Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" by Michael Chabon

Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction

I picked up this book because it was set in Pittsburgh, where I spent four years of my life, and it was on clearance at Borders (before they shut down). It was a departure from my usual fare since it is a Real Adult book and I typically read children's/YA stuff. But I like to make detours every once in awhile to remind myself how serious people write. 

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh follows recent college graduate Art as he tries to figure out what to do with his life. His father is a mobster, a field which neither Art nor his father wish for Art to get into. Art works at a bookstore and spends the rest of the time trying to have fun, make friends, and move on with life. I would consider this a very character-driven book as for a long time nothing much happens in the story. Despite the lack of an exciting plot, the author got me interested in the characters and their fates, so I kept reading. The book read for me much like The Great Gatsby, an observation I was glad to find was not off base when I read in the end notes that Chabon had intended it that way. I enjoyed thinking of Pittsburgh and envisioning the scenes while reading the book, especially when it came to what Art calls "the lost neighborhood" beneath the bridge. I walked over that bridge many times and wondered about the houses below, just as Art did, and it was cool to see it used in a story. 

Chabon writes his characters in a way that feels realistic, and he has an excellent control of language. I felt like I could see the characters in the way he described them and their styles. Overall, however, there wasn't much to the story to keep me interested. Very little suspense or mystery, just a story about a guy who doesn't know who or what he wants from life. But a good story nonetheless.

Chabon, Michael. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. New York: Harper Collins, 1988.

Friday, September 20, 2013

“Aquifer” by Jonathan Friesen

Age: Young Adult
Genre: Fiction

I have mentioned before that I like to read dystopian fantasy books (see my review of The Fifth Wave), and Aquifer once again fits this category. In the future author Jonathan Friesen presents, the Earth no longer bears fresh water on its surface. The only water safe for human consumption lies below the ground, hidden in an aquifer (hence the title), which is guarded by a race of humans who have devolved to the state of being called “Rats.” Only one person ventures down to visit the rats, and he is called the “Deliverer.” Once a year, the Deliverer follows a path that only exists in his brain through rote memorization from his forefathers and exchanges light rods with the Rats for the promise of another year’s access to water. The story follows Luca, a sixteen-year-old boy who is next in line to be the Deliverer behind his own father, Massa. Luca, and all other humans on the surface, live in a police state where they are not allowed to have any emotions or show any sign of rebellion against the set order or they will be “undone” (forced to kill themselves). But Luca senses he is different from his peers, and when his father goes missing and Luca must keep the connection with the Rats to save the Earth, he learns why he has always felt apart from others. He learns much else that blows the lid off the current state of the world as well when he descends to the world of the Rats.

I thought this book had an interesting premise and I was eager to find out about the underworld and the Rat people who lived there. The idea reminded me of the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and I wanted to see what this author had done with a similar construct. Friesen presents a nice twist on the subterranean culture, which I will not reveal here, that sets this book apart. I enjoyed reading the story as it did contain many turns, much like Luca’s memorized route, they kept me turning pages. Teens may find Luca relatable as he is a teenager struggling with his place in the world and feeling different than everyone else around him. The other characters help move the story forward and cause changes in Luca, just as good characters should. My only complaint was that sometimes the Australian phrases thrown in seemed forced.

I should also address the fact that this story is printed by a Christian publisher. However, the Christian elements are few and hardly noticeable. Depending on what the reader is expecting, this could be a good or bad thing. There is no mention of God or Jesus, though Luca is guided by a voice that is never identified. There is a book Luca finds that is more important than any other, and when quoted, it is The Bible, though not identified (the characters wouldn’t know what that was).  Because the story is a bit ambiguous, it could easily have a wider appeal among non-Christians as well as Christian readers.

Bibliographic Information:

Friesen, Jonathan. Aquifer. Grand Rapids, MI: Blink, 2013.