Remember how much I liked the first book in this series? It wasn’t perfect, but I admired the idea of depicting the destruction of a world that’s already kind of ruined though the people in the world don’t fully realize it. (See also: Station Eleven.) I was going to write a long post about how lousy this book was but didn’t get around to it and now I’ve mercifully forgotten most of the worst parts. Still, I did save a lot of highlights of terrible sentences to my Kindle so here are some.
“such was the bittersweet beauty of life”
“Here, tacked to the neutral plaster walls, are the pennants of sports teams and the conundrumous M.C. Escher etching of hands drawing each other and, opposite the sagging single bed, the era-appropriate poster of the erect-nippled Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, beneath whose lubricious limbs and come-hither gaze and barely concealed pudenda the boy has furiously masturbated night after adolescent night.”
“I’d known that Lucessi had a younger sister; he had failed to mention that she was a bona fide Mediterranean goddess, quite possibly the most beautiful girl I’d ever laid eyes on — regally tall, with lustrous black hair, a complexion so creamy I wanted to drink it, and a habit of traipsing into a room wearing nothing more than a slip…. striding through the house in tall riding boots and clanking spurs and tight breeches, a costume no less powerful than the slip in its ability to send the blood dumping to my loins.”
“Though I knew I had done well, I was still astonished to see my first-semester report with its barricade of A’s”
“Between these carnal escapades — Carmen and I would often race back to her room between classes for an hour of furious copulation — and my voluminous classwork and, of course, my hours at the library — time well spent replenishing myself for our next encounter — I saw less and less of Lucessi.”
“On a Saturday afternoon, escorted by my father, I entered this sacred masculine space. The details were intoxicating. The odors of tonic, leather, talc. The combs lounging in their disinfecting aquamarine bath. The hiss and crackle of AM radio, broadcasting manly contests upon green fields. My father beside me. I waited on a chair of cracked red vinyl. Men were being barbered, lathered, whisked.”
“Caleb had peeked at her journals a few times over the years, unable to resist this small crime; like her letters, her entries were wonderfully written. While they sometimes expressed doubts or concern over various matters, generally they communicated an optimistic view of life.”
The combination of pretentiousness (“manly contests upon green fields”), cliche (“hiss and crackle”), thesaurus-wrangling (“barricade”,”traipsing”), and general vagueness (“various matters”) is really something special. It is not just bad but BAD in the sense of Paul Fussell.
Oh yeah and also he’s obsessed with the word “possessed” where he means to say “had” or just express the idea in a defter way.
“Something about this place felt new and undiscovered; it possessed a feeling of sanctuary.”
“His flesh, a sickly yellow, possessed a damp, translucent appearance, like the inner layers of an onion.”
“His thoughts possessed a lazy, unmoored quality.”
“His limbs possessed a thin-boned delicacy”
So much more is wrong! The way characters are often referred to as “the man” or “the woman,” the general concern with manliness throughout, but manliness of a very bent kind: a weird you-know-how-it-is sympathy towards characters when they get so frustrated that they just have to hit / strangle / kill / sexually assault a woman? Which culminates in the big action set piece at the end — so of course the big giant ship they have to escape on has been tiresomely personified as a woman, Michael’s actual one true love for 400 pages — then the big moment comes and the ship can’t consummate, all seems lost, until Michael solves the problem by calling the ship a bitch and hitting it with wrench, at which point it immediately settles down and behaves. Then the end is an epilogue set 1000 years in the future where a tenured professor (yes, there’s still tenure in 1000 years) gets lucky with a young journalist who’s captivated by his hidden depth and middle-aged loneliness.