8.31.2011

Currently Reading: The Host

When we thought of the new planet—Earth, so dry, so varied, and filled with such violent, destructive denizens we could barely imagine them—our horror was sometimes overshadowed by our excitement. Stories spun themselves quickly around the thrilling new subject. The wars—wars! our kind having to fight!—were first reported accurately and then embellished and fictionalized. When the stories conflicted with the official information I sought out, I naturally believed the first reports.

But there were whispers of this: of human hosts so strong that the souls were forced to abandon them. Hosts whose minds could not be completely suppressed. Souls who took on the personality of the body, rather than the other way around.

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Synopsis: After experiencing life on more than the usual number of planets, one ‘soul’—an alien creature who lives by finding a host body and possessing it—attempts life on Earth, where her kind have suddenly taken over. Given the name Wanderer, she is placed in the body of a young woman who attempted suicide rather than be caught and possessed. But Melanie, the host, is awake in the back of Wanderer’s mind—and faced with a common enemy, the two become allies and then friends as they run from the souls’ society and seek the man Melanie loves.

Notes: At the risk of sounding trite, I could not put this book down.

I powered through most of it in an afternoon, enthralled by Meyer’s beautiful ability to set two characters at opposite interests and give the reader total, wholehearted sympathy for the both of them. The only thing that troubled me was that I couldn’t see a way for it to end well.

So when I reached the blank page after Wanderer’s final decision, I was furious. That was how Meyer had chosen to end it? I was so angry that I went and packed two bookshelves. And then so sad that I cried. When I woke up two and a half hours early the next morning, still on the point of tears, I went to re-read the end and see if I’d missed a glimmer of hope. As it turns out, I’d missed two chapters.

Turn past the blank page, readers. There's more!

The Host was not Meyer’s first novel, and it shows. The tale reads more smoothly than Twilight or Breaking Dawn. It’s not perfect, either; Meyer doesn’t even track with the laws of genre prose, the little dictums of adverb use and dialogue tags and the like. There are also a few small inconsistencies tucked among the pages.

I sometimes wonder, though, if Meyer’s X factor would still work if she were a more nuanced or elegant prosist. Anyone who can read at all can blast through one of her books, unhindered by complex wording or cerebral meandering. And for those to whom the spirit appeals, the read is a passionate, irresistible high. You dream about the story; you lie awake thinking about it; you get up and return to it again and again to absorb its depths and find just what it is that pulls you. Then, along comes someone to whom the spirit did not speak, and they raise an eyebrow and say “You liked this? Are you mad? It’s terrible writing,” and you stare at them and suck in your lower lip and wonder how they missed all the light and the glory.

It’s even more awkward when you can stand on both sides of that conversation at once. Fortunately, I hardly noticed flaws until I’d read significant sections of the book multiple times. Suspense kept me turning pages far too quickly to bother with critique.

Suspense—and the characters. I loved gentle Wanderer, who is on the journey to becoming human, and fierce, strong Melanie, who is trying very hard to stay human. I loved the fact that I could sympathize with the protagonist, despite her alien nature. I loved Jared even when I wanted to hit him, and I loved Ian even when he frightened me. Doc’s conflict, Jamie’s earnest friendship, and crazy Uncle Jeb’s cheery sanity all roused my affection and empathy.

As a general rule I despise love triangles, and bodice-ripper kissing makes me laugh, but the dynamics of the uncomfortable quadrangle in this story were too fascinating to prove an annoyance. With the exception of one scene, anyway. The whole thing is tangled up in Wanderer’s process of becoming human mentally and physically, and I appreciated the different progressions.

The story is more than the characters and romance, however, as Meyer explores the concept of what it means to be human. The insights come from a subtle but strong LDS perspective, focusing on the fall and redemption and hope of humanity. It's under the surface—you have to know what you're looking for—but the storyline grows organically from it. And while my Catholic eyes look rather differently upon many a point of doctrine and practice, I often find sympathy with Meyer's spirit.

The name Wanderer is a fascinating choice, especially set alongside Melanie Stryder. Symbolically speaking, the Wanderer is a seeker, someone lost and searching for true life. Melanie’s surname conjures up the famous line from Bilbo’s poem about Aragorn, “Not all those who wander are lost.” The names fit.

Some of my favorite considerations involved what it means to be physically human—the blurred lines between the soul’s reactions and the body’s. Others involved the almost perfect connection I felt with Wanderer. Wanda, as she was later nicknamed, got too comfortable with deception for my comfort; other than that, reading her became like holding a mirror to the inside of my own soul. Who I want to be, if not who I am.

Despite a handful of rough lines and one or two rough scenes, I thought the book was fantastic. Orson Scott Card’s comment on the back cover is well spoken; I now trust Meyer, more than almost any other living author, to take the dark and the impossible and find a way toward light and hope.

Special thanks to Briana, who told me that if I wanted to read the book I could take her copy. I loved it.

Recommendation: Read it and enjoy being human.

2 comments:

  1. Bravo review!

    Wanderer's wandering journey is a sympathetic one, and the "multiple personalities" fighting over one body's rights and desires is fascinating.

    --Arabella

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Arabella! One of my favorite books I've read in a long time. I think I sold another friend or two on it the other day. :D

    ReplyDelete

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