Friday, November 8, 2013

Emily Recommends...

It's been a while since I've offered a book recommendation. Here's one I could hardly put down: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. It's the book he published just before his internationally acclaimed YA Historical Fiction book The Book Thief, but--dare I say it?--I liked this one better. (More on that in my next post.)  The Messenger was utterly engrossing, mysterious and heart-warming.

Ed Kennedy is a 19 year-old cab driver with no prospects and no plans to change that. He goes to work, plays cards with his equally unmotivated friends, and longs after his best friend, Audrey, without ever trying to make a move. So it would have stayed for Ed, living in the dodgy end of town...but then one day, almost without meaning to, Ed apprehends a man attempting to rob the bank he's in. The media attention is nice, but then he receives a playing card in the mail. An ace of diamonds, with 3 names on it...

Here's how the book is cleverly advertised:

protect the diamonds
survive the clubs
dig deep through the spades
feel the hearts

As a writer, Zusak gives himself an interesting challenge. Ed Kennedy must "do something" for each of the three names (most of which are written in riddles) for each of the four Aces in a deck. That's quite a predictable structure, but Zusak keeps us guessing. What will the task be? How will he rise to the challenge? Who is behind all of this, threatening him to keep going when he considers giving up? There is enough predictability in the structure to keep me comfortable but enough mystery to keep me turning the page.

I just have one complaint.

*******************SPOILER ALERT ************SPOILER ALERT****************
(Okay, I know the book is practically a decade old by now, but still...)

The reveal was a letdown. I've been going through in my mind, and Zusak picked the only possible person I can think of who could realistically be behind all that: the author.

Pro: Like the book thief's surprising twist of a last line, it launches our attention jarringly out of the book and into the world. Pretty powerful stuff actually.
Con: Going meta-fiction on us feels like a cop-out. He's tasteful enough to say it indirectly, with a bit of humor, but still. I didn't want to be pulled out of the book, and bringing in the author in such a way feels like a juvenile device.

Then again, I still admire Zusak's voice, and I highly recommend this book. As for my complaint, he can laugh about it all the way to the bank.

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