Thursday, July 19, 2007

Quick Takes: Pratchett, Denning, Sittenfeld

Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett: There are large gods and there are small gods. The small gods are the ones which have very few worshipers. Despite there being a nation built around the worship of the god Om, Om only has one worshiper, a rather simple young man named Brutha. Brutha is a Novice who will never get the opportunity to become a priest. When Om begins speaking to Brutha, everything will change. This Discworld novel, while it does not appear to connect much to the goings on in Ankh Morpork, is a quality read. Small Gods appears to have the best construction and most coherent story thus far in the Discworld series and contains the usual dose of humor and silliness one would expect from Terry Pratchett. While not as funny as Pratchett at his best, the story itself is perhaps stronger than those that have come before.

Star by Star, by Troy Denning: No Star Wars novel needs to run 600 pages, not even one written by Matthew Stover...which this one was not. Ye s, there are two rather large, significant events which occurred in this novel, but even building to those two events...400 pages, tops. The first half of Star by Star drags a bit, especially coming after two fast paced, pleasing entries by Greg Keyes. This was the ninth volume in the New Jedi Order series (of 19) and for all the darkness which has come before, Star by Star takes a turn for the worse (the two aforementioned events). By the end Denning picked up the pace of his storytelling and things improved, but the first half of Star by Star is rough going after the smooth sailing of Greg Keyes.

The Man of My Dreams, by Curtis Sittenfeld: Author Sittenfeld follows up her bestselling and acclaimed novel Prep with The Man of My Dreams, another quick reading novel about a girl growing up and the relationships she forms and fails at. This time the protagonist is Hannah Gavenor. Hannah is a bit of an outcast, never quite knowing the right thing to say and never quite fitting in with any crowd. In chapter long episodes (each taking place at a progressively later part of her life, from her teenaged years to her late twenties), Sittenfeld gives the reader sufficient glimpse into Hannah's life and we see her growth and in some cases, lack of growth. Hannah never really bemoans her lack of experience with men, but she notes it several times and in comparison we have her cousin Fig, who, to quote Renee Zellweger's character in Empire Records, is "a turbo slut". Still, Hannah tries very hard to fit in. She eventually finds men (or a man finds her) late in college years and while Hannah would potentially dispute this, she is ultimately defined by her relationships (or lack thereof) with men.

Some of the prep-school-charm of Prep is lost in The Man of My Dreams and while I am not sure where the line is, I think that The Man of My Dreams falls into the sub genre of "chick-lit" than it does in the category of "just a good book", which is where I'd place Prep. I read plenty of genre novels (SFF, not chick lit), so I know the danger of categorizing novels as just a genre novel, but there are those novels which are decent stories within the genre, and then there are the novels which rise above any genre label and are simply good, no matter where there are space ships, magic schools, or girls in prep schools. While Prep rose above the genre label it could have been slapped with, I am not so confident that The Man of My Dreams does. Curtis Sittenfeld is a talented writer and her novels have both been fast paced affairs which are enjoyable to read, so I expect further good things from Miss Sittenfeld. The Man of My Dreams is not a misfire, but neither did it connect on all four (or six) cylinders.

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