Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Run, by Blake Crouch: A Review

I have, over the course of the past year or so, accumulated a healthy, growing digital library of books and book samples, most of which I've heard of either from various book blogs or from Amazon itself, under the section "people who bought/looked at this book also bought/looked at these titles." As I finish one title, the rest jostle each other, waving their arms, trying to get my attention, sort of like Donkey from Shrek, shouting "Pick me! Pick me!" I never really know which book/sample I'll read next - it really is a spontaneous decision, for the most part. Kindle Roulette, in a way.

Such was the process that led to me and Run, by Blake Crouch meeting up a few days ago.

Run is a variation of the post-apocalyptic zombie-survival genre, except without the zombies (in the traditional sense). Instead of undead, what happens is that there is a nation-wide aurora event one night that a good percentage of the US population witnesses. It ends up radically affecting all who had witnessed it, changing them, turning them insanely violent. They somehow instinctively recognize anyone who hadn't seen the event (some sort of afterglow effect that only those affected can see/not see), and so they are able to tell who "their kind" are. Those that have been affected band together and ruthlessly, remorselessly hunt down and annihilate those who weren't so affected.

Into this scenario are thrust normal people, who suddenly have to find a way to survive in a world gone mad. Families like the Colclough family - a family that was on the brink of dissolution to begin with. Dee and Jack are about to divorce. Their teen daughter Naomi is rebellious and in her goth phase, and their reclusive 7 year old son Cole doesn't know what to make of it all. This world-changing event, and the Colclough family's subsequent battle for survival, will knit them back together again, with a vengeance.

And a battle it is. These types of tales aren't normally my cup of tea. Instinctively, I want people to be safe and healthy and happy, so watching people endure a buffet of near-unimaginable hardship and terror doesn't normally set well with me. And this tale was no different. Not only does the world become unhinged, but every time the Colclough family escapes one crazy-hard scenario, they stumble headlong into something worse, as they run, run, run.

Therein lies my chief criticism of the book -- which is admittedly my own issue, and not the story. It makes for a grueling read. And after a while, it seems contrived; sort of like, "OK, now that they've endured that hardship, what fresh level of hell can I drag them through now, to top it?" Until, by the ending, it just gets silly. And in the tie-up chapter at the very end, when it is theorized that the aurora event that triggered the month-long apocalypse was just nature's way of purging the earth a bit, alleviating the stresses associated with over-population, it's rather unsatisfying.

And yet, I read the whole thing. Technically, it was well-written, and a smooth, fast ride. If you enjoy tagging along with a "normal" family while they hopscotch through a long series of insanely difficult, often-ghoulish scenarios and emerge victorious, then perhaps you'll enjoy this tale. I feel the author did the best he possibly could within the story parameters he gave himself. I mean, it likely would have been boring for the main characters to actually find someplace safe to hole-up and ride out the apocalypse, cut-off from the world but together, safe and happy.

Summary: 3.75/5 A non-stop ride through hell with an average American family, forced to quickly evolve into well-above-average. Some profanity and (modestly handled) adult interactions, along with a dumptruck full of no-holds-barred violence, injustice and death, with a healthy dose of torture thrown in. Somewhat unsatisfying  ending notwithstanding, I can say no ill about the author or the tale. Mr. Crouch can navigate the page like a champ. I may try other titles of his, but I likely won't be reading this one again.


logankstewart said...

Um. Well. I think you may have inadvertently spoiled the ending... but maybe not, as I've not read the book, nor does it sound like anything I'd necessarily want to read.

I'm more intrigued about your desire for a "healthy and happy" story. Interesting, I think, considering the lack of happiness found in Abercrombie's characters, or several others, too, for that matter. Are you saying that you prefer a lighter story, one not as dense & grueling? Is that applying to a character's emotions or to events he's enduring?

Anonymous said...

I feel as if, I have somehow been judged, via a book review..... so, I guess this means you won't be co-writing my autobiography?

I avoid those books and movies like the plague - been there done that. :)

Thanks for sharing.

Beth A.

Anonymous said...

PS: Well, not the apocalyptic part, just the "can things possibly get worse and then they do part."

David Wagner said...

I have to admit to being taken aback by the one-two punch of your comments here. I've been chewing on a response for the past 90 minutes or so...

Logan: The story is not really structured in a way to where the "why" of it all is all that important. In fact, I put "theorized" in there, hoping it conveyed the fact that it was just one idea as to what might have happened, since it wasn't really resolved. What was important throughout the tale was Jack and/or Dee asking "How on earth can I get my family out of this immediate life-threatening, impossible situation?" Over and over again. It's hard to put much thought into "why is this happening?" when you're freezing, on foot, trudging through a mountain pass carrying your son, and no one has eaten in the past four days...

As for the issue of lighter stories, to me there's a huge difference between a purely fantasy world, with characters who have solid skill-sets, be it martial, magical, intellectual, etc., versus normal people set in our current world. In "real life", my wish would be for people to be safe, healthy, blessed, happy, intact... in a fantasy world, all bets are off, and more often than not, the hairy situations the characters find themselves in are, at least in part, their own doing. Other than Jezal, I can't think of another "normal" person in an Abercrombie book... as much as I love reading about The Bloody Nine, I'd not want to meet him in real life, lol. The Colclough family, on the other hand, I wish I could usher them into my home, lock the doors, feed them, clean them, and let them sleep for a week.

It was grueling to real their harrowing tale, in part because I kept asking myself why I kept reading it... even though I knew it was all fabricated, and ultimately quite contrived, they were still "people next door" kind of folks, and it just didn't seem right to watch their struggles voyeuristically, for entertainment's sake.

Beth, I need to chew on my response to your comments a bit more before responding...

Anonymous said...

No chewing needed my friend! I was teasing because I, too, often wondered for a while if things could get any worse! Please, it was all in fun, especially now that I'm coming up on the other side of the Valley. I KNOW you are not judging me!

Beth A.

Rug Chick said...

When are you going to start reviewing all of the Nicholas Cage movies?