The Grim Company, by Luke Scull

Waste of money.

So… the title probably should have tipped me off that this was GRIMDARK GRIMDARK, but all the cover blurbs (from reputable sources!) raved about how it was “fun” and had a “great sense of humor,” so apparently I’d concluded that the title must be sort of ironic.

Yeah no. Clumsy prose, laden with telling-not-showing, punctuated by tedious infodumps; a monotonously grim and dark setting; every character going out of their way to be unlikeable; seasoned with a dash of sexism and homophobia. I’d pick out examples of what is evidently supposed to constitute a “great sense of humor” but it’s pretty cringe-worthy.

Apparently I have the same problem with grimdark that I have with urban fantasy — that I can’t stop myself from reading it, but never like it much when I do. And I haven’t worked out entirely why that is, though I’ve been circling that question for a while now. Cuz I like the Ye Olde Medieval Fantasylandia setting. I like magic and mayhem and plots with Epic Stakes, I like dystopias. I’m not a prude, about sex or violence, though I find them both pretty uninteresting without context. I don’t have the triggers that grimdark tries to set off about once per page. So why do they never deliver what I want?

I realized while I was writing this that I never got around to finishing up the post I’d started on Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, which is not grimdark, but might be considered a foil to it. It sparked the beginnings of a revelation on what it is specifically about this modern crop of novels — the ones that inspired the coining of the term “grimdark” — that makes them different from earlier fantasy stories with a similar body count. Saving my thoughts on that for a longer, more organized post.

Anyway, at 20.6% of the way through Grim Company the plot was finally starting to become mildly interesting, but not enough to merit slogging through all that other bullshit, so I abandoned it.

Bastard out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison (36/107)

This book was excellent, and I never want to read it again. Rural poverty gives me the raging heebie jeebies, I don’t even know. This was 300 pages of helplessness and despair in a world where everything tastes like failure. I read it cover to cover.

And then today I sat down and wrote all damn day. I am four thousand words richer than when I woke up this morning.

Takeaway lesson from Bastard Out of Carolina: details. Details, details, details. To make it real, make it plausible, make it unique, make it immersive, make it sympathetic, to make it something the readers can believe every word of and lose themselves in. By rights, each and every character in that book should have been a stereotype, but the sheer amount of humanizing detail about these people and their lives made them much more than that.

Read it if you’re a writer, or if you like stories about fucked up Southern families.

Discontinued books — Anathem and As Meat Loves Salt (34,35/107)

Back in August I was telling one of my random hookups about my 107 books project and he asked, “Which one are you least looking forward to reading?” And my answer was, “Uhm… none of them?” Because I wouldn’t have bought them if I didn’t want to read them, right.

New answer: these two.

The Swimming-Pool Library, by Alan Hollinghurst (23/107)

So I tried to read a book today, since I’m moving again in August and I could do without hauling six thirteen boxes of books with me this time. I didn’t get very far.

Because GAWD, literary fiction is dull.

I think what it boils down to is that I have absolutely no patience for protagonists whose fictional lives are less interesting than my real life. Bored, spoiled young aristocrat whose only interests are meaningless sex and being judgy? Gag me with a goddamn spoon. Or better yet, gag him.

And it kills me that this genre — these dreary, monumentally tedious accounts of ennui and promiscuity — is almost all that gay men ever write. This is the literature of my people, and yet it’s all I can do to slog through my self-imposed 50-page minimum before I’m like, FUCK THIS NOISE, I’D RATHER READ X-MEN FANFIC. >:(((((

(Incidentally, the reason why this book wound up on my shelf: a number of boys that OkCupid has tried to hook me up with listed Swimming-Pool Library as one of their favorites, and I thought it’d be nice to have some common ground. Yeah not so much, because “WHY WOULD YOU LIKE THAT BOOK? EXPLAIN YOURSELF!” may be a conversational gambit that works on me, but I’ve gathered that other people find it off-putting.)

It’s frustrating, and I can’t quite put my frustrations into words, because I want to be able to appreciate literary fiction. This is the stuff that’s supposed to be objectively high quality, but all I get when I read it are sporadically keen observations about people, protagonists whose reactions and thought processes are nothing like what I’d do or what I can relate to, and not giving any fucks about what they’re doing, usually because they don’t give any fucks. Relationships, romantic and otherwise, are utterly boring because the protagonist has an emotional range that runs the gamut from horny to disdainful. Yes, fine, it’s realistic, but it’s the kind of realism you can get by going outside and not enjoying your day.

How does anyone like this? I’m honestly at a loss.

***

In other news, I’ve wandered back over to the X-Men: First Class fandom now that ficcers have had time to write epics, and it is delightful! Erik and Charles, christ, the more I read of them the more they break my heart, because they are one of the most perfect tragedies in all of literature.

So rather than recommending Swimming-Pool Library, I’ll rec you some fics instead:

Most anything by AO3 writer Yahtzee; my standout favorites are Winter of Banked Fires, which gets my Best in Fandom award for post-X3 fix it fics, Enigma, and Anarchy in the UK. I like this author for a lot of reasons, but mostly because her work is intensely emotional and even in AUs does total justice to the depth and difficulty of their relationship. (Just don’t expect uncomplicated happy endings — that’s not what you go into XMFC fandom for.)

If You Liked the Book, You’ll Hate the Movie, which is a high school AU, of all things, but really good. Absorbing, atmospheric, frequently hilarious — vaguely like magical realism, in that there’s nothing outright impossible going on, but a lot of things that, when taken together, are sort of improbable. Seriously, I enjoy this more than I can explain why.