Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

I have never read any other books by Palahniuk, although I have thought about reading Fight Club before. This one was suggested as a compliment to the non-fiction book that we are reading in our book club (Collapse by Jared Diamond). The idea is to go for post-apocalyptic type novels, since Collapse is about the destruction of human societies as a result of environmental factors, and how humans react to them. Hence our choice of a not-quite-post-apocalyptic story that is about ethics and morality, about who gets to decide who lives and who dies; it's about the constant need for power that all humans have.
The book reveals its plot over time. The narrator is telling the story, but he occasionally brings the reader into his present time, which forces you to try to figure out what has happened in the mean time. The narrator is a man who has discovered a culling song, a magic spell that was sung to dying warriors or sick elders to help them pass into the next world. It is now found in a book of children's poems, and is sung to them as a lullaby, killing them in their sleep without the parents ever understanding what was responsible for their deaths. He makes it his mission to destroy every copy of the book that was published that contains the culling song. Meanwhile, he has to control his own growing desire to use the song that he now knows causes death. Involved in his story are a real estate agent who deals in haunted houses, a New-Age witch, and her vegan, eco-terrorist boyfriend.
The story makes some very surprising turns before the end, but by the time it ends, it has arrived where you expected it to. Palahniuk can be very difficult to read at times; his descriptions are occasionally incredibly gruesome, and some of the violence seems a little bit unnecessary. But I think that parts are purposefully difficult to read. It should be difficult for us to confront our inability to be silent and think for ourselves. It should be difficult for us to consider how we might handle ourselves if we had the power to kill with our mind, if we had been responsible, unknowingly, for the deaths of people that we loved. Lullaby forces you to think about the choices that we make, and to think about who is ultimately responsible for our feelings and desires.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Fledgling by Octavia E Butler

This was one of those books that I could not put down, and that finishing was more difficult than usual. Octavia Butler is one of my favorite writers, who passed away last year, the same year that Fledgling was published. When I finished reading Fledgling, I knew that it meant I would not be reading anything new by Butler ever again. And that is such a depressing thought. Fledgling is a fantastic vampire story, Butler's first, and the world she creates would be wonderful to stay in for further reading. The culture that she develops for her vampires, who call themselves Ina, is very complex, and much more creative than any other vampire story I have read. It seems that she must have been planning on writing further stories about Shori and her world, but now we will not have the chance to read them. Regardless, Fledgling is a must read for any fan of Octavia Butler, and for any fan of vampire stories.
Fledgling begins when Shori wakes up, not knowing who, where, or what she is. The story is written in first-person, so we learn everything about the world as Shori does. The story follows her as she meets Wright, who becomes her first symbiont. In this world, these vampires do not turn humans into vampires. Rather, they live in a symbiotic relationship with willing humans. They are a species unto themselves, with their own culture, history, religion, and understanding of the world. And they keep themselves secret from all humans but those they live with in their symbiotic relationships. Shori creates a problem for some of these so-called Ina, because she has been genetically engineered with DNA from an African-American woman. This brings out the prejudice among some of the Ina against humans, and even against humans of a certain cultural background. How the Ina, and Shori herself, face this problem is the central aspect of the story.
Octavia Butler always deals with issues of racism and sexism, bigotry of all kinds, in her books. She is always able to give us a new way of thinking about these issues because she uses characters like aliens or vampires or things like time travel. Describing her work to someone who has never read it is difficult, but Fledgling is a good first book of hers to read. It is incredibly engrossing; like I said, I literally could not put it down. She gets you so involved in her characters lives, you just do not want the story to end. It is tragic that we will never read another story by her, but it is always beautiful to go back to those treasured favorites, and share them with friends.

*this review also posted on the hip librarians book blog*