Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Book Review Club - Going Bovine

Going Bovine
Libba Bray
young adult

Bray knows her characters. The medley of sixteen year old underachiever/loser guy to talking garden gnome cast she creates is a fun romp to read through. Which is good because this is a looooooooooooong book. Very long. 480 pages long.

I know. I know. I sound like a griping teenager. The target audience. I wonder if the story has enough to keep them reading. I had a hard time remaining engaged.

While I enjoyed the imagination, the characters, the dialogue, the constantly changing setting, it was, ultimately, the leap of faith I was unable to take. At about the end of the first third of the book, when Cameron has already been hospitalized and is degenerating quickly - he's suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jacob (mad cow) disease, which is incurable and deadly. He sees an angel. Not just any angel. A punker angel. Okay, I'm still with you. The weird angel has appeared before in the distance. This might work. A punker angel named Dulcie.

Lost me.

We, as readers, are ultimately asked to "sign" a contract to take the leap of faith in fiction. To believe in the parameters of the story. Cameron's reality. It seems to incredible to be real. Sure enough, we come to discover in a 100 Years of Solitude sort of way toward the very end (and there are hints throughout that this might indeed be the case) that Cameron's been hallucinating/dreaming the last two weeks of his life. In other words, everything, including Dulcie, is a figment of his imagination. Yet his imagined life is far more alive and real than the 16 years of his life he more or less drifted through.

It's a great ending. Gabriel Garcia Marquez genius type of ending. But will the reader get there? We aren't in Latin American mysticism but modern day Texas. Realistic setting makes the leap hard. Dulcie makes the leap even harder. Granted, we're not supposed to take the leap in the end, we realize. It was a fantastical leap to begin with. One Cameron dreamed up. But because we do not know that right away, and because the fantastical keeps getting further and further out there, it's really hard to stay engaged, leaving the reader wondering, huh? What's the point? And, um, is it coming soon?

I hate not liking a book. I hate finding stuff wrong with the writing. There is no pleasure in it for me, especially with a book so close to greatness. Ultimately, it feels as though this piece lacked a stronger editorial pen. The right external input could have turned unbelievable into fantastical genius marvelous. We authors need editors. We really really do. No matter what stage of writing we are at. And we should never forget that. Because when we do, we are doomed to repeat our own mistakes without correction over and over and over again.

Read Going Bovine for its characters. For its Garcia Marquez crafty twist on reality. But also to notice where the editorial pen would have helped. Could have tightened, condensed and lifted such promise to the next level of greatness.  

For other great reads, hop over to our fearless leader's blog - Barrie Summy Blog.

Happy reading!


Keri Mikulski said...

Another amazing, in depth review, Stacy. I can hear your MFA. :) Thanks so much!

Sarah Laurence said...

Excellent review and analysis!

I’m more than twice the age of a teenager, and I quit reading this borrowed book when I wasn’t hooked after 100 pages plus, seeing how many more were to come. It felt more like literary acrobatics than story telling, which surprised me since Bray’s Gemma Doyle books were well-plotted and engaging. My then 12-year-old daughter also quit Bovine but loved Gemma Doyle.

I guessed that the MC was hallucinating, but it was still too random. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabelle Allende do a far better job with mystical realism. I wanted to love this book too but didn’t. It’s a relief to hear I was not alone. Still, why did it win the Printz?

Barrie said...

Stacy, You write the most succinct reviews. Hey, sorry I missed your call. I'm home now, and we can catch up!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Fair enough--magical realism is a tough pill to swallow generally and while the title looks interesting, I require a bit better pacing than 480 pages of story!

Loraine said...

Fantastic review! Here's mine if you don't mind:

Thanks and have a nice day!