Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"My Favorite Band Does Not Exist"

Two Saturdays ago now, I was in San Diego at the American Librarians Association mid-winter conference (I believe is the title), standing by my baseball novel at the top of every hour for about 10 minutes, and then wandering the rest of the time.

On one of my wanderings, the robot hit on me. Seriously - asked me to marry him. But that's a story for another post - perhaps never to be written. (Don't know. Haven't decided.)

On another one of my wanderings, I happened by the Houghton Mifflin publisher's table - Clarion Books section. There was a black book propped up there. Lack of color notwithstanding (or maybe because of its starkness?), I picked up the book and casually flipped through the pages. There was darkness, and then crinkles, on the pages' edges, as though the pages were torn on the inside - except it was just the way the pages were printed to look. It made me curious. So I turned the book over and read the back. "Being trapped in a book can be a nightmare - just ask Idea Deity," it read.

How cool is that? "What a great idea," I said out loud (or maybe I said "how cool is that?"). I sort of startled the two women standing at the counter. We started talking - one of them was the book's editor. She offered to give me a copy. "I'm not a librarian," I warned her - I can't be either buying or distributing the book to a wider readership. She told me to take a copy anyway. I do suppose that anyone that excited about a book's concept should receive a free copy when free copies are being distributed...

So I took a copy, and read it on the plane. By the time I landed, I had only a few pages left to read of "My Favorite Band Does Not Exist," by Robert Jeschonek.

MFBDNE is worthy of its concept. And when it comes out (which isn't for a few months yet), I highly recommend it - if you're intrigued by the ins and outs of what it means to imagine someone thinking that they are trapped in a book in the first place.

The reason for the caveat? There's a lot in this book. Its whirlwind effort, and choice to bounce between several worlds via pithy, Dan-Brown-like short chapters, means that I read it both too quickly and not fast enough - I knew I was missing things along the way, but I really wanted to know what happened. Perhaps that means I will read it a second time? Perhaps. And that is not something I normally do.

The fact is, I wanted to know what happened. Sometimes, today's authors do not keep my attention, especially when the main characters are so much younger than I am. But here, the author's view of a bigger-picture concept made the story's details interesting to me.

There's Idea Deity, as one main character - and Reacher Mirage, who Idea thinks he's created, and who is annoyed that Idea keeps posting things about him on the Internet. There's the goddess-like girl who is with Idea, and another goddess-like girl who is with Reacher - there are the things that the two goddesses seem to have in common... there's a green sky and a blue one - and then there is the book within the book - "Fireskull's Revenant" - ...

Let's just say it's complicated.

I did find that both the title and that first line about being trapped in a book do not fully capture the fullness of the book's journey through reality possibilities - but it's a decent jumping-off point. If I complained at all, it would be two-fold. First, there comes a point towards the end of the book where the author ends up explaining a lot of what is going on. (This is probably a complaint unique to me - I have found out in recent years that I'm in the minority on wanting mysteries like that to remain unsolved and/or left to my imagination.) Second - well, the characters are really young, and so are a little - mmm - limited in their view of what stands out in life as most important. (Did I mention I'll be 50 in a couple of months?) (omg - when did that happen?) But this publisher, and its Clarion Books section, is focused on youth, so it makes sense the main characters are young. And the story itself - and its underlying concepts - overrode those two elements for me, making the book accessible not just to young people but to old folks like me too. In other words, it's definitely worth the read.

This is a fantasy book, or so I believe - I don't read a lot of fantasy, so I can't say for sure. I do write in a way that's been called "magical realism" though, so I was drawn to the author's imagining of worlds beyond what we know already. Perhaps one of the book's best strengths is its ability to write fantasy while staying very grounded in reality - or multiple realities, as the case may be.

One thing I really liked is the allegorical nature of the various characters' names. If someone is called "Idea Deity," and someone else is "Reacher Mirage" - what can we learn from that? Though I must admit - I was too busy getting through the novel to spend a lot of time wondering about it. Which is where it might behoove me to re-read for nuances, now that I know the ending.

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