Sunday, March 9, 2014

If There Be Thorns, Part One: Your Whole Life Is a Lie

Since posting the Prelude, the If There Be Thorns fans came out of the woodwork.  I'm so pleased, but also slightly relieved, because I found myself saying uncharacteristically positive things about this book and I was afraid people would think the Andrews estate had sent me a nasty letter or something.  I legitimately try to laud the positive aspects of the books when I stumble across them, but Petals was a long, hard slog for me and by the time I reached that fuck-you-I-ain't-gotta-explain-shit ending, I'd pretty much given up on redemption.

Probably a much bigger issue is that the word "crazy" as applied to mental illness gets bantered around very casually.  There is nothing like labeling a character generic "crazy" to make me start analyzing.  While I do have some background in psychology, I am not qualified or licensed to make diagnoses, even for fictional characters.  If I make a giant mistake with the psych stuff, please call me out on it.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

If There Be Thorns: The Prelude

People tend to hate this book for two reasons, the first being the dual narrator thing.  I can't blame 'em: multiple first-person narrators are difficult to write and a pain in the butt to read, especially if the voices are not very distinctive.  She does a very good job of alternating between characterization--you can open the book at random and know after only a few words if you're in a Bart chapter or a Jory chapter--but voice-wise?  Not so much.  All of Andrews characters use the same syntax and vocabulary.  She makes an effort by having Bart drop his Gs and use a lot of sentence fragments, but for the most part, the narration is pretty uniform.

The other reason is Bart.

I'll make a case for Bart.  He ends up with the strongest, most complex characterization in the entire book, leaving the rest of the cast looking like indecisive, oblivious milquetoasts with their heads up their asses.  A lot of people find Bart creepy and off-putting, which is absolutely the case, but there is no denying that he is indeed Cathy's kid.

If There Be Thorns is arguably Andrews' most ambitious novel thus far.  She's writing from the perspective of two very young characters.  There are two narrators who alternate chapters.  And it's the only Andrews' novel with male protagonists.

That being said, all these things are executed pretty badly, though not all that much worse than in any of her other novels.  I've complained before that Andrews is terrible at writing realistic children, and males, and indeed human beings.  When all these elements are pushed to the forefront at the same time, the weaknesses are all the more obvious.

Yet on a technical level, this is probably one of Andrews' better novels.  Since she's dealing with a shorter period of time than the other books--a single summer, rather than years--a lot of the pacing and continuity errors that were so confusing in the first two books vanish.  And at times she gives a very clear image of the separation between adult-world and child-world, and the uneasiness of children who realize that their parents are untrustworthy even while they are totally dependent on said parents.  These are themes that were very prevalent in Flowers in the Attic, but here, she seems to get further under their skin.

Shall we start this thing?  Let's start this thing!