DWBG: A good dimension-crushing abomination
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, Ch 9.-->Ch. 12
We should all read books that don’t speak to us sometimes.
I have a very specific way of thinking about writing. It’s the part of writing that eluded me the most at first. I was great with voice and character and humor… all the elements of magic. What I struggled with was the method, the craft. Structure, conflict. The pieces that built the box into which you placed the gift.
Now, I’ve got that down. Like, down. I know all of that stuff like the back of my hand, but we don’t go to stories to write a box. We make a box, so we can deliver the story efficiently, in a form that was made to hold them.
That said, anyone who wants to build their story with all magic, no box… it’s not the end of the world. It means that it might be less accessible to some readers, who either prefer or need their stories to conform to the shape of some kind of box.
I think the situation we have here with The City We Became is that Jemisin is just not interested in the box, and I really am. Now that I understand it, I like what it brings to the magic of a story, and I find that I really prefer those stories.
All that said, I think it’s really good for me to read stories that don’t have much of a box, or have a box that’s built in a shape I don’t really understand, which is what I think is happening in this case. I haven’t finished the book yet, so I’m not sure, but I kind of expect that the last piece of the box will come into place in the final reading and I’ll be like, “Ohhhhhh. Genius.”
Or, to be fair, maybe it won’t. There is an attempt to make a box here; there’s a central narrative conflict—the Enemy vs. New York—but it’s not doing what a central narrative conflict is there to do. It’s not escalating. The Enemy shows up, often as a white woman when in human form, but she just shows up to lose. She can’t get Bronca to accede to her demands to put the fascist art up at her center; she can’t get Aislynn to join her side.
Given that I don’t know where this is going, and I gave my critique of what’s missing in The City We Became’s box last week, I’m just going to share my basic impressions from this week’s reading and wait to see what gets discovered in our final reading. After that final reading, we’ll be doing the reading questions from the back of my copy, which I’ll include in next week’s Dear Writer Book Group response so that if some of you don’t have my version of the questions, you’ll have time to think about them.
I like that Bronca is looking out for the Primary, the young man from the opening section, whose POV we got in first person. I miss him. He grabbed me and made me want to read this book, and his powerful confrontation with the Enemy that took out a bridge remains the most dramatic moments of this book (with Bronca’s stuff coming in a tight second.) Maybe that’s why the Primary and Bronca are my favorites so far?
I do not enjoy a group of women of color being bullied and terrorized by the alt-right. I know it’s exactly what would happen in real life and it needs to be looked at, directly, without flinching. I know that it’s a privilege to look away, which is why I haven’t been. But acknowledging what it does to me when I look is okay.
“I am only what you made me.” Who is sobbing? The monster? The tentacles? Is that not another form of the Woman in White? This moment of vulnerability got my attention. I’m very interested in this.
I kind of love the digital tear between the worlds. I think I’d enjoy this a lot more as a movie; it’s so visual.
I love Bronca kicking ass. I could read a whole book that is nothing but Bronca kicking ass.
See above re: women of color being bullied and terrorized. Feeling the same about Aislyn almost getting raped. Acknowledged. Tired.
I feel like I’ve missed something in the ways the white tentacles appear to different people. Sometimes they’re feathers. Sometimes they’re tentacles. Sometimes they’re tendrils. For Aislyn, they’re flowers. I’m sure there’s a significance there; if this is a metaphor for white supremacy, that it looks less threatening to someone who is white (Aislyn’s flowers) that’s interesting and so depressing. But definitely interesting.
So, the Woman in White is taking over the bodies of various white women? Is that what’s happening? If so… interesting.
Wait… so Conall is also another city? I’m getting confused.
I love that Paulo’s cigarette smoke is magical.
“Bronca hates them instantly, these avatars of the other boroughs who now sit or stand in her office.” I love Bronca.
I like Bronca’s explanation of all the layers of reality. “Atlantis became just a story. It failed so catastrophically that eat entire human race shifted into a branch of realities in which Atlantis never existed at all.”
Okay, so a city becomes alive and thousands of universes die as a result? I kind of get what the Woman in White is about now, if she’s trying to prevent the deaths of millions of living things. Are we supposed to sympathize with the antagonist?
The world-building here is pretty great. I wish we knew a bunch of this stuff earlier, and the exposition-fairy scenes are SO hard to write. But I dig it.
Ah! Hong Kong! I love it!
“What he really needs is the polluted air of his own city.” Ah, the smoke! That’s why his smoke is magic! I love it!
I have to say, now this story is sort of coming together for me. The magic of city as avatars, we’ve got Hong Kong pitching in. Some very cool ideas.
There’s something really funny about them all looking at each other and realizing that Aislyn knocked out Paulo. Like family who knows which one of the brood is trouble.
So, in Aislyn’s discussion with the Woman in White, she says the tendrils/flowers/tentacles are guide-lines; they don’t take over people, they just encourage predispositions that are already within them.
“It is indisputable that the flower fronds, or guide-lines or whatever they’re called, have a purpose. That this purpose is something other than control makes it no less unnerving.” I’d say more so. Blaming all the evil on the guide-lines themselves makes them other than us; but knowing it’s just taking the evil already in us and amplifying… yeah. More disturbing.
I had a hard time following the Woman in White’s backseat exposition as well.
“You’re a good dimension-crushing abomination.” LOL!