Book Review: Station Eleven

In the summer of 2016 my boyfriend read and loved A Handmaids Tale. He told me I had to read it, so I checked the library and it was immediately available, and I [unproudly] pushed it down my TBR. I checked last week and there is now a TEN week waiting list for that ebook! Dystopian novels definitely weren’t my thing pre-election, and still now after reading/listening to three of them, I’m still not sure.

After a recommendation from a friend, I bought in to the dystopian trend and read one this past winter. It was The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth, which tells the story of the world in WWII, if a Nazi sympathizer were elected as president. I wrote a review here – but bottom line is I really enjoyed it, and then no longer felt the need to indulge myself on further dystopian thrills.

Last month, my boyfriend and I drove across the country, and he decided to listen to Brand New World by Aldous Huxley on audiobook. This dystopian explores a world where humans are a commodity, are born for a specific purpose, and are “conditioned” to have certain opinions. Obviously, someone stirs the pot, and aha, we have a story. I learned from this experience that I am not a auditory learner because I could not focus, and only caught bits and pieces of this book.  But still, I resolved, I am good on the dystopian thing. No more, thanks.

THEN, when I to San Diego, and I really missed my book club, I thought to myself, ‘what’s the craziest thing that could happen if I searched for book clubs on meet up?’. Well my wildest dream came true and there was a book club in my neighborhood, reading books I might like to read, and was meeting this Sunday! I did my googling on Wednesday, which gave me three days to read this book from start to finish. I told my boyfriend that I could never do that, I’ll go to the July meeting, and he looked at me (on my fourth and final week of fun-employment) and said “yes you can”. So I downloaded it on my kindle, got to reading, and finished the book in two days flat!

Why am I telling you this, well mostly I love the context behind books and reading books, and second I am now a self proclaimed expert on dystopian novels.

So, the most obvious question to me is, when dystopian novels are all the rage, what makes this one different?

My Answer: this book is so HUMAN. It’s not an alternate reality – in the far past or the far future – it is our shared reality of today’s world dealt an epidemic that wipes out 90% of the earth’s population within three weeks. For a few days after reading this one, I diagnosed myself with multiple chronic illnesses (Why is web MD always there when you don’t need to be freaked out?) and denied it anytime my boyfriend asked if I had a cold (it’s allergies, damnit!).

What I think this book does so well is illustrates the things you would lose – my favorite scene is the entire book is about half way through when Craig illustrates his personal end of the world. The gem of this book lies in discovering this process for yourself and letting it resonate slowly – so I will end this here, and tell you to experience it for yourself.

The thing I didn’t like, to be honest, is the overarching story line.  The thing I couldn’t shake is the way Arthur died in the first scene. (Again, this is the first scene, so no spoilers, but) Arthur did not die of the “epidemic”. I felt that it was too close, yet too far from the plot of the book, and I could never reconcile the two. I really wanted it to either come full circle or be totally disconnected and it just fell in between.

The story unfolds over the course of the lives of the people involved on the night of Arthurs death, but I always felt like the connections between them were cheesy. Whenever an object was mentioned in one scene, you knew it would be in another, and when it was mentioned there it felt forced. I never felt a particular tie between the characters and that was a serious let down.

So, since life got busy, and I never made it to the book club on this past Sunday, I needed to unravel my feelings here. And those feelings are, read this book if you want to feel human – if climate change or nuclear warfare or any other thing that may take the earth as we know it away from us scares you, read this book. But I would not read this book with the anticipation of feeling real feelings for the characters. Ultimately I put the book down feeling content, with the intention of cautiously recommended it to a friend.

 

If you’re in to dystopians, pick up a copy, and please please please, tell me what you think!

Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

When a writer has one crazy successful book, do you automatically read the next one she comes out with?

I felt conflicted about picking up a copy of Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. I truly enjoyed Girl on the Train when I read it in 2015, but it wasn’t my favorite book ever. To be honest, I’d only half-heartedly recommend GotT to friends. But I knew that with all the hype around Into the Water, including already purchased movie rights, I’d feel the urge to read it at some point. Then with Book of the Month Club offering it as an add on to my box, the answer became even simpler. Add it to my Box!

Before I even opened the book, I was seeing crazy mixed reviews. Loved it, hated it, everyone had a STRONG opinion. My opinion: I really enjoyed this book, so much more than I anticipated. At the end I couldn’t put it down, and without giving too many spoilers, I read the final sentence three times. If you read my recaps, you know I hate when an ending drags on. None of that here!

In a few words – this book was eerie and engaging until the final punch. Go get a copy! Or if you live in San Diego, come be my friend and you can borrow mine! 😉

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.”

 

What I liked:

That Paula Hawkins writing style. I remember learning about the phrase “Dramatic Irony” in my high school English class, and realizing how much of a rush it can give the reader. (Dramatic Irony is when the reader knows more than the characters.) Paula Hawkins writes in an almost ‘elevated dramatic irony’ (totally making that phrase up). A typical trio of chapters in a Hawkins book would include:

  1. The action is building until the scene you are anticipating is about to occur;
  2. Other characters, not at the scene speculating about the action;
  3. One of the characters involved in the action recounting the scene in the aftermath.

This style is SO compelling, leads you to turning the pages to find out what happened while also feeling a sense of dramatic irony throughout. And despite feeling like the writing was slightly calculated, it truly never bothered me because it worked so well.

What I didn’t like:

To be honest with you, I had a HARD time putting the characters together at the start. This is definitely a product of how I read it, but still – I could’ve used some family trees at the start! I read the first ten pages in Pittsburgh, PA. Then then next thirty in a park in Denver, CO. And then didn’t pick it up again until I got to San Diego, CA. I forgot some characters along the way and had to do some flipping back to get caught up. Minor gripe, but I had to have one, right?

Food for Thought:

1 – It’s interesting that this book came out so close after the Netflix series,  13 Reasons Why, which experienced so much backlash for its graphic suicide scene. Many are claiming (backed by scientific research) that having that exposure to suicide would push someone considering it in to doing it.

In this book, the mother of the teenage girl who committed suicide, claims that Nel Abbott’s research of the “suicide spot”, which created a sense of hype around it, may have tipped her daughter over the edge in to going through with it.

I found it interesting to see this concept reinforced in another piece of literature, because this was not a phenomenon I had even heard of previously. It makes me wonder, while this book doesn’t glorify suicide, and I would argue neither does “13 Reasons Why”, should we all stop writing about suicide?

“Her daughter made a senseless choice, but pockets filled with stones and hands grasping flowers, the choice had context. The context was provided by Nel Abbott”

2 – More lighthearted, but does anyone else feel like it takes a solid 100 pages (almost EXACTLY) to get in to a good book? I’ve experienced this so much over the past year, to the point where I used to get my Book of the Month box, and sit down and commit to reading 100 pages straight. If I don’t boost through the first 100, I feel like the rest of the book doesn’t resonate as much with me. In this case, I read the first 100 slowly, and while I still clearly really liked it, the second I thought to myself “wow this book is really good”, I looked down and noticed I was on page 101.

That’s all from me! I hope you pick up a copy of Into the Water by Paula Hawkins and immerse yourself in this crazy world. I’m giving this one a 5/5!