Friday, November 6, 2009

Lab rat

I don't know how long it takes to publish a book (and I once worked in publishing). I'm wondering 'cause did the concept of The Maze Runner arise before The Hunger Games was published, or is the former sending the latter some flattery? It does bear a bit of a resemblance plot-wise, but alas -- for me -- it wasn't the same reading experience at all.

In James Dashner's novel, Thomas wakes up in a place he's never seen before, with no recollection of anything from his previous life. He soon learns that he is in the Glade -- the center of a huge enclosed Maze. He is the latest arrival in a group of about 50 teenaged boys. Every month for two years, one boy has arrived the same way Thomas has -- asleep and with no memories. The Gladers have systematically designed their society -- there's a respected, hierarchal power structure; and they grow their own food, build the structures they need, and try to completely map the Maze. Unfortunately, the Maze changes every night; so far, they've been unsuccessful in solving it. A Glader doesn't want to be caught out in the Maze at night: it is patrolled by deadly technologically enhanced creatures the boys have dubbed Grievers.

Thomas has a nagging feeling that he knows more about the Glade and the Maze than he should, but he can't put his finger on it and doesn't share these feelings with the other boys. The Gladers, however, are quick to realize that he is somehow different. The day after Thomas's appearance, the alarm sounds indicating that the box in which each new boy has appeared is bringing a new arrival. This arrival is way too soon. And when the Gladers open the box, not only is it 29 days early, but the arrival is a girl. She briefly emerges from her coma to announce: "Everything is going to change." She's carrying a note as well: "She's the last one. Ever." It seems the Gladers are finally going to learn why they've been held captive, but they are likely to die trying to find out.

Sounds relatively exciting, yes? Well, it just didn't do it for me. I thought the story moved very slowly; there are many lengthy descriptions of the setting/situation with Thomas frequently noting how familiar/unfamiliar it all seemed. This approach just deadens the suspense for me. Yeah, yeah ... of course it feels familiar, now could we just get to the part where it's explained for us? There is also a great deal of telling on Thomas's behalf: I heard a lot of what he was feeling, but the story itself rarely showed me.

The narration seems infected with a sense of slog as well (although it could, of course, just be me having a bad day). While Mark Deakins emotes when the dialog calls for it, he mostly reads with a calm steadiness that does not create a sense of mounting anxiety or excitement. He has a difficult job -- providing voices for a bunch of boys who are all the same age and seem to have very few ethnic or cultural differences. A few main characters speak with unique voices, but these (southern, Irish, and something different -- but not identifiable -- for a character described as Asian) all seem exaggerations -- used not as a way to understand a character, but simply to differentiate one from the other.

Deakins' mature reading voice, though, changes this story pretty radically. While listening, I kept needing to remind myself that this was a book about boys. They act (which is the novel itself, of course) and sound like adults in this audiobook. If I'm thinking they are adults, then the whole concept of an adult power structure forcing its children into a life-or-death situation loses its impact. It's no longer about youth in a horrific situation, it's just another novel about the horrors adults inflict on one another [yawn]. Not the same at all.

Maybe this is a better eye read (I have only read, not listened to, the Suzanne Collins' novels). I'm intrigued (just enough) by Dashner's resolution to maybe (maybe!) read its sequel.

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