“The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do.”
Hugh Howey‘s initially self-published book turned bestseller PA sensation, Wool, is set in an underground silo in the aftermath of an apparent nuclear fallout. It is the story of the out-of-control repercussions that gain momentum after the silo’s Sheriff, Holston, volunteers to go outside for “cleaning”: a death sentence in which the cleaners only survive the toxic outside world long enough to clean the sensors that allow the silo’s inhabitants a small view of the desolation that surrounds them. There is no coming back into the silo after a cleaning, and when his replacement, Juliette, starts piecing together his reasons for wanting to go outside, shit gets totally cray cray.
I am somewhat nervous about reviewing this book, because it has some rather…rabid fans. So when I say what I’m going to say, rabid fans, I just ask you one thing: be gentle with me.
I didn’t love this book. I liked it, but I didn’t like it a lot. Just plain old liked it.
It’s not that it’s a bad book, it’s more a matter of very personal readerly preference, and in this case the main reason I didn’t love this book is the same reason I didn’t love some other notable science fiction books that some of my friends shit their pants over (The Dog Stars or The Windup Girl come to mind): the writing is just too masculine.
Maybe you’ve noticed this or maybe you haven’t, but I don’t read male writers all that often. When I say that the writing is too masculine, it’s not even something I can really define beyond that, other than the whole time I was reading it I was really, really aware that I was reading something written by a straight male. The whole feel of it just felt…mannish. And it’s not that I dislike men, or books written by men (some of my favorite books are written by them!), but I just never seem to like books that have this feel to them. I have no idea why. Reader response theory is kind of a whacky thing.
Anyways, beyond this totally intangible thing that I can’t really describe better than that (am I a terrible reader/writer/critic because of that?), I also never felt emotionally invested in the story because the character development was, well, awful. With the exception of Bernard, who was almost clownish in his villainy, the rest of the characters were basically indistinguishable from each other. I mean, I liked Juliette, and I didn’t want her to die any of the one million times she seemed on the verge of suffocating, but I wouldn’t have cried if she did. I was thinking about this in the shower today (it’s not weird, I promise), and often, when I reread books that I consider my “favorites,” it’s because I want to revisit old characters whom I love. If I don’t love the characters, I don’t love the book. End of story.
Also, just FYI, if some dude pulled a Lukas and confessed he had told his mom about me after THREE CONVERSATIONS, I’d strongly consider taking out a restraining order. These aren’t teenagers, these are adults, and that shit is just fucking weird. Granted, they’re adults living in a super fucked up authoritarian underground bunker and the circumstances surrounding that conversation were pretty desperate, but still. A lot of the emotions were just…off in terms of the timeline.
Despite these issues, I did like the book. The first part of the novel in particular, titled “Holston,” was excellent, a novella in classic P.K. Dick style in that it was a haunting and psychologically manipulative and fucked up. The rest of the book was good, but it didn’t have the bleak poetry of the first part.
Overall, this was a good, claustrophobic post-apocalyptic novel. I know the exact readers I would recommend it to and whom I know would LOVE it. I just wasn’t one of those readers.
For music, I have TWO songs I’d like to include. First, because I think this a perfect match for the angsty claustrophobia of the silo. Also because I’ve been obsessively revisiting the music I listened to when I was fourteen, so sue me!
Also, Kadavar’s “Doomsday Machine,” because really, isn’t that what the silo is?
Where I got it: library discards, librarian privileges hup hup!