Thursday, June 11, 2020

Book 237: The Sky Is Yours


"Swanny breathes in deeply. Perhaps the room brings back memories because of its scent, loam and toffee mixed together—which in fact smells nothing like Swanny's home, but which is the scent of nostalgia itself: sweetness shot through with corrupting experience."

Dates read: May 27- June 1, 2018

Rating: 7/10

As hard as it seems to be to believe, there is still unexplored territory in our world. We've pretty much seen all the land parts, but our oceans are vast and deep and we've experienced only a tiny fraction of them. Some of the weirdest life forms that exist are the ones that live near the bottom, and we don't even really know what all of them are! New discoveries of very unpleasant-looking things are constantly being made! It's half exciting, half kind of one of those things where you wonder if we should be disturbing things that have clearly evolved to be perfectly happy without us, thanks.

Of all the horrifying things that could come up from the seas, it's two dragons that have arisen to menace the skies of what was once something like New York City in Chandler Klang Smith's The Sky Is Yours. It's never explicitly stated whether it's an alternate world or set far in the future, but the echoes of our own world are strong. About 50 years before the book begins, the dragons came out of the sea and began to circle the skies...never stopping, never resting, never eating, just breathing flame. The city tries to hang on for a while, but the middle classes eventually empty out, leaving behind only the incarcerated, those too poor to leave, and the extremely wealthy, who refuse to abandon their land holdings. As one can imagine, this situation is tense and ripe for conflict.

Teenagers Duncan Ripple and Baroness Swan Dahlberg belong to the uber-rich classes of the city. Duncan is a YouTube-style star who has been endlessly indulged for his whole life. Swan has been raised mostly in isolation, with a steady diet of Austen-esque novels which have given her a love for witty repartee, propriety, and the idea of a passionately consuming relationship. Their marriage is being negotiated, corporate merger-style, when Duncan goes out for a spin in his flying machine and crash-lands on an island of trash, where he meets Abracadabra, or Abby for short. That's not really her name, but it's the closest thing she knows from the woman who took her to the island and raised her there before she died, leaving Abby all alone. She and Duncan start sleeping together, and she becomes devoted to him...which he finds so enjoyable he brings her back with him to the city (a development that causes his ostensible fiancee Swan significant distress). The marriage does go through, but almost immediately thereafter the Ripple home is attacked by a marauding gang, driving the three teens into the streets and a world none of them has ever known.

This book is weird. Not garden-variety weird either, really weird. So much so that even quite a while after reading it, I'm not quite able to say whether or not I liked it. I found it undeniably compelling and interesting and loved the character work it does. I also found it alienating and often hard to follow or buy into even if I could follow it. Although it's a debut, it's a very assured book, with Smith seemingly feeling little need to engage in anything resembling explanation. It doesn't feel hostile to the reader, per se, so much as content to be enjoyed by those willing to go along with it and leave in the dust those who want to understand. Understanding isn't what it's trying to offer. Nor does its ending, which feels organic and earned, feel compelled to tie everything up in a nice neat little bow. There's a general sort of message, but what it seems to want, mostly, is get the reader to think about it rather than present an answer.

It's hard to know who (or who not) to recommend this book to. I wouldn't have recommended it to myself but I more or less enjoyed reading it, mostly, once I got into the flow of it. It's a fantasy/sci-fi novel in some ways, literary fiction in others, with elements that will likely be off-putting to those who particularly gravitate to either of those genres. It is very odd. I will say that if anything I've written about it has intrigued you, it's worth giving it a go. You might find that it works for you!

One year ago, I was reading: The Coming Plague (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: The Girl With All The Gifts

Three years ago, I was reading: The Man Without A Face

Four years ago, I was reading: The Name of the Rose

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