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The Marbury Lens

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I mentioned this in the "Whatcha Reading?" thread but now that I've finished it, figured I'd throw a thread down for anybody who wanted to gab about it.

First of all, WARNING: "The Marbury Lens" (TML) is definitely not for little ones.  It features graphic violence, language, and sexual situations.  This review will mention those things in more detail, so just a heads up if you're delicate.  Also, beware of the Wall o' Text ahead.

TML is about Jack, a boy who is kidnapped by a pederast doctor named Freddie, and almost raped.  His kidnapping, almost rape, and subsequent escape cover the breadth of a handful of pages.  Jack is in and out of danger so fast that there's little to no time for proper suspense.  Jack and his best friend Conner decide to get back at Freddie, but it goes a bit wrong and (without spoiling too much) the boys try to put the incident behind them as Jack takes off for London to attend some school.

In London, he meets Henry, a twenty-something with a pair of purple glasses.  Jack puts the glasses on and is taken to the nightmare alternate reality of Marbury.  There he meets Ben and Griffin, two boys he has some connection to, and finds out that Conner is there too, but as a twisted, murderous half-man/half-monster thing out for his blood.  Through the rest of the book, Jack finds himself becoming weirdly addicted to Marbury, even though uses the glasses is negatively affecting his social life and things start to fall apart around him.

Okay, summary over, now to the meat and potatoes.  I didn't like this book.  Not for it's violence or harsh language, but because it didn't pull me in, it didn't scare me, and it didn't convince me anything mattered.  There were times I (and indeed Jack himself) thought that Marbury was a figment of imagination.  We're flat out told that death in Marbury doesn't mean anything in the normal world.  And even though Smith goes on about how people are connected, it doesn't feel that way.  Henry is an utter stranger to Jack in the real world, Conner is a brainless thug in Marbury who appears only briefly and never says anything, and Ben and Griffin are just boys we're TOLD Jack feels connected to.  This all comes together to make a whole lot of blah that I didn't give a hoot about.

There was no tension, because I never felt like consequences mattered in Marbury.  So what if Jack is gored and maimed horribly?  He'll wake up in the real world, and considering how this is negatively impacting his life, that would be for the best.  There were a few points when I thought Marbury was a metaphor for PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) or addiction, and if it had been, that would have been very clever.  Jack certainly displays all the signs of an addict, and the world of Marbury seems tailor made just for Jack, with weird coincidences appearing between the two worlds.  But it isn't.  Marbury is real and the coincidences are just that: happenstance, dumb luck.  So much so that it felt sloppy and/or pointless.

There is no rhyme or reason to Marbury.  Jack puts on the glasses in one instance, and he's in Marbury for a few hours, but loses days in the real world.  Then he puts them on later, and is there for days, but only loses hours on Earth.  This happens constantly, and it's clear to see that the discrepencies in time fluctuate to satisfy the needs of the plot.  I can see the strings the puppetmaster is using here and that's bad.  

And the horror.  It isn't scary.  Smith (the author) goes for shock rather than fear, gore as opposed to dread.  Which is a shame because he hits on two things teenage boys are terrified of at a primal level: being raped, and the literal and metaphorical loss of their manhood.  The potential rape of Jack, as I mentioned, is there and gone too fast to be properly scary.  The multiple (multiple multiple multiple ad nauseum almost) examples of genital mutilation in Marbury is just gore on gore.  It's gross, not scary.  There was this great chance to really dig the hooks into a teenage boy's psyche with the idea of being unmanned, emasculated, etc and it's never touched.  Every now and then Smith just pop up with another "Oh yeah and this guy has had his genitals cut off. Scary, right?"  Noooope.  Just gross.  Part of what made me buy this was that Smith is a self-professed Stephen King fan.  Sadly, there's none of the mounting dread to be found here that King applies with such abundance in his works.  

And while on the topic of genitals (hoo boy is that a terrible way to start a sentence) there is a lot of latent homoeroticism in the book.  Boys are constantly getting naked, or talking about erections, or describing them, or making mention of sleeping in the same bed, or leaving the door open while showering, or stripping in front of each other, or their clothes being torn away, or bathed, etc etc.  I have nothing against homosexuals of any stripe, and also think that if this idea had been explored with more care or skill, it could have enhanced the book.  but it isn't.  Boys just keep getting naked for some reason.  I mean, the joking around in the real world between Jack and Conner, I get.  It's normal for teenage boys to make homophobic remarks and give each other crap about getting aroused in front of girls.  That's normal and some of the most convincing dialogue was when Conner was teasing Jack.  That was good stuff.  But most of what I'm talking about is just...odd.  It feels out of place, especially since it crops up so much.

TML isn't all bad though.  The conflict that arises from Jack's addiction and how it impacts his blossoming love life is interesting, and some of the best parts of the book are when Jack is struggling with himself, or Conner, about using the lens, and how people react after Jack has one of his "spells."  If this book had just been about Jack's addiction to X, and how it affected his life and how he overcame it, it would be worlds better.  But it felt like Marbury was being shoved down my throat.  Smith lacks subtlety.  He rams the most gruesome images into your face seemingly because he can, and that's a shame.  There's a good story here, it's just overshadowed by Marbury, which feels a bit slapdash, a jumble of horror tropes sewn together and presented for the sake of spicing things up.

I'd like to compare TML to another book with another Jack.  "The Talisman" by Stephen King and Peter Straub is also about alternate worlds, where people have weird dopplegangers and nightmarish things are all too real.  However unlike TML, the Talisman's other world has a very powerful sense of place and consequence.  There is rationale to the magical goings on, real terror behind the monsters, danger that has weight to it, and a reason for why this is happening.  TML lacks those things.  "The Talisman" also had a complete character arc, a good ol' bildungsroman.  But Jack in TML doesn't seem to grow, and by the end I felt like he was just as confused and afraid and messed up as in the beginning and that he really hadn't learned much of anything.  Yes he'd grown in some ways, but it still felt like he had the same flaws.

I know I've been hard on it, but that's only because I really wanted to like the book, and because there were these great flashes of a great book in there.  The premise was good, but the execution was lacking.  In the end, it just left me disappointed and wondering what could have been.        

However, this is just my own very mortal and subjective opinion.  Has anybody else read it?  I'd love to talk about it!  If nothing else it certainly made me think a lot, about a wide variety of things.    
#1 - July 01, 2011, 05:25 AM
« Last Edit: July 01, 2011, 11:42 AM by JustinDono »


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