Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Burning with anxiety

Hey, you wanna get weird and esoteric and nitpicky with me for a sec? Of course you do; if you didn't want to do that sort of thing you wouldn't be reading a book blog written by a pedantic jerk with a frighteningly good memory.

This, by the way, has basically nothing to do with the book I'm talking about. It's just weird and esoteric and nitpicky.

So. Anyway. How odd is it for you, as a reader, to come across a self-referential thing in the work of an author you're reading for the first time? Like part of me says it would be kind of cool - you read this late book that makes reference to an early book but then later you read the early book and go "OH MY FUCKING GOD, THAT'S WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT" and your mind is blown. But the larger part of me thinks that it would stand out as something that could have been edited out? Like if you didn't know that one or two throwaway lines were referencing another book by the same author, one that had no other connection to the book you're currently reading and in context sounds weird when juxtaposed with the work you're holding in your hand, would it just confuse you as to why an editor allowed that to go to print?

I bring this up because Joe Hill makes one throwaway reference to NOS4A2 in The Fireman and it made me kind of smirk, because I'd read the book and I got the reference, but it wasn't a particularly graceful reference and also made me cringe a tiny bit because it felt forced.

But maybe that's just me. When you're reading you're supposed to feel empathy toward the characters you're reading about but I have such a surplus of empathy that I step out of the story to try to parse the emotional state of hypothetical other readers.

Yes, I do have social anxiety. How did you know?

Anyway the book is great! I really enjoyed reading it and got so into the story that at one point I had to put the book down and wander away for two days because the fallout that I could feel coming was upsetting me. Which is fantastic when you're reading a thriller. It legitimately got me so invested in the story and the action that I couldn't handle the tension and maybe only made myself more anxious by putting off a sense of resolution for two days.

Also, fun sidenote, the other Joe Hill novels I've read have an issue with rape. As in there's a bit too much of it and it's a bit graphic in a way that seems gratuitous or it makes a too-huge impact on the story (N0S4A2 did not have this issue). This book did not have that problem! There's implied rape/harassment but it's character background for an antagonist instead of character definition for a protagonist. I really appreciated that! It's clear that Hill does not like rape, and doesn't want his readers to think rape is a good thing, but that has led to an unfortunate tendency toward rape-as-backstory OR believed-rape-as-backstory. Again, this doesn't have that! Our protagonist is not a rape survivor; she's had her share of shit to deal with but that is not among her pile of shit.

Also it's pretty goddamned cool to have an apocalyptic novel with (Spoilers! Spoilers!) a pregnant woman, a d/Deaf child, a teenage girl defying gender norms, and a middle-aged black woman as the primary protagonists. I like that a lot, I hope a lot of people like that a lot, and I hope that more white authors will begin putting marginalized characters in their works without being afraid that it'll kick them out of the running for the bestseller list.

Anyway. In general I say fuck yes, this was a tremendously fun book to read. I thought Hill did a great job of handling everything from paranoid reactions to potential threats (Jacob) to cult-like reactions among the infected (Carol) to survivor's guilt (John). The Fireman is a compelling page-turner that I will be reading again at a later date, and I'm sure I'll enjoy it similarly on the second go-round.

     - Alli

Hill, Joe. The Fireman. Harper Collins. New York: New York. 2016.

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