Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Things that I Read:
This week: The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
Grade: G for Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!
Let it be known that I am not a fan of horror movies. It was with some trepidation that I picked up this book at all, because everything about it from the creepy ass cover to the description on the jacket flap just screams "Not a book with fluffy bunnies in it." However, I am a big fan of the macabre and I've been known to read my share of books full of graphic violence and generally nasty business, and this book came to my attention from positive reviews in various print journals, as well as Amazon.com's "Customers who bought this item also bought" feature which has lead me down many an interesting path before. This is nominally a Young Adult novel, which presumably means it was written with a teen audience in mind, though I have a hard time determining which teens I know would actually read it. The protagonist, Will Henry, is a boy of 12, so perhaps this was the motivation behind the designation. However, I read a book a few months ago, The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti, which similarly featured a teenage character, yet that was considered "adult." Ah well, such things are peculiar even to this well-read librarian. On to the review in earnest then..
To say that this book is horrifying is putting it mildly. This book scared the crap out of me. There, I said it. Now what is interesting is not that this book was scary, but WHY it was scary. Was I frightened by the menacing Anthropophagi with their razor sharp teeth and gaping maws in the middle of their chests? Was I horrified by the gnashing of bones or the tearing of limbs? Eh. I mean, yeah it was gross. But for some reason, the only image I could keep in my mind was this guy.
There is just something about a non-specific blobby monster that is profoundly un-scary to me. I mean, really? REALLY? I'm supposed to be afraid of this thing? There has to be some basis in reality. I guess I just can't suspend my disbelief enough to be genuinely frightened by something so silly.
So what was it that horrified me so by this book? Well, I don't want to get too spoilery here, but lets just say that there are characters in this book infected with parasites. Horrible horrible parasites that worm their way out of one's skin and through their eyeballs. And THAT my friends, makes me pee my pants. Because monsters are monsters. No cryptozoologist is ever going to convince me that chupachabras are real or any other silly monsters of legend. But eyeball worms? Those exist, folks. There are hookworms and tapeworms and filarial worms that cause elphantitis and lets not even mention all the insects that can make your skin cave in or diseases like Ebola. That stuff is real. And holy, crap, gang, I am never going to go to the jungle ever. Much of my fear of being eaten from the inside out came after I finished The Lost City of Z which is the true story of Percy Fawcett's hopeless quest to find El Dorado. The Monstrumologist is just as graphic in its descriptions. While the parasites infecting the people in the story are imaginary, I couldn't help but bring to mind all the true cases of awful that really do exist in the world. Interestingly, the whole parasite thing is like a minor minor part of the actual story, but enough for me.
Plot-wise, overall I found it rather difficult to relate to any of the characters. The story is taken from the journals of the recently deceased Will Henry, an old eccentric who left the pages to a local museum. It relates his experiences as a child working with Pellinore Warthrop, a well-known monstrumologist, or monster hunter, in their investigation of a series of murders carried out by aforementioned beasties. **Spoiler Alert** guess what folks, the kid doesn't die in the book because he grows up to be this old man. I kind of hate when that happens. Its hard to imagine characters in mortal peril when you already know that they come out of their adventures relatively unscathed. As for everyone else in the story, I could really care less about them. You know from the get go that few if any of the secondary characters survive the outing. Then its just a matter of waiting for them to all die in varying, splashy ways.
I would, however, recommend this book to people who like gross out horror movies. The graphic descriptions of body parts being ripped apart, is somewhat comparable to the "Saw" movies. At times, it was more like a catalog of mayhem and destruction than an actual story. Really really gross, at times really really scary (parasites!!) but lacking a bit in its heart. Overally, I enjoyed it, though. Well written generally and quick to read. Would I read a sequel? Meh. Probably not. I "get" the conceit, I just don't need more of the same. Even in the last 60 pages I was sort of just waiting for them to get on with it already.
Final Word: You can read it in a dark room on a stormy night, but I wouldn't bring it on the plane ride for your trip through the Amazon or Congo unless you aren't especially terrified of flesh eating horrible worms.
Final Word (Revised): The Monstrumologist is now a 2010 Printz Honor book. Congrats!