Wednesday, May 29, 2013

REVIEW: In Darkness

Lake, N.  (2012).  In Darkness.  New York:  Bloomsbury.

337 pages.

I'm not gonna lie, ya'll.  I got stuck in this book.  Like crazy cartoon nightmare stuck:  The floor and walls all turned to sticky bubblegum and every time I tried to move or read I became more tangled and it turned into a suffocating mess that gets so complicated that you wake up screaming, "I'll never leave gum on the bottom of a desk again!"

Except in this case, it was having to read and not wanting to read and thinking of all the other things I should be doing.

It was bad.

Arguably, my struggles with In Darkness are not solely the book's fault.  I was adjusting to a first year in yet another new job, living in a new town, auditioning at the community theater and trying to act for the first time since middle school, etc.  But, now that it's summer vacation and given the fact that it still took me longer than it should have to finish this book, I let that stand as evidence of how little I cared for it.

Appetizer:  Switching back and forth between narratives of "Then" and "Now," In Darkness shares the stories of Shorty, who is trapped in the rubble of a hospital that has collapsed in the 2010 Haitian earthquake and how he got to be there, long ago separated from his twin sister with whom he thinks he shares a soul.  It also takes on retelling some of the biography of Toussaint l'Ouverture as he led a rebellion to free Haitian slaves.  The two protagonists dream of one another, impacting their choices in their own times.

Here's a dramatic retelling of my thoughts as I began each new chapter of this book:

A now chapter:  "Hmmm, he's stuck in the dark, I wonder when he'll get out."
A then chapter:  "I do not connect with this character.  Hopefully this chapter will be over soon and I'll be able to read about the present."
A now chapter:  "Huh, he's still in the dark.  Surely, something will happen soon and he'll get out.  Otherwise this might become boring, despite the flashbacks to when he was younger.
A then chapter:  Ugh.  Man, Toussaint was older when this is being depicted.  I can't even connect with him as being a young adult character."
A now chapter:  "I am so sick of him being in the dark.  This chapter feels like filler so that stuff can happen in the other chapters.  How much longer until this chapter is over and I can read about someone else?
A then chapter:  "I am so bored.  I would skim, but that goes against everything I believe in, especially when reading a Printz award book.  Plus, I'd hate to miss the moment when this story becomes engaging.  Is this chapter over yet?  I'd rather read about Shorty being stuck in the collapsed hospital.
A now chapter:  Jebus, he's still trapped.  Man, there's a lot of dark and serious stuff in this book.  I feel nothing for most of these characters and wish this book would be over already.
A then chapter:  I feel nothing.
A now chapter:  Lalala.  My eyes are scanning the page, but I aaam elsewheeeeeere.
A now chapter:  I'm sorry, the connection has failed.  Please, try again.  Please, try again.  Please, try again.  Please, try again.  Please, try again.  Please, try again.
And so forth.

I don't want you to think that the writing was bad or the story wasn't well told.  My reasons for not liking this book are all due to me instead of the story itself.  It just didn't speak to me.  And the fact that this book was, in part, depicting a recent tragedy in Haiti and won the Printz award somehow grated on me--like the book was awarded to draw attention to the Haitian earthquake instead of saying this was the best book of 2012.  It was a well-written book on an important topic, but it didn't win me over.

From what I could tell, Lake did his research.  Admittedly, I'm no expert.  But I was left with a deeper understanding of aspects of Haitian culture than any textbook or newspaper has evern given me.  Granted, I did find myself wishing for more English translations of some of the French and Kreyol phrases and songs.  But nonetheless, a student could learn a lot about Haiti from this book, beyond what is presented in the media.

Dinner Conversation:

"I am the voice in the dark, calling out for your help.
I am the quiet voice that you hope will not turn to silence, the voice you want to keep hearing cos it means someone is still alive.  I am the voice calling for you to come and dig me out.  I am the voice in the dark, asking you to unbury me, to bring me from the grave out into the light, like a zombi.
I am a killer and I have been killed, too, over and over; I am constantly being born.  I have lost more things than I have found; I have destroyed more things than I have built.  I have seen babies abandoned in the trast and I have seen the dead come back to life." (p. 1)

"I don't know what happened.  I was in bed minding my own zafe, then everything shook and I fell and the darkness started.  Or maybe everything else fell." (p. 3)

"On the night that rebellion caught like a flame in Haiti, the slave named Toussaint swung down from his horse.  It was a good horse--it had been a gift to him from his master, Bayou de Libertas, and despite its age it still served him well.  It was, Toussaint reflected, a fitting horse for him to ride.  He, like his horse, was old and had served his master well.
Soon, though, there would be no more masters, and no more slaves.  Or so Boukman hoped." (p. 37)

"I can see the whole of Port-au-Prince--the palace, the homes of the rich, the open-air prison of Site Soley.  It's all collapsed.  The palace is just dust and rubble, the homes are destroyed.  Only Site Soley looks the same, and that's cos Site Soley was a ruin to begin with." (p. 54-55).

"Biggie, he was the general of Route 9, and before that he was the right-hand man of Dread Wilme and a big dog in the Site.  He did all the shit the government should have done in the slums.  He funded the schools, provided security.  He punished thieves and rapists.
He sold drugs and killed people.
He made me what I am today.
I have not forgiven him for that, not yet." (p. 71)

Tasty Rating:  !!

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