Thursday, February 28, 2013

"The Elephant Keepers' Children" By Peter Hoeg

The Elephant Keepers' Children is supposed to be a zany romp with quirky characters through Denmark and a little island called Fino.  It's narrated by Peter, the beleaguered son of Fino's pastor and organist. When Peter and his sister Tilte, a magnetic and philosophical character, discover their parents may be orchestrating a heist at an upcoming religious convention, they begin on an insane and roundabout journey to stop them.

There's a blurb on the back cover that compares Elephant Keepers' Children to Slaughterhouse-Five, and though I get where the person is trying to make the connection between Hoeg and Vonnegut, there's just no comparison. Vonnegut, at his best, is funny and weird but purposeful. Hoeg's writing feels random for the sake of being random. The book flies through zany situation after zany situation, to the point where I often failed to understand what was happening and why. The characters are absurd without humor, with horrific names like Alexander Flounderblood or Leonora Ticklepalate. Maybe the jokes carried over better in the original Danish.

Tilte and Peter are unbelievable and boring, as are Peter's frequent asides to the reader in which he discusses finding the "door" out of our own "prison" or something. I never really cared. The novel is told in a conversational, casual tone with the reader, with frequent tangents and rambling anecdotes.

I read a good chunk at first and so felt the need to finish the book, but I should have left it at a "did not finish."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"The Dog Stars" by Peter Heller

Oh, my! Nearly three weeks since my last review. I did actually read a book in between this and the last review (City of Thieves, for my book club), but since I had already reviewed it, I didn't do a rewrite. But, now I'm back, having finished Heller's The Dog Stars, a piece of quiet and moving apocalyptic fiction.

In the years since a deadly strain of flu killed most of the world's inhabitants, Hig has been living in an abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and his surly gun-freak neighbor Bangley. Hig's only solace is in fishing and flying his Cessna around the deserted landscape. Though the world's tragedies (like the death of Hig's wife) are many years past, the weight of the purposeless life, the killing of any people trying to enter the airport, begins to get to him--and I can't say much more without spoilers.

Pretty immediately The Dog Stars reminded me of The Road, with is sparse prose and un-punctuated dialogue. The book reads as a sort of stream-of-consciousness inside Hig's head, with equal parts poetry and confusion. Though the style isn't straight-forward, it does allow you to connect intimately with Hig's feelings for everything around him: Jasper, Bangley, the land and sky, his plane.

What I most appreciated was the way the novel explores the complicated answer to "what is life?".  Later in the book, a character notes that life before the apocalypse was always spent in waiting, something I can understand. Waiting for the weekend; for the big vacation; for the big life change. Life after the apocalypse is devoid of waiting, for better and for worse.

Apocalyptic fiction can easily veer too far toward tragedy or too far toward cliche reconciliation, but The Dog Stars balances both nicely, with rewarding resolution without neat solutions.