What’s one of the most important things a writer can do?
So I’ve been reading.
I just finished Darin Bradley’s Noise, which I’d been wanting to acquire for some time and holy wow, was it not quite what I expected–and a lot better than I expected. (Sorry, Darin, but I really didn’t quite know, despite your agent’s cast-iron insistence on the book’s quality.) I love being surprised like that.
Noise is an apocalyptic novel–not post, but mid. Important distinction that. I’m personally a big fan of both types of books, but it’s more common for me to run into post-apocalypse settings, usually long after the breakdown. Finding a novel set during the actual Event (as Bradley refers to the destruction of society) is pretty rare for me.
I don’t want to do a traditional review here (these always seem to me to be more an exercise in summarizing a book rather than critiquing it), but I can say a few things. First of all, Noise is well written. Really well written. It may not be your cup of tea, but within it Bradley demonstrates a facility with language and structure. He has a gift for evocation, and uses that gift to ground his story in the busy desolation of young male midwestern existence. That psychological setting informs a great deal of Noise: I could make quite an argument that one of the themes Bradley’s exploring is the intense need for codification that a certain sort of person uses to make sense of existence. His main character, Hiram, moves from Boy Scouts to D&D through make-believe knighthood to, ultimately, the Book. The Book is a manual (like the Boy Scout Manuals, like the volumes of D&D manuals) that has accrued, that has accumulated through the secretions of Salvage. I won’t go into what Salvage is here, but suffice it to say it’s a decentralized movement for survival through initial anarchy and then strict rule. The strictures of the Book are simple, sensible, acute. (Some may be horrified by what the Book enjoins. I was not.) Hiram, his cohorts, his followers follow the Book almost unquestioningly. Yet as Hiram tells us near the beginning, his copy of the Book is not the only edition out there. The Book changes depending on who has written it down, picked it up, retrieved and assembled it. Hiram and his people don’t know what changes other folks are working with, but they trust in the manual they do have. They have to trust in it, and cannot entertain the alternative. I understand that some readers have been disturbed by what Hiram and his group do; what I found most disturbing was the lack of flexibility these people allowed themselves. All their trust they placed in this document–and what happens when an organism cannot be flexible, cannot adapt?
Bradley lets the reader see the rigidity of this mindset, but he refrains from editorializing on whether the behavior is helpful or harmful to Hiram and his people. He commits to this tactic right through to the end of the book, where we’re left to imagine any number of possible futures. Some people prefer a book that’s tidily wrapped up at the conclusion–I have to confess I usually fall into that camp–but I think Bradley’s choice was the wise one.
Noise is not an easy book, but it’s highly rewarding. I highly, highly recommend it–but only if you like to think about your fiction long after you’ve turned the last page.