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Another fine mess

Reader fan critic teacher reader fan.

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One - Conrad Williams I won't go trolling for Goodreader rage by saying this book was better than The Road. I might, however, be tempted to say it was just as good.

Unfortunately, Williams also violates Ceridwen's quite reasonable dictum against post-apocalyptic stories where fathers seek out and/or protect their son(s). Way too much manly man mawkishness here. Without spoiling much, Williams does go to some lengths to frustrate the more conventional salvation of masculinity narrative so common in these stories. But I still think post-apocalyptic landscapes are like Lifetime channel for guys--countless tics about dealing with women (real men may be divorced, and still smarting from the failed relationship and the crises of feminism, but by god they don't rape or eat women), moral lessons about moral behavior, odes to fatherhood* (like the pastoral romance, always a nostalgic pining for what can no longer be), gnashing teeth, even some good old he-man weeping ('cause, good god man, it's the END of the world--give a guy a tear break).

I say all this with a squint at Williams, 'cause the novel doesn't avoid the tropes. But it is way bleaker and--in the best post-apocalyptic manner--full of strange, uncanny, GORGEOUS images of horror and degradation. E.g., the opening sequence has hero Richard Jane at work far below the surface, welding pipes in a North Sea oilrig. Something happens up top, communication is cut--and as the men down below in a panic head to the bell to return up, they see bodies falling slowly down, arms outstretched, like "skydivers." I've read Williams before, and I'll read him again; if all he achieved was this constant eye for the strange sublime beauty of horror, he'd be worth your attention.

Yet it is also--despite some manly-man teeth-gnashing--also angular in its storytelling, spinning strange weaves out of old material, finding strange side alleys in the well-worn maps of urban desolation and marauding cannibalistic Others. The book roars along, and its imagery often startles and disturbs... there's some great, great stuff here.

I think I'd almost lean higher but for the familiarity of the genre which Williams doesn't quite explode. Still, I recommend this--and the author more broadly.

*a brief personal digression: when we had a kid, all of my friends said, tongues almost audibly clucking, "Now you won't be so cavalier in your appreciation of certain kinds of horror or thriller. Kids change you." I thumb my nose at these doubters--did they think I'd lose my nerve? My misanthropic glee? I can't stand it when in a horror narrative, kids get a pass--I wanna see 'em eaten, mangled, spit out. (That is, when they're not Evil. Then I want them to live, and kill their parents.) Now, I do admittedly find--post-parenthood--it even more aggravating when thrillers or dramas or horror exploit that kid-anxiety, putting children in peril (and then saving them) with an exploitative yet self-righteous fervor. I applaud the unself-righteous exploitation of child-imperilment.