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The Serialist: A Novel Paperback – March 9, 2010
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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But isn't this the usual case with good books that start off strong--they rarely live up to expectations? In a sense, it's almost better to not promise too much in the first part if you can't deliver in the end. The only book I can think of that paid off on a strong start is Atlas Shrugged. Other books that I thoroughly enjoyed (The Keeper's Son, A Simple Plan) didn't promise as much and so I wasn't disappointed.
Here are some quick notes on the literary elements:
Plot Structure: well done with major plot twists at the right places.
Character: well done with a lot of inner dialogue which brought the protagonist to life. The character of Claire was also very interesting and could have been expanded on.
Writing Voice: Gordon is a very good writer with a poetic and witty style.
Scene Construction: The book is fast paced and the scenes move the plot along. The only distraction are the excerpts from the protagonist's serial fiction which don't seem connected to the story (stories about vampires, porn and science fiction).
Concept: What if a serial writer gets sucked into a murder mystery? Is this the problem I have with the book? What if the story had been about the writer having to decide between fame and his conscience about getting rich off of a serial killer?
Theme: The book didn't really add up to a theme, and perhaps that's my hang-up with it. The first part made it seem like it was more than just paint-by-the-numbers genre fiction, but didn't the second half turn out to be just that?
Don't get me wrong, the detective tale is entertaining and only rarely outstays its welcome. As I'm sure Gordon is sick of hearing, it has that Murakami type feel to it which is both a blessing and a curse. In fact, it's this initial similarity to Murakami that helps me understand what's really missing from it: it never goes above and beyond a simple detective story.
Sure, there are the chapter excerpts from the narrator's other stories and the frequent asides into discussions on writing, but these felt secondary to the overall story and, for me, never ultimately integrated themselves into some larger, more meaningful tale. The chapter excerpts in specific felt a bit shoehorned in, as if only to illustrate references to the narrator's career; I'd have preferred if they more clearly or decidedly foreshadowed or mirrored story events. Hell, maybe someone can make the argument that they do, but I can't see it without a pretty big leap of faith.
Most (all?) of the characters besides Harry seem one-dimensional by the end of the story as well, which is disappointing. They either become reduced to a part in the crime or simply fade back into their lives without ever expressing much motivation or nuance themselves, which is a far cry from much of the initial setup that Gordon puts out there. Claire in particular was a big disappointment for me--all through the story she seems ahead of her years and then all of a sudden she rubberbands back to adolescence. That may be the realistic resolution, but I was hoping for something more unexpected.
The scene work is kept minimal, often yielding to reflection/rumination type chapters where the narrator reviews information in his head that the reader has not explicitly seen. In some cases, this works great--especially during repeated interview scenes--but in other cases, it feels distancing and slightly like a cop-out. That said, this may be a technique covering up Gordon's weaknesses, as the longer chapters featuring actual scenes tended to drag for me a little. The several "realization" scenes in a row at the end fall into that category as well, and frustrated me because it felt as if the story was being stretched out unnecessarily.
Ultimately, if I were Gordon I'd have altered the balance between reality/writing metatheory and cut down a bit on the repetitious interview/investigation serials. I believe he could've really ran with a more out-of-the-box showcase for his metatheory (see True Detective for an example of such), but lacked the confidence to really go for it. Hopefully he won't hesitate the next time around.