Friday, June 18, 2010

The Hunger Games, Attempt #2

In anticipation of the new book coming out in August (and because Alex has been tweeting about it quite frequently as of late), I reread The Hunger Games this week.

I am, without a doubt, somewhat unqualified to write a scathing review of The Hunger Games since I have not read Catching Fire; I cannot judge the book as a part of a larger whole. However, it does give me the ability to judge the book on its own without information from the other books clouding my objectiveness. I don’t write this to open your eyes to the literary horrors of The Hunger Games or to insult you, loyal THG devotee, nor do I write it to criticize Suzanne Collins. I simply want to explain why The Hunger Games left me feeling, to put it simply, underwhelmed.

My feelings are remarkably similar to those that I had the first time I read The Hunger Games: I liked - not loved, not adored, not obsessed over; simply liked - the majority of the book and was hugely, irrationally let down by the ending. This time, though, I wasn't only disappointed, I was pissed off as hell. Almost betrayed. As if Suzanne Collins crafted those infuriating words for the sole purpose of making me miserably annoyed.

Why, oh why, is a new conflict introduced at the last possible second? This is a novel! (Yes, I actually used the word "novel;" that is how annoyed I am.) It has to be able to work as a stand-alone book! I understand that you have two other books in which you can wrap up the story. I’m not saying that all the loose ends should be tied up in a nice shiny plot hole-free bow. That doesn't change the fact that a book that does not work by itself cannot be considered a masterpiece. Especially - especially! - because it's the first book in the series. If it was the second or third, I'd be more lenient; you're supposed to read the series in the correct order, obviously. But the fact that it’s the first book? There should be a beginning, middle, and end. Not a beginning, middle, and beginning. That’s just frustrating.

This reminds me of every single TV shows' season finales. Imagine the scene:

There you sit, in a claustrophobia-inducing dark room, your nose mere inches from the flickering screen. You observe in solitude, fearful of an uninitiated casual viewer speaking during the climax of the show. Crumpled cans of fizzy caffeine and remnants of chocolate covered coffee beans lay at your feet in homage to the Great TV Gods. A symbol of your utmost devotion, your willingness to sacrifice sleep for art. As if you needed any help in staying awake. As if you would fall asleep! You scoff at the thought. This is your moment. This is it. The All-Knowing Show Creators, bless them and their genius brains, are finally going to tell you what is up. The Answers to all Your Questions.
Something moves on screen. You shake your head, make your cheeks do the wakey wakey dance, appalled that you zoned out for one second. What’s going on? Look, look for him. And her. Okay. Okay, he’s got a… a gun? A gun! Of course, it’s one of those fancy laser jobs, the one he took from the safe. From the bad guy’s safe. God, you hate that bad guy. Speaking of… speaking of… holy crap! Is that him? Yes, yes! Yesyesyesohmigodwhatthehellyes. Yes he escaped from jail and now he’s got her and he’s holding something sharp and pointy to her head and ohmigodcrapcrapcrap it’s going into her head wait what what what it’s not supposed to end like this. Quick, look at him. Is he crying? Yes, yes, yes he’s crying. Crap. Crappity crap crap. He doesn’t cry, but he is, and goddamnit he’s handing over the pretty shiny killy laser gun stupid stupid stupid why are you doing that. Okay he’s making a deal, right? Okay okay. So he hands over the gun and she doesn’t die. Okay. Except… except… except Mr. Bad Guy has some kind of stupid little smirky smile on his face and he’s got one hand on the laser gun and one hand on her and why isn’t he handing her over? Crapcrapcrap what is going on? Oh my –
No the screen did not just go black. Nononononono. No those credits are not rolling why are there names why are they white why are they in a list formation. No no no they did not just end it like this, those dastardly Genius Creators, the stupid bastards!

Of course, it makes you tune in the next season. It makes you want to continue on this frustrating, addicting journey. It allows the show’s creators to make more money. It guarantees them some more viewers.

I really hope that is not what Suzanne Collins was after.

I like to think, perhaps foolishly, that the book publishing industry has a little more integrity than that. I like to think that while, yes, they are determined to make money, they also spend some time ensuring that they are producing quality work. I suppose that's naive of me (cast your minds to Twilight and especially to every single crappy vampire spin off that has been written since the former became wildly popular). It is the same feeling that makes me trust The Washington Post newspaper over most other news sources, even though realistically, they are all pretty damn similar.

Right, I sound like a pretentious buttmunch. Sure, I don't have any authority to talk about this industry I am not directly involved in, but I can speculate. I'm not saying that Ms. Collins wrote this book only because she wants heaps of gold-plated coins (in fact, I seriously doubt that was the case, given that most authors are not - how would one say it - monetarily endowed). But the end result is frustratingly similar to people who really do only do it for the money. (I'm sorry; that was unintelligible, wasn't it?) Suzanne Collins surely wrote this book thinking, “How can I make this story the best it can be?” rather than, “How can I become fabulously, disgustingly wealthy?” Because few sane people would answer the latter with, “Write a book!” They’d probably be more inclined to respond, “Become a porn star!” or, “Start a drug ring!” And sadly, these would be much better ways to make some fast cash! Yet I truly believe that each individual reader’s interpretation of the book is infinitely more important than the author’s intent of the book is. And if most people walked away from The Hunger Games with a sense of euphoria, I’m not going to take that away from them. I just… didn’t. I just felt that the end was a cop-out, a way to ensure that people stay interested. A good book (such as The Hunger Games) doesn’t need such obvious cliffhangers to attract an audience. To take such a complex topic and then reduce it to a will she/won’t she clich├ęd love story? That tastes of betrayal.

If I had to rate The Hunger Games, I guess I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars if that’s allowed. It’s at least half a point off for the ending and then perhaps one more star for not knocking my socks off, as they say. Again, it’s a good book – just not great, in my opinion. Granted, there are very, very few (if any) books that are the only written commentaries on a certain subject. It’s not a crime that the basic plot of The Hunger Games is similar to quite a few others; it’s the lack of redemption through spectacular characters or mind-blowing twists that leaves me underwhelmed.

It's difficult to sum up why you love something, but could you do me a favor and try? I'm clearly missing out on some huge connection to The Hunger Games that so many people seem to feel. Some of it's just instinctual - I could sit here and write multiple essays on why I love Harry Potter and still not quite convey the intense love I have for it - but some of it can be defined, and it'd be great if you could outline it. Is it the characters? The plot? The writing? Something less clear-cut?

As for myself, I'm going to suck it up and read Catching Fire sometime this summer. Unfortunately, going into it I hold it in the same regard as I do Avatar and The Notebook - I'm pretty damn sure I won't like it, but I try to refrain from passing judgment until I've actually read/seen it. Hopefully I'll report back deep-frying and scarfing down my words.

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