Sunday, May 20, 2012

"The Land of Decoration" by Grace McCleen

Emma Donoghue, the author of Room (which I loved), has a blurb on the cover of Land of Decoration, probably designed to draw Room fans over to McCleen's novel, which has some similarities. The hook worked for me, but unfortunately the book itself was less successful, perhaps because I didn't "buy" the young protagonist's voice in the same way I believed Jack's (the protagonist of Room) voice.

The Land of Decoration is narrated by Judith, a precocious 10-year-old who lives with her father and is part of a doomsday religious order which believes the apocalypse is near. At school Judith is tormented by a bully named Neil, and the attacks only worsen when Judith's father decides not to join the union's factory strike, making him unpopular with many people, including Neil's striking father. However, one night, desperate not to return to school and Neil's abuse, Judith uses her faith in God to cause a miracle: by making it "snow" on her miniature "land of decoration" (a replica of the town made out of trash), Judith causes actual snow to fall and cancel school. However, Judith's "powers" soon begin to spiral out of control, as things worsen for her and her father.

I liked the idea of being inside the head of a young person convinced the world is going to end, but I had a hard time believing in Judith as a character. Her conversations with God seemed too deep and her narration too orderly for someone that young. I also didn't believe that such a person would really create a "land of decoration" in so much detail, so Judith's attention to it further separated me from the story. The other characters also fell somewhat flat. Judith's father is distant and cold; Neil is stereotypically thuggish and cruel; Mrs. Pierce is the heroic and kindly teacher.

The novel skirts around the idea that if everything is to be believed, Judith is a very disturbed child. She has active conversations with a voice she thinks if God's, but is probably instead the Devil's (?) or maybe just herself (even more screwed up). She hallucinates and goes into fits, and her father's pretty close to abusive.

As a synopsis, I really liked The Land of Decoration, and I didn't actively dislike reading it, but I never felt stirred or moved by the piece as a whole.

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