Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Half-Book Report: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

As many of you who follow Bad Shakespeare on Facebook know, I recently started The Twelve by Justin Cronin. This was his second novel in his Passage Trilogy. The first novel was pretty good. And those of you who follow Bad Shakespeare on Facebook also know I recently could no longer stand reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin. This disappointed me, and led me to ask myself, “At what point do we abandon books because we just can’t stand them.”

As someone who writes, (some might call it a writer. I don’t know why I put it out there like that. Maybe because I’m trying to increase my word count. Either way, I’m leaving it, and this explanation.) I’m sympathetic to someone who is writing. I know there are some Bad Shakespeare posts that are better than others, where some are wonderful instead of just great. That’s just a fact of writing. But there are just some points that I can no longer stand reading a novel that abandons everything that I came to enjoy from the first novel.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it’s the tale of a post-apocalyptic world that’s been taken over by Vampire-beast like things, lead by 12 death row inmates (and one professor) that have been injected with an experimental virus that makes them super strong, psychic, and bloodthirsty. (I can’t think of anything better to put into death row inmates. Can you?) Also wrapped up in the story is Amy, a young orphan abandoned by both her parents, raised in an orphanage for a few pages, and then taken to have the same experimental virus injected into her. Only rather than turning her into a bloodthirsty vampire beast thingy, it makes her basically immortal, psychic, and a little crazy. 

That’s the bare bones. The first book was a little jarring because it starts with literally Amy’s conception, then jumps ahead six years, then jumps ahead about 100 years after the Vampire-Beasts (called “Virals”) have taken over, eventually Amy hooks up with some survivors, they figure out how to kill a bunch of them, and then there’s much rejoicing. The second book picks up where this left off, five years later, where nothing... nothing... nothing has happened, then jumps back 100 years so we can learn how two of the main villains in this book come to be, and learn about the conception of the ancestor of one of the characters. (In a very classic, not exploitative “but I don’t want to die a virgin” scene.) Don’t get attached to these characters, because only three of them survive, and one develops magic powers. 

I really tried. I tried to enjoy this book because I wanted to find out what happened. Any good sequel is going to pick up where the action left off, or give you an impression that something has happened in between the last book and this one. But basically they spent five years running around, the most interesting character Amy has been relegated to the kitchen, one character was kidnapped (which, while this was the cliffhanger doesn’t get addressed until halfway through the book) and everyone just sort of does... stuff. Then it’s like a grand narrator has told them, “hey guys... we’re going to start writing a book now, so do interesting things.” Pretty much everything set up from the first book was reset to zero. 

So at what point do we just abandon books that aren’t doing it for us? This is a difficult case, because it’s a sequel, one that I was looking forward to since I closed (or turned off... yay, Kindle!) the last book. I wanted to see what was going to happen. I didn’t have high hopes, the first book was essentially The Stand by way of Salem’s Lot. But to just take the characters you know, scatter them, have no forward motion, and then flash us back to characters, only some of whom have basic relevance to the plot now... it would be like George Lucas starting Star Wars with telling us all about Obi-Wan Kenobi’s parents and a side story about Darth Vader’s mother without them ever meeting. (And he was on thin ice to begin with those prequels already.) But unless characters are going to be relevant to the plot, maybe we don’t spend 100 pages with them.

I am of the firm belief that even bad literature can be beneficial at times. Even if it’s to remind us what the really good literature can be. But sometimes stories get so bogged down, so tedious to read we can’t continue. I’m really disappointed that this book wasn’t better. I really am. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the third book. I’m torn because I want to know how this is all going to end, and maybe I’ll enjoy this book more when the third one is out, and I can say, “Oh, yeah, that’s why that happened.” But right now we’re looking at magic, unexplained powers (oh, I’m sorry, explained with, “she’s a woman, that’s why she has them”) three miscarriages, 100 pages of flashback, a flashback within a flashback, the regular story, another flashback, the sidelining for 200 pages of the most interesting character in the first book (she can do what the others can’t... let’s put her in a convent for five years!). It’s just all so baffling. And frustrating, because there’s an interesting book in here.

I guess we’ll just have to see what happens next.

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