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Book Notes: Under My Roof

A short YA novel about a telepathic kid whose dad builds a nuclear bomb and declares their house an independent nation.

By Nick Mamatas (nihilistic_kid)
Soft Skull Press, 2007
Started: Tuesday, January 22nd
Finished: Friday, February 1st

My thoughts:

Frankly, I was unimpressed by this book. It was one of those books where I only continued reading because I wanted to wrap it up, not because I felt driven by the story. It felt pretty slow to start, there didn't seem to be a clear direction, many of the characters seemed rather vague, and there were many of them that I could barely keep straight. I wasn't rooting for any particular character to succeed. The climax felt somewhat pointless, and the dénouement was a fairly weak bullet-point list of character reactions and summaries that disappointed me.

Here's the main idea of the story: the U.S. is a weak, economically depressed, dystopian semi-fascist country with its resources stretched unbearably thin in fighting meaningless wars in dozens of countries. One fed-up citizen decides he wants out, and builds a dirty nuclear bomb in his basement, then declares independence. Okay, interesting premise, but at this point, the story seems to lose all direction. The expected things happen -- supporters arrive, the U.S. sends the military in, hijinks ensue but things go nowhere and continue going nowhere for a while. The new mini-nation is full of flat characters that fit all sorts of anti-authoritarian stereotypes and do nothing but provide comic relief. The military is bumbling and helpless. The main character is almost entirely a passive observer with no opinions or goals of his own.

And, okay, right, the protagonist is just a kid, and the fact that life happens to him and he doesn't really have any control is a commentary on the reality of being a kid and blah blah blah, but this kid's telepathic and his dad has built a nuclear bomb and he shouldn't just be hanging around taking it all in stride and seeing what happens, he should be getting scared as hell and making decisions and trying to do something. I was a kid, a pretty smart one, and there was almost never a time where I just sat there thinking "huh, interesting, let's see what happens next." I was constantly thinking up plans, and judging things, and struggling for control. I think most kids are like that. It's not a story when the main character is just as much an observer as we are, and it doesn't strike me as how a real kid would act--even a telepathic kid living in a depressing police state with a wacky father.

So while the book had its moments, and clever turns of phrase and keen pop-culture references, it largely felt contrived and pointless, and that disappointed me. I read nihilistic_kid's journal, and his criticism of poor writing is always spot-on, and he's a really witty and insightful and sarcastic guy, and I had high hopes for this book. I even had him sign it, mere minutes after I bought it at Readercon: inside the front cover it says, "Ryan -- prostate not included! Nick Mamatas," which is by far the most interesting autograph I've ever gotten.

Problems:

On page 9, Daniel sells "the car" and buys an old station wagon. On page 17, he takes the car downtown and then shows up at home on foot with a bunch of hundred-dollar bills, implying he sold the station wagon. Meanwhile, Geri keeps running errands, I guess in a second, heretofore unmentioned car? Then on page 24, Tommy Case points out that "the car's still here," and on page 26, Nick Pasalquas casts "a glance at the beat-up old station wagon," which is inexplicably back in the family's possession despite being sold earlier. Perhaps it wasn't sold, just rented out for a few days?

The car doesn't show up for the rest of the book; this seems like a case of a continuity error introduced in a revision.

P. 58, ¶ 2: "three degree burns"?

P. 149: All measurements are given in inches. I'm sure the Weinberg property is larger than 40" by 200".

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
jeaniek
Feb. 4th, 2008 12:04 pm (UTC)
hee hee hee ha ha hoo hoo hooo :)

40" by 200" :)

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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