Saturday, June 7, 2008

Quakeland

I first came across Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat books during my young adult lit class in library school. They weren't required reading for that class, but another student spoke very highly of them and I eventually sought them out. I found them to be lovely and charming, and I followed them to FLB's Violet & Claire, which was much darker in tone and subject matter, but still contained the magic quality I had come to associate with FLB's writing.

Unfortunately, Quakeland has not followed suit. The dustjacket describes it as an "intertwining series of emotionally charged stories," but I found it to be a depressing and utterly confusing mess. The main character, Katrina, experiences disaster on every level. She has prophetic dreams that foretell September 11 and the Asian Tsunami of 2004, and her name was certainly not chosen by accident. She takes Zoloft to control the dreams, but stops taking it when her new boyfriend, Jasper, tells her to. She has a sex addiction that qualifies as unhealthy. A close friend experiences a recurrence of skin cancer. And the worst is that instead of being supportive, Jasper is cruel to the point of abuse. Because he's so "in touch with his feelings," he believes he must tell Katrina every hurtful thought he has about her, including the fact that he's glad she's not as attractive as other women because she's therefore not as much of a distraction.

Depression and pscyhological abuse are valid subjects for both fiction and nonfiction, although they are not subjects I tend to read about because, quite frankly, I already know a lot of people who are either clinically depressed or have other anxiety problems, and I don't feel I gain much by witnessing even more of it via fiction. But even without this personal bias of mine, I don't feel that Quakeland presents these subjects in an effective way.

First, there's just too much going on. (Warning: spoilers follow.) Katrina's friend Grace does indeed die of skin cancer, leaving behind three-year-old twins who have always sparked Katrina's jealousy, since she herself wants a baby and has already had a miscarriage. Jasper is impotent. Another friend named Kali reads Katrina's past lives, naturally "discovering" that Katrina has been through this victim cycle before, possibly with Jasper in one of his previous lives. Kali too was once ruled by her belief that she was nobody without a man. Katrina obsesses about earthquakes. People keep taking off their clothes and dancing for no apparent reason. Katrina has a hideous dating history. And on and on and on....

And while many novels (or collections of linked stories) both justify and effecitvely manage this level of complexity, Quakeland makes it worse by containing sections in which the reader cannot tell if Katrina is awake or dreaming; whether Katrina is writing a letter or writing in a diary or simply relating something to the reader; or whether another character entirely is "speaking" (made even more confusing in that some sections are headed by other characters' names). The book also seems, to me, to have a higher-than-average number of typos, the kind that exist specifically for copyeditors to find, such as "she couldn't bare to have her children see this."

In the end, I'm afraid that I couldn't quite finish this book. I'm willing to work for it, but at two-thirds of the way through, Quakeland has too little payoff for too much effort.

1 comment:

akujunkan said...

I too tend to feel like FLB books are up and down in quality, with the more recent, shorter novels not being as good as Ecstasia/Primavera or Weetzie Bat. I took a chance on Wasteland a few weeks ago and *loved* it--this is dark psychological themes done *right.* (I reviewed it here, btw.)

I was hoping Quakeland might continue the trend. Too bad, but at least I know now to approach it with caution.