Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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The Three-Star Books from Another World

As I mentioned before, I've been putting together a night of genre theater for five months, and on Monday, it happened. There were no major disasters, I gave a better performance than I'd ever given in rehearsals, the audience laughed and applauded madly throughout the show, people actually got the subtext of my play, and it was basically something I'll always be proud of having created. I didn't do it alone, though, and I love the twenty some-odd other people who helped make it happen. I had a crazy idea, and now it's real.


You can see me act starting at 31:16 (but you don't want to miss the other plays, including the hilarious first one, written by a four-year-old girl!) and the first play I directed right afterward.

Right at the top of Act II is the world premiere of Origin Stories, my play about two superheroes in a bar, which I also directed! You can see me get applauded over and over at the end because I did everything.

Now to get back to work on my Olympians play.

On the surface, When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, appears to be a throwback to the children's literature of yore. It's set in late-seventies NYC and features a young girl who learns about friendship and stuff. And as an added bit of quirk, her mother is going to appear on The $20,000 Pyramid, which provides the chapter titles with a cute theme. The book even wears this sense of nostalgia on its sleeve by heavily referencing A Wrinkle in Time, the main character's favorite book.

But there's something else going on here, as she receives a mysterious note from someone who claims that he (or she) is coming to save her friend's life. And the writer of the note knows things that he (or she) couldn't possibly know. What the hell?

I feel like I would have enjoyed When You Reach Me a lot more at the age when I was reading books like A Wrinkle in Time. Now, it feels a bit predictable to me, as far as the mystery was concerned (and it seemed like it took Miranda far too long to piece things together). The everyday story was good, but I couldn't get into it because I was far more interested in the mystery plot. There are some really wonderful lines, though.

Cynthia Holloway was a great reader, but she sounded distractingly like Grey DeLisle, making all the characters sound like Azula to me. Which was sort of entertaining in and of itself. So that's what Azula would sound like as a single mother.

I think When You Reach Me may have suffered unfairly from my expectations of it. It's clearly acclaimed for a reason, but it didn't, well, reach me.

Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon, is a story about identity. I love stories about identity. It is also a story with three separate narratives that end up being interconnected. I love stories with separate narratives that end up being interconnected. Await Your Reply appears to be a book I would love. Unfortunately, I did not.

Ryan Schuyler drops out of college by faking his death and goes to live with his father, an identity thief. Miles Cheshire is on the hunt for his paranoid schizophrenic twin brother, Hayden, who makes himself harder to track down by assuming a new identity in every town. Lucy Lattimore runs off with her high school history teacher, George Orson, after graduating.

I appreciated that the three stories were connected thematically quite strongly: they're all about escape, in addition to identity. In order to keep from being a bit frustrated and disappointed, you should know that the connections between the three stories don't become apparent until you near the end of the book. Until then, you might as well be reading three different books; yet, the thematic connection is so strong that the stories do feel like they belong together. I found Lucy to be the most likable, sympathetic protagonist, possibly because of her naiveté (you just know that running off with your high school history teacher is a bad idea), and she has the most satisfying character arc.

This is literary fiction, see, where good prose and character studies matter more than plot. I do love stories about identity, so any time Chaon waxed poetic about that theme, it was lovely, but I also love stories where things happen, and...not much happens most of the time. I think the entire first half of the book is mostly flashbacks and character stuff with very little forward movement in the present-day plot; characters reflect on how they got to this point but they don't do anything at that point! That's not to say that there isn't any plot at all, but the plotting is not that strong, and it kind of fizzles out (but, thankfully, the interconnectedness makes up for it).

Kirby Heyborne did his best to make me care about the characters and what was going on, but I can't help but think I would have enjoyed this book more if it hadn't been an audiobook, if I had been reading the words on the page and really focusing.

Await Your Reply is an interesting book that begins with a severed hand, but possibly it could have used more explosions.
Tags: books, i am so awesome, personal, schmacting, theatre
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