Saturday, May 12, 2012

Catching Fire and Mockingjay

Since I reviewed the first book in Suzanne Collins's series, The Hunger Games, I now feel compelled to review the other two. As any readers who know me (and that would be all of you - Hi Mom!!) could have predicted, I cracked faster than a crack rock in the hands of a Central Park crack squirrel when it came to getting book three; no waiting for the paperback or a used copy of the hardback for me, despite my protestations!

I have to qualify that, though: only by anyone else's standards did I crack quickly. It took a week. Since I once took the last bus to the other side of town on a rainy night when I had to be at work early the next day to get to Borders to buy a book I had already read, simply because I wanted to reread it that frickin' second, a week wasn't so bad. And it says a lot about how entirely certain I was, by the end of book one, about what would happen in the end of book three.

Anyone who has not read my review of The Hunger Games, go check out my predictions about the end of book three. Ready? Should I try to pretend I'm not going to spew spoilers all over this page? Should Collins try to pretend that any of her readers are as stupid as her heroine Katniss, and therefore couldn't see the end of the series coming like an out-of-control freight train packed with high-energy explosive cliches? No, and no. I called it, and I have no doubt every other reader did as well.*

I'm reviewing books two and three together because neither lives up to the very modest expectations set by the first. In Catching Fire, Katniss and the less moody of her two inexplicably devoted boyfriends return to the Arena, caught in an eeeeeevil plot of the government to get them out of the way, since they've become such heroes to the people of Panem (which means "bread," as in "bread and circuses," in Latin - oh the subtlety) that they can't just be assassinated outright without causing a lot of trouble. As a side note, nothing in these books convinced me more thoroughly of the utter uselessness, hopelessness, and pathetic misery of the people of Panem than how inspired they all apparently were by the boring love affair of a couple of dumb teenagers on TV. Side note side note: yes, this might be a commentary on America's celebrity-worshipping pop culture, but really, when a statement is made so blatantly, is it worthy of discussion? Back to that in a minute.

In Mockingjay, we learn - drum roll please! because no one saw this one coming - that district thirteen really wasn't destroyed, and has been basically blackmailing district one in order to be left alone. Katniss becomes a figurehead for their movement to get rid of district one once and for all, and dumb and poorly plotted machinations ensue. There's a bunch of fighting, blah blah blah, in true Harlequin Romance form the rival love interest gets revealed as a bastard so that Katniss doesn't really have to choose, there's one gratuitous death in particular that's supposed to be really touching and tragic and just feels needless, and then all the remaining teenagers finally get to have sex, presumably, although it happens off-stage.

It's meant to be a bittersweet ending with a lot of meaning. Read it and draw your own conclusions, if you wish, but I wasn't able to get much satisfaction from watching a brain-damaged heroine bumble her way to a life of relative peace and security after accidentally defeating a series of eeeeevil caricatures of politicians.

Also, I found the repeated bread, cake, and baking themes throughout the books irritating, since I can only infer that Collins believes her readers are dumb enough to think repeated imagery necessarily has a meaning beyond the author using repeated meaningless imagery to make it look like there's a meaning.

And so back to the books' "deeper" themes. I said I wasn't going to bother with the political messages in the series. I lied. And I say "messages," because there are several, and all of them contradict the others. The themes, ideas, and messages in these books are so clumsily presented, so poorly thought-out, and so utterly shallow that they don't merit real analysis. Small, local government is good! A wealthy upper class living off the toil of the poor oppressed peasants is bad! Redistribute all wealth! Everyone will obviously do this voluntarily, since there isn't going to be a large bureaucracy forcing people to comply! States' rights! Socialism! Suzanne Collins, if you can find a way in which socialism and small government can coexist in a large nation, please enlighten me. And lay off the damn carbohydrate metaphors. And write your next book in the past tense.

Catching Fire: Two stars.

Mockingjay: One star.

* If not, please report to the nearest Social Security office to sign up for your monthly disability check.

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