Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Into the woods

Are zombies the new vampires? Can Mary, non-zombie heroine of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, be as whiny and annoying as Bella, non-vampire heroine of the Twilight series? I don't know the answer to the first question, and as for the second: Mary is considerably less dependent on males for her identity than Bella, but she sure whines as much.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is by Carrie Ryan, and its heroine, Mary, lives in the ultimate gated community: A small settlement completely surrounded by a wire fence that keeps the Unconsecrated out. If you are attacked and bitten by the Unconsecrated you will become one, so her community deals harshly with anyone who is bitten: decapitation. Mary's father is believed to be one of the Unconsecrated slavering beyond the fence, and -- as the novel begins -- Mary's mother strays too close to the fence and is bitten herself. Except for her brother, Mary is now alone, and she is taken in by the Sisterhood, a group of religious women who seem to make all the decisions for the community.

As Mary prepares for her arranged marriage (it is important for the community to keep reproducing), the fence is breached and the settlement is overrun. Mary, her brother and his wife, Harry (her betrothed) and Travis (Harry's brother and the man she really loves), and Travis' betrothed all escape and find themselves traveling a fenced-in path through the Forest of Hands and Teeth to an unknown destination. Are there other communities who have survived the Return (of the Unconsecrated)? Is there a place where the buildings are taller than trees and the ocean stretches out forever, as Mary's mother told her? Will the small band survive to find out?

Portions of this book are extremely exciting ... I mean extremely! I mean that I would put on the CD as I'm turning out the light (a little "bedtime" reading) and I did not gently nod off to sleep. I had to stay awake until the danger had passed. Because in a zombie book (and let me not forget to mention that the author never uses that term), no one is off limits. Except Mary, since she's telling the story. And, quite frankly, although I grew tired of Mary's whining, I was kind of invested in the people who joined her on her journey. You never knew who was going to be next.

In between these scenes of great tension, unfortunately, we get to listen to a lot of Mary. Do I love Travis, is there an ocean, why did my brother desert me after our mother's death, what happened to the people who used to live in this house ... she goes on and on.

But I don't know if my impatience with Mary's inner thoughts was a result of a longing to get out of her brain and back on the path eluding the Unconsecrated, or if the narrator was so vastly uninteresting. Her name is Vane Millon and I think she needs some more practice at narrating. She reads in what I think was a deliberately unemotional way, which might have been a choice because Mary is a little dead inside (Aha! She's all but Unconsecrated!) But it seems so at odds with the real tension evoked by the story, and such lines in the text as "I'm in a frenzy." Huh?

Millon also phrases many of the book's sentences in a very peculiar way. She comes to what sounds like a full stop [a few moments silence] and then continues the second clause of the sentence. It was quite disconcerting, forcing your brain to remember that what you heard earlier is, in fact, part of the whole sentence. She does this throughout the book, which means that it ceased to bother my brain after a while, but it still makes for very odd listening. While reading, she would also emphasize odd words in a sentence.

Aside from Millon's performance -- which I do think detracts from the story -- this is one of those books that I wonder are a better eye-read. You want to blast through this, you want to get to the end and find out what the heck is going on (and ... fair warning: you won't find much out as the author has envisioned a trilogy). Going at the narrator's pace is frustrating. Going at this narrator's pace is even more so.

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