Jan. 23rd, 2012

missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
It may be ironic, or appropriate, that a book largely about the search for identity seems to have so many problems finding its own identity. The opening is a series of false starts and wiped slates, as if Bray couldn't decide where to take her premise - psychological drama, horror and tragedy a la Lord of the Flies? Wacky reality TV-style antics, Survivor meets Fear Factor via Lost? And then there's the question of where to fit the corporate conspiracy plotline, or the cardboard stand-ins for various political figures? Is Agent Jones a heavy or a character in his own right? And are the messages about personal identity and empowerment to teen girls the focus, or merely incidental to the unremitting silliness?

Bray's strong points have always been her characterizations, and as a result, the story is strongest when focusing on her titular beauty queens. About a third of the way through, the novel's structure settles itself into an almost anthology-like exploration of each girl's discovery of her own identity; and, while some stories are better fleshed out than others, they weave a fascinating and believable patchwork that gives depth to their interactions.

Unfortunately, these genuine moments of joy and wonder are often interrupted by satirical and comedic elements that just plain don't jibe stylistically. Balancing satire and realism is a tricky job, and one that worked remarkably well in Going Bovine due largely to the overwrought fever-dream mentality that pervaded the whole story. Beauty Queens is at least ostensibly serious at times, and as a result the satirical elements tend to undermine the realistic ones, even though the tenets of both (think for yourself, be who you are, be wary of the messages of people who want your money or your favor) are the same, and good ones, to boot.

The book's biggest triumph, however, is the sense of fun that pervades the whole thing. If you can forgive its scattershot plot and schizophrenic changes in tone, Bray's sheer unrepentant joy in her own trademark zaniness is infectious - and for that reason, after some internal debate, I'm giving the story a B grade despite its flaws. Far too many authors who set out to Make A Point (TM) manage to completely lose their sense of humor along the way, and Bray deserves credit for at least attempting both, even if her story falls short of its potential. B
missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
It may be ironic, or appropriate, that a book largely about the search for identity seems to have so many problems finding its own identity. The opening is a series of false starts and wiped slates, as if Bray couldn't decide where to take her premise - psychological drama, horror and tragedy a la Lord of the Flies? Wacky reality TV-style antics, Survivor meets Fear Factor via Lost? And then there's the question of where to fit the corporate conspiracy plotline, or the cardboard stand-ins for various political figures? Is Agent Jones a heavy or a character in his own right? And are the messages about personal identity and empowerment to teen girls the focus, or merely incidental to the unremitting silliness?

Bray's strong points have always been her characterizations, and as a result, the story is strongest when focusing on her titular beauty queens. About a third of the way through, the novel's structure settles itself into an almost anthology-like exploration of each girl's discovery of her own identity; and, while some stories are better fleshed out than others, they weave a fascinating and believable patchwork that gives depth to their interactions.

Unfortunately, these genuine moments of joy and wonder are often interrupted by satirical and comedic elements that just plain don't jibe stylistically. Balancing satire and realism is a tricky job, and one that worked remarkably well in Going Bovine due largely to the overwrought fever-dream mentality that pervaded the whole story. Beauty Queens is at least ostensibly serious at times, and as a result the satirical elements tend to undermine the realistic ones, even though the tenets of both (think for yourself, be who you are, be wary of the messages of people who want your money or your favor) are the same, and good ones, to boot.

The book's biggest triumph, however, is the sense of fun that pervades the whole thing. If you can forgive its scattershot plot and schizophrenic changes in tone, Bray's sheer unrepentant joy in her own trademark zaniness is infectious - and for that reason, after some internal debate, I'm giving the story a B grade despite its flaws. Far too many authors who set out to Make A Point (TM) manage to completely lose their sense of humor along the way, and Bray deserves credit for at least attempting both, even if her story falls short of its potential. B

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