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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Book riff - Shadowbahn by Steve Erikson


Not to be confused with Steven Erikson, who wrote the Malazan books (and the much more goofy Willful Child books), even though I only read this book because I confused the two. I'm okay with the mistake, because I found this weird-ass book that even though I'm not sure what happened in, I'm still pretty fond of now that I've read the whole thing.

Anyway.

Shadowbahn is probably an acquired taste; it's hard to say what it's about because it's kind of about everything (and that's even the topic of one of the conversations inside the book), and it's not the least bit linear, and it doesn't bother explaining itself, but the confusion that comes with reading through it is sort of also part of the purpose of the book? Like, it's about an America that's falling apart in a lot of different ways, at a lot of different times, because of a lot of different things, but it's also sort of poking fun at the idea that there's any way to just "be America". It glances off of things like racism and belonging and pop-history, and delves into things like what happens when you move historical moments around and how that changes everything--generally for the worse. There's stories that don't line up in the end but still resonate. There's scenes that are flat out gorgeous fantasy, and some of the characters wander back and forth between the realistic parts and the fantasy parts. There's some amazing poetic imagery.

I think, for me, the most rewarding part of this book is that it's a successful literary experiment that isn't deadly dull or dragging. It's about a lot of heavy stuff, but never gets heavier than a sense of creeping dread itself, and it's got a weird format that makes me wonder, as a writer, what weird formats I could get away with in my own writing. I wonder how non-writers and non-professional-readers might interpret it, but to me, it was all sorts of fun to read, even in the parts that make no sense--or no logical sense, anyway; they save themselves by making emotional sense, or by having that feeling that things are coming together the way instinct or metaphysics or coincidence does. 

It's so weird, you guys, but it's something that rings true even at it's weirdest, and the landscape of an America falling apart in the background is a super-close-to-home setting for the way the world feels right now. It somehow manages to be about this moment while not being about the things that make right now feel like right now, exactly, and it's not depressing, which is a major accomplishment.

I highly recommend it. Just--be aware that it's weird. Like, really weird. But in a fun way.



- My actual review is much more coherent; this is more of a reaction to the book as a whole, and a little bit of gushing about how neat it is.
- This book really does Change the Narrative; it changes how narratives even work, so YES SIR.


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