It's late summer in Minnesota, the season turning as it does, and the crickets thrum seems slower now that the evening is shot through with cold. I read this most of the day on the back porch, interspersed with Sunday house cleaning and the nominal care of children. I can't write a review now. I will have to go off and stare and howl for a while. But I do want to capture this odd feeling of quiet and movement, the sound of the book as it closes, irrevocably, and all is ended. Mars is the only star I can see in the night sky, and it is red fire. Ah. Now I will put my children to bed.
I'm not sure I'm done staring and howling, but I figure I'd better just get it out. I've typed and deleted tons of egregious overshare, spoilers, and other review fails. We'll see if I recreate them. I am still sputtering with anger over hitting one of those non-ironic capslock teen reviews when I went and looked at the top 50 reviews last week. Mostly it was my own damn fault, but I'm still mad as a wet hen, so mad I'm not even going to find the review and flame all over it. I am doing that in my heart. Still, this is a weird place for me to be, because I normally love and embrace spoilers. Maybe it's that Hunger Games is written in the present tense; maybe it's that plot does equal commentary in this series; maybe it's that I wanted to give Collins, whom I've grown to trust as a storyteller, the first dibs on telling me her tale. Maybe all of these and none.
I had what I'm beginning to think of as a typical Collins reading moment sometime during the first third of the book. Lord, is everything tedious at first. This is one of those crappy things to say, because everything is awful, hanging in the ugly denouement of Catching Fire
, but with some extra awful on the side to make you really remember the horrors that culminated in that book. But..but still..in series there are certain structural integrities that you look forward to, because you, reader citizen, are programed to expect them. If Collins were a different author, she would hone her formula down to an endless essential plot that she doles out in biyearly books: first, hand-wringing and relief, then hanging dread, then choices to be made, then the kill-thrill of the arena, splattering us all with the blood vengeance we are aching for. And she does deliver this, on some level, but OMFG does she rips its guts out.
Anyway, I was there being a little bored, as Katniss is ordered to deliver spots for the rebellion, and then she does, and then they go over the tapes, and then they think, bah, this is bad, and I had a holy shit
epiphany. She's writing about narrative on one level, the endless writing and revision, the moments that you write trying to be true to character, but then the stories fall flat, and your character spends a week hiding in the closet. What you need, in narrative, is the kill-moment, the awful moment of catharsis that is both real and constructed. And when I say you need this in narrative, you need this in not just YA fictions, but in the narratives of peoples and nations. She shows you the boring of constructing that narrative, and then goes into it in the worst/best way. Oh, yes? You wanted another Hunger Games
with its simpler villains and easier answers? Well, fuck you. Once the arena is the world you inhabit
then it's a whole different game.
*spoilers, especially if you haven't read the first books, but then also some random details*
Collins has slowly turned up the heat in these books, already hot in the beginning. She starts in the murderous claustrophobia of the first arena, ending in almost the sagging relief of Katriss and Peeta's escape and return home. Then comes the second arena, and I think that it's no accident that that arena is both larger and has more people. Katniss, and the reader, are beginning to realize that the world is larger and more complicated than it looks. It's also no accident that their eventual escape come from the breaching of the arena walls, both from without and within. When the narrative starts again in District 13, that early sense of the claustrophobia of the first arena is solidly in play again, and the later, horrific events are almost a relief from that, in the most upsetting of ways.
There's a lot in this series about boundaries and fences, and then also about undergrounds and, um, abovegrounds? The mines in District 12; the whole society in 13, the Capital's military compound in District 8. After the first book, I felt that Collins was really messing with the political us-versus-them that goes on in American political discourse, but here she musses it further. Common cause is not based on common experience, necessarily, and common experience does not equate to empathy. Even empathy has its boundaries. I'll just gesture to the happenings in District 8, and some of the characters different reactions, because I don't want to be a big spoiler.
Here's the part where I go off on useless personal anecdotes. I have a godson who is 20, and in the Army. Maybe this is the way of all motherly types, but I can't reconcile the image of him as a baby, all helpless and hairless, with the man he is now, brandishing a gun in parts unknown. I'm maybe the last person on Earth who you want as your child's godmother, but this all happened a long time ago, when I was young and easy as the apple blossoms. I was, due to a series of accidents, baptized by a Catholic priest in infancy myself, so I had the right credentials to sit, in that odd church gymnasium, on a Holy Saturday almost two decades ago, and stand as godmother. I stood, because I said I would, and renounced Satan and all of his works. My God. What did I do?
I'm facebook friends with him now, with the whole family, his mother and his sisters, his grandmother and uncle. I watch the updates and they kill me. He's so young and stupid! The things he says sometimes are cruel and terrible, and then homesick, and in a heartrending turn of phrase from a recent update, friendsick. I want to fly over the Earth and bring him home, but he's made choices, and so have I, and so we sit and watch each other live our lives. The spectacle of existence. I've ceased having any patience for people who speak of the troops as some sort of political particle. They are all like my godson: individuals. But I'm done with people using him, the idea of him, when he is still real and himself and a thousand other things. But then I get it too. The political is the personal, the personal the political, and there's no stepping out of the web that binds family and nation. And that web is net when the waters rise. And rise they do.
YA lit has at its central conflict that uneasy fulcrum of not-child and not-adult. At it's very worst, it's an excuse for the authors, and readers, to stick their fingers in their ears and lalalala about sexuality and violence, about responsibility and consequence. Those last two adjectives were hard for me to type, because so often, responsibility has a capital R, and consequence is the ugly, fevered imaginings of a moral universe: everything happens for a reason; might makes right, good will win in the end. But, Collins knows better. We use them, the young; she uses them, and we watch, bolted to our seats while they enact violences that are anything but redemptive.