Saturday, November 10, 2007

Book report

Soon I Will Be Invincible

by Austin Grossman
Pantheon Books: 2007

I have been trying to carve out time to read more "proper books" lately. As a teacher of rhetoric, what I mostly read are student papers, and I have been feeling a need for more finished prose. In between academic articles, I have been reading some popular fiction and literature, and in the middle of that lot was Austin Grossman's superhero novel.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, Grossman is a clearly capable writer: he balances plot and character development nicely, and the book moves along briskly. He has a deft hand with description, even detailing the costumes various heroes and villains wear without sounding silly, and he handles shifting points of view well - the book is narrated in alternate chapters by the villain Dr. Impossible and the hero Fatale - giving the book a strong voice in either case. He even narrates in the present tense without getting tiresome.

On the other hand, I'm not sure what this book is. Is it a serious literary novel using the conventions and tropes of superhero fiction? Well, sometimes it seems so, with Dr. Impossible musing at length on the ebb and flow of power and control and the nature of identity, but then it winks at the reader and gets a bit campy and too self-aware. Is it an attempt to write a realistic superhero story? Maybe, but the plot doesn't require all that much less suspension of disbelief than your typical Haneygram, however much naturalistic dialogue is grafted on. Is it just disguised fanfic, better-written and promoted? I don't think so, but sometimes it is tempting to think oh, that's Batman and Wonder Woman making out and if those are the Avengers, then those guys must be the Justice League and so on.

Overall, I got the impression that if the book were read by someone not already steeped in the superhero tradition, it would be too outre to make much of an impression, and if were read by someone familiar with the spandex set, it wouldn't contain enough new insights or treatments to be exceptional or even unusual.

I guess I enjoyed it, but I'm still not sure why.

Bonus review preview, How the heck did I miss this? Department:

I picked up a copy of Samurai: Heaven and Earth Volume 1 today.

A ronin versus the Three Musketeers? All four of them!?

How did this slip by me for over a year?

I've only given it a quick read so far, but I like what I've seen. More soon.

No comments: