DWBG: Every battle is a dance
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, Interruption-->Ch. 8
You know, I’m gonna be straight with you; this book isn’t my thing.
That’s not a criticism of the book; I definitely see its value. It’s just that I don’t typically enjoy highly conceptual stories. I like my stories with a strong narrative anchor, which is a thing that a lot of other people don’t enjoy so much. They want to be taken up in ideas and concepts and float along with them; I like to know where my feet are. Neither is right or wrong. It’s just how each of us is made to engage.
So as I’m reading this, I find myself getting bored. I like Bronca a lot; she is probably my favorite of the characters, and is coming across vividly to me. I know Bronca. I get Bronca. She keeps my attention, and the chapter with her and the Woman in White in the bathroom stall was riveting for me from start to finish. When she gave Strawberry Man Bun the what for, that held my attention. But everything after that… the Many Worlds Exposition, the constant battles that end in total success for our heroes with no escalation of the central conflict, the way our heroes just know what they need to know and find the exact power they need at the exact moment they need it without too much struggle… I have to tell you, I found my attention drifting a bit during this week’s reading.
Right now, my sense of the story is that it’s all a metaphor for the five boroughs of New York, and without being a New Yorker, maybe some of that is getting lost on me. I think it’s incredibly well-written and beautifully conceived and there are quotes that I just adore…
“Don’t fucking bring your squamous eldritch bullshit here.”
… but I’m not connecting with the story as a story. I’m not connecting with the characters. The conflict is there… we have our group protagonist of six + Paulo and our antagonist in the Woman in White… but nothing’s escalating. An entire bridge was taken out in the battle with the primary, but here the Woman in White keeps trying and failing. She fails to get to Manny at Inwood; she fails to suck Bronca in through a painting; she fails to get the kids in Mrs. Yu’s pool; she fails to get to Brooklyn at the brownstone.
For an antagonist, she’s kind of weak sauce.
While I get what she wants—to stop New York from Becoming—I don’t understand at all why she wants it. What it means. What the consequences are. We have these multiple realities going on, and she is apparently from Upside Down of this world, and if New York lives she… what? Ceases to exist? That can’t be true, because she’s already lost this battle with a number of cities. What does this battle mean to her? Why is she fighting it? I get that she’s a metaphor for white supremacy (I think) and while power just for power’s sake and a lack of concern for the evil done in that pursuit may be what white supremacy is about, it doesn’t make for an interesting antagonist. Maybe I missed it during a drift, but I didn’t get a sense of what was at stake. Storywise, it feels a bit muddled to me.
That said, there are a lot of things here that I like. I like that we’ve got our group of protagonists bonding together, finding each other, understanding each other, and working together (except for Bronca, who seems happy on her own but I know is gonna get sucked in eventually.) I like the prose; I think the writing is spectacular, and every now and again Jemisin will catch me with a delightful turn of phrase that I just adore.
“Sulking is petulant, pointless anger. Mine is righteous.”
While I didn’t care for the narratively-stalled battles, the Lovecraftian monsters have a lovely, ghostly power. Lovecraft is heavily represented in the text and subtext, but I love the twist that this isn’t a celebration of Lovecraft, but a monster that is representative of the man’s own darkness and racism, using his oft-celebrated work to create something more dimensional than your standard ode to Cthulu. I haven’t ever been terribly interested in Lovecraft, haven’t read him, and I had no idea about his personal beliefs or behavior, but that context adds a lovely conceptual crunch to the monstrosity for me.
I’ll be honest; if I wasn’t reading this with a group, I’d probably drop out now, but I think I sometimes drop out of things that I might otherwise enjoy if I’d stuck it out. I do enjoy Jemisin’s prose and work with metaphor and concept, so that will definitely get me through the rest of it (along with Bronca) even if the story continues to stall for me.
What do you all think? What was your favorite part of this week’s reading?