Friday, June 27, 2014

Of a Feather: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A review for Of a Feather, by Ken Goldman.

"This is a small town. Eventually everybody knows everybody, and things just overlaps, you know?"

Nutshell: The whole town has birds on the brain, though nobody realizes the extent of it. There are other, darker things at work at the town, though, and these sins are made all the more horrible for how simple and common they are. Of a Feather is about darkness and redemption, and the seemingly chance encounters that draw disparate persons together and drive them inexorably to either of these paths. The birds are just icing on the cake.

Trigger warnings for this story: attempted rape, child molestation, other child abuse (emotional, physical).

Atmosphere: 3 out of 4. The opening paragraphs of the prologue put the focus on the mall and immediately give color to the town. The descriptive language is similarly strong elsewhere in the book and important scenes are set well. Dreams are important to the story. It takes till chapter thirteen before it really feels like a horror novel, but that's okay.

Characters: 3 out of 4. Socrates is intelligent, not because he's a natural genius but because his name gave him something to aspire too. Jamie attaches herself to Socrates with a speed that I would find frustratingly quick in other stories, but her past makes it very plausible. I like that Dr. Groener is willing to accept unusual possibilities rather than stubbornly cling to his original conception of what is possible.

Plot: 3 out of 4. The characters drive the plot from beginning to end, with very little authorial guidance to poke them in this direction or that. The actions of one realistically reverberate through lines of connection to tap every other.

Writing Style: 3 out of 4. I like the opening quotes at the beginning of each part. They give an impression of what I'm soon to experience. Just as enjoyable is the sentence fragment at the beginning of each chapter, an excerpt from what is to come. There are a couple of technical issues, but nothing severe.

Worldbuilding: 3 out of 4. There's only a small amount here, but I judge by the skill of the thing and not its scope. Ken Goldman shows that you can get impressive mileage out of a thunderbird and a two-faced mask. An extra touch that I like is that nobody really knows what Wakinyan the Thunderbird is all about, but plenty of people are willing to believe that they know what he wants.

Details, details: [here there by spoilers]

I like Socrates Singer's name, but then I am drawn to the weird ones.

I was expecting something big and horrible (or at least big and weird) to be revealed about Gustav, Conqueror of the Axis.

"... visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and and to the fourth generation." There are some people that think that the Bible is talking about the vicious cycles that can perpetuate through families, and if that's true then the verse definitely applies to the story. Is it coincidence that Frankie and his ex-buddy Grinder are both receptors of a vicious cycle, two different kinds of abuse?

I can't help but wonder if Frankie wasn't as hopeless from the start as Socrates eventually decided he was. And what would have become of Socrates had he never touched the mask of Wakinyan that first time? Would he have matured into his power as normal, or were Socrates and Frankie both set on their different, but perhaps equally destructive, paths by certain formative experiences in their early childhood at the hands of adults?

Am I reading too much into it, or is there some mirror imagery to be had in how both experiences
could have been prevented by the intervention of their mothers?

I wasn't expecting Socrates to actually die at Frankie's hands. I figured that Frankie would die and then Socrates would go on a bird rampage.

Even so (or more accurately because of my surprise), the ending was very satisfying. Kind of surprisingly so, not because I had reason to doubt from the quality of the story but because it's all wrapped-up nice and neat and I don't often encounter that.

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