Magic realism is like free verse: it looks deceptively easy when it's done well, and too many writers think it means you can do whatever you want to on the page.
Francesca Lia Block has succeeded in this medium before, at least in my opinion. I know they're cornball and over-the-top, but I do love Weetzie Bat
and Witch Baby
I keep trying to love other novels by Block, and it keeps mostly not happening.
There are some beautiful moments in this book, such as this reflection by Pen, the narrator:Why are we here -- just us and no one else? Is this salvation or the worst of punishments?
and:I try to make soothing sounds but I'm thinking of my own family -- what they thought of when they saw the wave coming, terror like being held in a Giant's palm -- and it's hard to be of comfort.
But for the most part, this book is a hot mess.
It starts off with the compelling story of a girl named Penelope (Pen for short) who's the sole survivor in her family after a global catastrophe. She's thinking back to how things were before. The reader is grounded in a very real girl's life. Pen feels guilty for not being nicer to her family before -- for allowing ordinary teenage angst to make her surly and snarly, when she knows now she should have appreciated what she had when she had it. Now she's alone, and supplies are running low.
She's then driven out of the safety of her home by a threat that is, again, convincing: macho shithead men, fellow survivors, who are looking for supplies and female companionship.
So we have a sympathetic character in a situation we'd like to learn more about.
And then everything goes to hell, writing-wise, because the reason the world ended is so it can reenact The Odyssey
for a California teenager and a few friends she picks up along the way.
That's right. Billions of people died for that.Somebody
could make that premise work. So far as I'm concerned, Block didn't.
Now I'm off to tackle the rest of my "to-read" list. Wish me luck.