needs more demons?

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Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games

01 Mar 2012 · No Comments

I struggle with how useful it is for me to comment on popular works. A lot of people obviously love this book. I’m statistically quite unlikely to ever write anything as many people pay attention to, what gives me the right to judge it? But maybe it’s useful for me to explore whether this is the sort of mainstream fiction that others with predominantly non-mainstream taste might enjoy. My personal answer is a very qualified “yes.”

As an adult reader familiar with science fiction tropes, I thought The Hunger Games was way too front-loaded with exposition and backstory. It takes a many pages for the titular games to start, and I was a bit wearied by Katniss Everdeen’s blow-by-blow narrative: does she really need to describe every meal she eats after she gets to the Capitol? Cause I, you know, I got the bit about how she’s never had such rich, expensive food, and how her life to date has literally been a life-and-death struggle for food after the first few meals. Partly this is a mismatch between me and the book’s target audience, but I really think it could have been leaner.

Once the games finally get underway, though, Everdeen’s detailed diaristic approach makes more sense. Still a bit plodding, perhaps, but now colored by an oppressive grimness that I did eventually find compelling. I kept recalling the Jack London story about the guy freezing to death. Everdeen relates a lot of specific physical detail, but it all really does matter. It certainly kept me flipping pages, and yeah, I want to know what happens next. I’ll keep reading.

I struggled throughout with suspension of disbelief in two aspects. Usually to-the-death dystopian game stories have an obvious satirical thrust, this one really doesn’t (at least so far) and it’s a bit hard to believe that Everdeen’s society would actually function. Maybe more importantly, it was a little hard to believe in Everdeen herself. Her physical survival skills make sense, as does her almost borderline sociopathic analytical nature. In this context her obliviousness to some human interactions makes sense. But these collectively seem at odds with her awareness of and skill at media manipulation.

I do give it full credit for being really different from the recent spate of romance-y vamps and werewoofs young adult novels. It’s not completely without romance aspects, but they’re far from the forefront; even Everdeen’s internal conflicts are not centered around which guy she winds up with or why the right guy doesn’t like her. And if the milieu seems a bit familiar (I can’t shake the sense that somewhere along the book’s path to publication someone described it as Survivor meets Logan’s Run, but there’s also a clear debt to Lord of the Flies among other works) it not only bucked the publishing trend it emerged from, but — for better or worse! — created a new one.

I also give The Hunger Games credit for being so completely devoid of sexism that it didn’t immediately occur to me to think of it as “feminist.” Katniss Everdeen isn’t “tough for a chick,” “smart for a woman,” or “strong for a girl.” She’s tough, smart, and strong, period. And I didn’t have the sense that anyone else in the book was seeing her with qualifiers either. So that’s pretty rockin’, since we still, sadly, can’t take that for granted in life or in fiction.

needs more demons I’ll go with maybe.

Tags: c-author · h-title · science fiction · young adult

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