo pranks ('though those are fun, too), nor does he fall into the nihilistic pessimism of a lot of good bleak endings. But he also dances blithely past, over, through all that irritating tidying up of denouement. The table is set for round two with these characters, but the reader can set the book down satisfied with this course, too.

Good stuff.