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Love in the Time of Global Warming Hardcover – August 27, 2013
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I don't read much that is set in the real world as we know it, so fantastical elements don't bother me a bit. However, I do prefer that they make internal sense. "It's like our world, but there are giants" -- okay, great! "It's our world. And there are Giants" -- wait, what? No there aren't.
All right, we'll call it "magical realism" (which I guess is what we call fantasy when there's no internal logic?) and go with it.
The novel's plot and setting are dream-like, in the sense that trying to describe them is like trying to describe a dream you had last night. Things flit in and out of reality, and cause sensibly leads to effect only if you don't stop to think about it at all. "And then they went to an art museum ("Why? I thought they were struggling to survive and also find their families?" "Go with it.") And then a Giant grabbed Pen and destroyed the building. But then her friends showed up and rescued her, even though they were in the building." How did they find her? How did they survive? How did they escape the Giant? They just did. It's a dream, go with it.
We proceed along with the characters like this, in our magically real, dream-like quest, this until they get to Vegas. That's when things go really off the rails and I stopped being able to go with it.
Pen confronts the villain (oh, we have a villain now? go with it) -- and *something* happens. She never finds out what and neither do we, but then...she's in a different place. And This Guy shows up for the 2nd and 3rd time to help her. And the characters we've spent the book getting to know are gone. And she's back home. And one of the people she's spent the entire book looking for is just...there. Great. Okay. WHAT??
I liked the lyrical writing style. I liked the random flashbacks for backstory. I liked the non-linear storytelling, when it supported telling a story. But there was just way too much randomness thrown into both setting and plot and motivation. I thought it all might be going somewhere, however illogically and non-linearly, but the climax and play-out from there failed to live up to my already lowered expectations.
At least it was short.
Pen lives in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. Two months after an earthquake opened a huge gash in the earth, and the sea came rushing up to her house, she’s still hiding from the broken world outside, surviving on stockpiled canned goods. She hasn’t seen her family since the disaster, and fears the worst... When her fragile denial and ‘peace’ is broken, Pen must venture out into a changed landscape. She will see unbelievable things, meet mythical creatures, mine her strengths, and adopt a dangerous quest, all in the name of love. Whether or not she comes home again will be a matter of will, of luck, of the strengths of her companions, and a bit of magic.
My summary above makes this book sound rather concrete! I’m actually proud that I could distill it down from concepts and allusions and magical realism into something that makes linear sense. Warning: Love in the Time of Global Warming does not make much sense, in a traditional plot sort of way. Yes, it is about a journey that mirrors Odysseus’ in The Odyssey. But. This version of the story is full of flashbacks and foresight to other times, musings on art and its importance even in a world where survival is paramount, queer identity, being good to the earth, and possible gifts/powers that have sprung up amid the desolation. All of those things overwhelm the ‘journey’ thread, making the book seem more like a series of related vignettes. The effect is fable-ish.
Pen herself is a confused, grieving teen with a bent toward the fantastic. Her mind loops around a blend of memory, religion, art, symbolism, and story, and in the midst of it all Pen finds pieces of herself that weren’t evident in life ‘Before.’ While she occupies the post of narrator, she’s not always the central figure in the tale. I found myself frustrated in the extreme with this Pen-narrated, unfocused storytelling. Experiences had a vague quality to them, so even though the end of the world sounded terrible, it never made it into my mind’s eye. In addition, the themes of sexuality, gender, and addiction were never fully explored. I could tell that the book was making statements, but I felt as though I was being asked to unravel a muddle that could have been made explicit. Feeling stupid while reading makes me grumpy, folks.
In the end, I have found two ways to describe this book: one is kind, the other one… honest. Feel free to take your pick. 1) Love in the Time of Global Warming is an elliptical, fantastical tale that takes on the theme of identity and claims art and love above all. 2) Love in the Time of Global Warming is a book that tries very hard to be meaningful, but in the end feels like reading an extended nightmare or drug-addled dream. As I said… take your pick.
Recommended for: readers who like trippy fantasy and sci-fi as long as it is pretty (and for whom coherency is not a number one priority).
If you enjoy post-apocalyptic stories, don't need a laugh, and can roll with an abundance of metaphors, definitely give this book a try.
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Never disappointed by her descriptive imagination.