Monday, April 9, 2012

Hothouse by Chris Lynch

Published August 24, 2010.

If you do it right, it can be a life. The hothouse, the guys, the glory. But just like that, it can all go up in smoke.

In the beginning it was strange, ya know, because of all that we had lost. But there was something about it that felt so good and so right, too: "I'm so proud of you, Russ." "We'll always be here for you, man." "Heroes don't pay for nothin' in this town." It was nonstop. The mayor shook my hand. Ladies sent food. I've never eaten so much baked ham in my life.

And now? Now the phone won't stop ringing from the crazies ready to blame me. My mom has to cry herself to sleep. They take a firefighter, a man, and they pump him up so big. . . . But once they start taking it away from you, they don't stop until they leave nothing on the bones.

First they needed heroes, then they needed blood.

I feel kind of bad that I didn't love HOTHOUSE because it's supposed to be this deep read about kids getting over the deaths of their firefighter dads. It's supposed to be touching and endearing and I think it was supposed to make me cry but overall I didn't feel all that much.

I liked the topic of essentially canonizing the dead and then realizing, after the fact, that they might not have been perfect. That was probably my favorite part of the book because it elicited the strongest emotion from me. The way the town just turned on these two innocent boys was quite frankly disgusting. They elevated the two dead firefighters to god-like levels. They set up their own expectations. But these guys ended up not meeting those expectations and instead of looking in on themselves for blame the town projected it onto innocent people, as if it were them that did all the saint-claiming. That was kind of hard to read, especially when it got to reading how poorly Russ was treated. It even got physical and that was pretty disgusting. It shows the whole mob mentality all raw and front and center. I liked that for how horrifying it was.

But the rest of it, I felt like there was this distance to the MC that I just couldn't close. I got him talking about how his dad's death was affecting him and all of that but it seemed to gloss over the really important parts, like the actual death, the inquiry, the newspaper articles, things like that. All of that was skimmed by and you kind of got this afterthought reaction from Russ about everything that was going on. He's essentially gone through his life naive and not willing to see what was right in front of his face and I felt the narrative was that kind of distant. It kind of came crumbling down at the end and that gap closed a little but not that much and it was really too little too late.

The voice was kind of irksome too. Hanging out on the edge of trying to be a little too hip and teenage-ish. It rubbed me the wrong way a bit right from the beginning. I'm sure that played into how closely I didn't get to the text but nothing I can really do about that.

Ultimately it wasn't a bad read and I did enjoy reading HOTHOUSE but I didn't really connect with it. The elements that Russ was reacting to were kept in the background, thus eliminating weight from his reactions, I thought. They weren't grounded out at all. I was in Russ's head the whole time but I still felt a distance, like you could see him lying to himself, which he really was with all of those flashback memories he kept having. But I think those ended up doing the story a disservice because it kept him too far away from the present. It's a bit subdued in terms of recent contemporaries but not bad. It's different so it has that going for it, especially since it's a male POV. I've read better but it's still okay.

Ban Factor: Medium - For swearing. But that would require the banners to actually read. Probably not going to happen.
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