Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More On Ruff

Set This House In Order held up pretty well. Matt Ruff is ingenious and inventive. He does a good job of keeping a story going in unexpected directions. Again and again, I'd be settling into the narrative. I'd say to myself, okay, I can see where he's going. But no, there would be a new plot twist and off it would run, like a roller coaster diving into a steep downhill. It keeps things going, and it kept me reading. He does overdo it sometimes though, and the plot twists are not all well motivated. For example, Andrew Gage, the protagonist, suffers from multiple personality disorder. He is presented as male and, of his many personalities, there is only one that matters that is female, but halfway through the novel it is revealed that Gage is a biological female. Huh? Where did that come from? Halfway through, and the reader wasn't given so much as an earlier clue. I didn't buy it.

As with Bad Monkey, I found the conclusion of Set This House In Order to be less than satisfying. Ruff includes a long epilogue that summarizes the future developments in his characters lives. It really is superfluous. The story was complete, and there was no reason to extend the novel like that. If Ruff was interested in the future fates of the characters, he should have written a sequel. If not, then he should have exercised a little discipline, and left that stuff out.

At the end of my copy of Bad Monkey, there's an interview with Ruff. In it, he says that he knew that he wanted to be a writer when he was five years old. If that's so, I'm guessing that he has written obsessively from a very young age. It has been my experience that such people often over-write, and Set This House In Order confirms that impression. There are places where the writing is sloppy; there are plot twists that should have been omitted; and, there is dialogue that rings false. In general, I often got the feeling that he was just winging it. In short, the book could have used a good editor. In his acknowledgements, he credits three people as editors, but they must have been more like fans, because there is no evidence of any real professional editing. Interestingly enough, Bad Monkey is a tight, fast-moving narrative. I doubt that Ruff changed the way he writes, so he must have had a good editor for that book.

I might add that Ruff doesn't do a very convincing job of portraying the inner life of someone with multiple personalities. Some readers might have a problem with that, but I don't. He's a fantasist and I'm willing to suspend disbelief when it comes to that.

Well, looking back on this entry, I see that I've done it again. I started off saying that I liked the book, then proceeded to do nothing but point out its flaws. I remember reading somewhere that when one is commenting on something, everything before the "but" is bullshit. Maybe so, but I liked Ruff's book well enough to start another one of his novels, Sewer, Gas, and Electric.


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