Basically, Things Fall Apart: Critiquing Jay Lake’s Green
Quick Links from the Episode:
- Here are links to Lake’s entry on Wikipedia, as well as the Tor memorial Jennifer mentioned in this week’s episode.
- Here’s an article from The Oregonian that details Lake’s struggles with cancer and his uniquely positive response. This is also where we learn that Green was inspired by his daughter, though the ebook version also includes a dedication to his daughter (see below).
- Lake’s blog about his cancer experience seems to have since been archived, but his author blog is still up here.
Our first Book We Hate pick of March, the premise of author Jay Lake’s book, Green, seemed promising when Paige picked it up years ago. The cover was intriguing as well, liberally painted with the titular color. The basic plot is interesting enough: a girl is sold into slavery and transported far from her homeland to train and serve as a courtesan of sorts in the Pomegranate Court. Despite being taken from a young age, the girl does not lose her rebellious spirit, and eventually makes her own path, bringing down those are responsible for her suffering. Unfortunately for Paige, the last two-thirds of the book did not live up to the hype.
Jay Lake was an acclaimed author before passing away from cancer in 2014. Lake’s father was a U.S. foreign service officer, so he grew up in a variety of exotic locales, including Taiwan and Nigeria, before finishing high school and attending college in the United States. Lake is only the second science fiction and fantasy author that BBE has reviewed and had a promising start to his writing career, winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in Science Fiction in 2004. Ultimately Lake published more than 300 stories and nine novels. Unfortunately, he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2008, and after a protracted battle with the disease passed away only a year after publishing the final book in the trilogy that Green began.
As Paige points out at the beginning of the episode, Green gets off to a decent start, but rapidly deteriorates after the first third or so of the book. The early writing style is intriguing with image-driven, almost lyrical prose that can be difficult to keep straight, but is pleasing to read nonetheless. The story is told supposedly from the perspective of the character, Green, as a child, but with intercessions into the childhood memories by a much older Green. This odd mix of part-present, part-past makes for an extremely unbelievable child narrator, with an awareness unlikely to be found in a three year old.
The plot quickly loses its way as Green loses hers. Following her revenge upon the Duke of Copper Downs who was ultimately responsible for the child trafficking Green had been sucked into, she finds that her home is no longer open to her. While taken in by an order of assassin-priestesses of the Lily Goddess, Green remains directionless and the plot itself seems to be random events strung together. More disturbing, however, are the numerous questionable sex scenes that adolescent Green is involved in, including with older authority figures – what we would recognize today as pedophilia and statutory rape.
Green could have been the start to an empowering female saga. The characters in the story are mostly women. In fact, they are predominantly strong women who stand up for their beliefs or for others. However, because of Lake’s dubious choice of age for his protagonist, Green’s exploration of her sexuality into more mature areas such as BDSM and inter-species sex seems inappropriate and is uncomfortable to read. Any arguments about a different age/time/world crumble in the face of Green’s willing participation in her own exploitation by those with power over her.
As if these more challenging themes were not enough, the story really falls apart towards the end of the book. Points that are evidently critical to the story are explained poorly or not at all, the prime example being religion suddenly becoming the center of the plot though it was barely touched on in the majority of the novel. All this to say, Jennifer gave Green two stars out of five – for the merit of the first part of the story – and would not recommend it to any bookish peeps.