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Xiphias Gladius

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Just finished MY REAL CHILDREN [May. 20th, 2014|09:01 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
papersky's new novel My Real Children was released today. And I bought it today. And I read it today. And I finished it today.

Like a lot of Jo's work, its "science-fiction-ness" isn't the attractive part of it. It's about people and relationships; it's a lot like literary fiction, except for that it's enjoyable.

I think I'm going to throw in a cut-tag here, so I can mention a few mild spoilers -- nothing that would really damage one's enjoyment of the book to know -- indeed, I don't think you CAN spoil the plot, because the plot isn't the point. What you need to know about the plot is right there in the first chapter and on the dust jacket: Patricia is at the end of her life, and remembers two different lives she had, one where she said "yes" to the man who asked her to marry her, and one where she said "no".

But that's not just a divergence point for her -- it's a divergence point for the whole world. Neither world is a heaven, neither is a hell, but one is much, much better than the other. And the world in which Patricia made the right choice for her, the world which gave her the more fulfilling and happier life -- is the worse world as a whole.

Were I writing a high school paper about the book, I'd talk about how one theme is how everybody is interconnected, and everyone's actions matter for everything else. As a science fiction reader, my SF-mind is trying to puzzle out exactly WHY one world went one way and the other went the other -- if a woman refuses a proposal of marriage, why should that lead to a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan something like thirty years later?

Because she graded a classroom of girls more harshly than she should have when she was upset about ending the relationship, or more generously than she should have when she was happy about getting married? Did one of those girls go on to work for a better world more effectively when she got a better grade? Was Patricia more effective in her letter-writing and activism when she was driven by her own misery?

I bet Jo has thoughts of her own about WHY it happened one way or another, at least in broad strokes, but I don't really think that it matters all that much.

One other note about something that stuck with me, just in passing. Patricia's mother has senile dementia in both worlds. And one thing that she says to one of her granddaughters, Patricia's daughters, is, "I don't know who you are, but I know I love you."

That's something that my Great-Uncle Mel said at one point. I don't think I ever told that story to Jo, so I don't think she got it from me. Which means that it's either something that Jo figured out on her own, or it's something she saw in someone else.

[User Picture]From: papersky
2014-05-21 01:20 am (UTC)
You didn't tell me that, but it's something another friend told me her grandmother told her. (I checked she was OK with it before using it in the book, obviously.) A lot of the dementia stuff is from life, either directlty or indirectly.

In the FAQ on this book on my webpage, I give my answer to your question about why things changed the world.


Also, you are just the kind of reader I want -- bought it and read it today. Perfect! And bonus, you didn't compare it to anything I hate, so you are just the kind of reviewer I want too. It's a good thing we're friends!
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[User Picture]From: tournevis
2014-05-21 01:48 am (UTC)
"I always nuke Miami."

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[User Picture]From: thnidu
2014-05-21 04:37 am (UTC)
Oh hell. This one is too good to pass up.
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[User Picture]From: wcg
2014-05-21 05:26 pm (UTC)
"it's a lot like literary fiction, except for that it's enjoyable." may just be the best thing I've read all week.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2014-05-22 01:01 am (UTC)
Are my literature prejudices showing again?
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[User Picture]From: happybat
2014-05-24 06:14 pm (UTC)
I was crushed to read that! Some literary fiction is (to me, to some) compulsively readable - just differently so. Have you really never had that experience with literary fiction?
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2014-05-24 06:43 pm (UTC)
I've been burned by stories, books, and plays about people who are significantly less interesting than the people I know personally.
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[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2014-05-22 01:00 am (UTC)
I'm glad I persevered. It got quite interesting after Marjorie and Mark showed up. I'd probably have been more glad if I'd just skipped to there in the first place.

Edited at 2014-05-22 01:03 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2014-05-22 01:07 am (UTC)
So, that's about, what, four or five chapters in, and then the split is right around chapter 6 and 7?

So, for you, you'd want to go straight to Oxford, get just enough background to know where she's coming from, and then go directly into the meat of the story, with the parallel lives?

Makes sense. For me, I was happy with the first three or so chapters, establishing her childhood, which is sort of the foundation for both Pat and Trish. There's always a bit of that child in both of her lives, so I was glad to have it as a background -- but, yeah, it's not part of the book where anything HAPPENS, exactly.
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[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2014-05-22 05:41 am (UTC)
Well, since it's already out and doing well, no point in critiquing, other than to urge perseverance (or skipping) for anyone who finds the first part slow and dull. Somewhere in the "never" chapter the book hit its stride. I assume Jo doesn't hate Lark Rise to Candlemas. That's what the good stride pacing reminded me of. The subject would always change just before I could get tired of the previous subject; this kept it page-turning even without any starts or finishes, or drama.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2014-05-22 03:05 pm (UTC)
I liked the beginning -- the part which I didn't like as much was that, at the end, Patricia explicitly thinks about how, in one timeline, she was personally better off but the world was worse, and in the other, the other way around. I felt like I had wanted that to be just something that I'd noticed myself.

I mean, I guess it wouldn't make sense for Patricia NOT to notice that; she's a wise and introspective person, so of COURSE she'd notice that and think of it as worthy of comment to herself. But, I dunno. I felt kind of like it was showing off how the magic trick was done, maybe.

Of course, that's what makes the book work. If the world AND her life were worse in one and better in the other -- if one choice was actually BETTER than the other, rather than both choices being obviously both better and worse -- then the whole book would fail.
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From: (Anonymous)
2014-05-22 07:11 pm (UTC)
/houseboat here/

All I've seen is just the first 7 chapters on Boingboing, but I expect you're right. I hope to avoid spoilers....
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[User Picture]From: papersky
2014-05-23 01:46 am (UTC)
Jo read the beginning of it last year and gave up because bored.

Just FYI. And I have no problem with you doing the same with my books if the pacing doesn't work for you.
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