Friday Gauge Check: Romantic Getaway, With Zombies

Jack and I drove up to Las Vegas last Friday after I got off of work, which is a six-hour trip, more or less.

I’ve long held the theory that, if you want to see how well you get along with someone, take a road trip with them.  If you can survive six or eight consecutive hours in a car without wanting to kill one another, you can probably live together for a year.

I was tired, there was construction and traffic and we were driving a long way in the dark, and we had an absolute blast.  We’re very compatible in general, and I feel like it’s only emphasized when we’re trapped together in a small space.  He’d downloaded a bunch of podcasts for us to listen to, and we didn’t end up listening to any of them, because the conversation we were having was interesting and engaging enough that we didn’t need to involve even the radio.

I wrote that opening earlier in the week, and then I stopped, because I felt like talking about how wonderful my partner and my relationship is sounds a lot like bragging.  Obviously I reconsidered, and part of that is because this blog is supposed to be about emotional honesty. I’m rejecting the Cult of Okay, and that means being honest about my positive emotions, not just my negative ones.

We had a great trip, but it wasn’t the lure of the Strip that made it that way.  Mom and Aunt C really liked Jack, and he liked them too, which is fantastic. This is the part of my family that I love and I’m delighted that they all like each other.

As an aside: I’m not going to tell you not to date someone that your family doesn’t like, because that’s a complicated equation. What I am going to say is, if you like and respect a family member, and you trust their judgement, listen if they tell you that they don’t like your significant other. This person cares about you and wants to keep you safe, and they may be picking up on things that you aren’t.  Also pay close attention to the way your significant other acts toward your family.  If they don’t get along with or like your family, especially if you do – that’s a red flag. If they try and keep you from contacting your family, that’s another.

One thing I never quite understood about how abusers kept their victims from contacting their families or friends was how subtle and insidious it could be. Isabel never told me I couldn’t contact my family. She just made it incredibly difficult to be on the phone, in much the same way that a two-year-old makes it difficult to be on the phone. As someone who hates talking on the phone anyway, the fact that I wouldn’t be able to have an uninterrupted conversation with Isabel around (and she was always around) just turned it into a nearly-insurmountable obstacle. Most days, it was just easier not to try.

Jack, on the other hand, has consistently encouraged and supported me in spending time with my family. I’ve seen relatives more times in the past fourteen months than in the previous five years, and three of those were by myself – which would have been impossible with Isabel.

I also had it confirmed during the trip that the best thing you can do in a good relationship is be honest, even when it’s embarrassing. I won’t get into details, but the outcome was both incredible and ongoing. I came out of the weekend feeling closer to Jack than I ever have to anyone at any time, and it’s only gotten better.

This week, I finished two things: the hanging towel I was knitting from the Squeaky Clean Kitchen set (I have to attach a button, but I’ve even woven the ends in) and Mira Grant’s second book, Deadline.

I can’t say that I liked the book, exactly. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike it. The story is something to be endured, rather than enjoyed, but there’s nothing wrong with that… wait.  Let me explain. I’ll try and keep the spoilers to a minimum, but there’s a major one from the end of the first book that I have to talk about in order for my issues with the second book to make sense.

My favorite book, the one I keep coming back to, that I’ve probably read a dozen times, is the unabridged version of Stephen King’s The Stand. The characters, the story, the great arc, the death of 99% of the world and the day after – I love this book.  I suspect, though, that when it’s finished, the Newsflesh trilogy will replace it in my heart and my e-reader.

The first book, Feed, was the single best book I read last year, hands-down.  It might be the single best book I’ve read in the last decade. Grant (an alias for urban fantasist and filker Seanan McGuire) made me care deeply about her characters, and then she killed them off at a startling rate.  I flung the book across the room because an event hurt so badly.  I cried over two different deaths, and Georgia’s had me clinging to Jack and shaking. I cried harder over Georgia Mason than I did over my grandmother.  (My grandmother was old and ill and it was expected.  I wasn’t expecting this one.)  She killed my favorite character, and I forgave her for it.

More than the characters, she created a deep, complicated world that was internally consistent and passed every skeptic’s test I could throw at it. She told a zombie story about politics that I found totally fascinating, and I don’t like politics and I’ve never been interested in zombies. The dialogue is snappy, the description is fantastic without being overwhelming, and she kept both me and the characters guessing without either of us feeling like figuring out what was going on was impossible. (I’m in favor of not knowing what’s going on; I don’t like novels where I feel like I’ve never even seen a map of the planet.)

So with the second book, she had a lot to live up to – with the additional issue of my favorite character being dead. I wasn’t sure if Shaun could carry the second book by himself. I wasn’t sure that he’d want to.

Turns out he didn’t have to, which is something of a relief.  Georgia lives on as a voice in his head – every bit as snarky and thoughtful as she was in life. My only complaint about this is that Shaun (and everyone around him) seems convinced that it’s a sign that he’s lost his mind, which is fine, except that he does it all the time. Several chapters in, I got tired of his one-note inner monologue. Okay, he thinks he’s crazy, whatever, do we have to keep talking about it? Do we have to mention that his team is okay with him talking to himself because they’re used to it every time he does it? Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve worked in environments where everybody talked to themselves all the time, because it was the only way to keep track of what was going on, and nobody ever said anything about it. Shaun mentions that he fired his therapist because he felt talking to Georgia was “unhealthy;” if he’s accepted that it’s the only thing that keeps him from falling apart, I think he’d be at least a little more okay with it. (And in a world where the dead walk, I’d think talking to your dead sister would be both more common and more acceptable. Everyone processes grief in their own way, and there’s plenty of grief to go around.)

That’s my only major complaint about the book, really.  The story was interesting and confusing in the right proportions.  I didn’t care about the protagonists in the second book nearly as much as I did the ones in the first book, but that was a combination of the narrator (Shaun is badly broken and isn’t connecting to other people) and the decision I made before I started to do my best not to care about anybody, because they’d probably just die anyway. Of course, just to spite me, the body count wasn’t nearly as high or as painful. Grant did an excellent job of showing the human reaction to the overwhelming and unrelentingly terrible things happening without it completely touching Shaun, who was numb at best and on the verge of a psychotic break at worst. He could see everyone suffering around him without being completely able to feel it himself, which is an impressive and very believable kind of distance.

This book, though, is an excellent example of, “And then it got worse.”  It was terrible at the beginning, and then it got worse. (The situation, not the book.) Everyone was ragged and at their wits’ end…and then it got worse. Over and over, all the way through the book, with never more than a page or two of relief. It was an exercise in endurance for the characters, and the reader by extension, because Grant doesn’t give you any distance from the events. You and Georgia are sitting side-by-side in Shaun’s head, watching the world end, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it but keep reading.

This is the second book in the trilogy, which means it’s the second act of the overall story that is Newsflesh. It’s a wonderful, earth-shaking, heart-wrenching story, but it’s never easy, it’s never safe, and it’s never without fear.

And we have to wait another year for the last book.

The best and worst thing about this book, though, is that I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, because I don’t like hurting my friends, and this book hurt. It was 624 pages of salt in the wounds of losing Georgia, of characters suffering from loss and grief and broken connections. But if you can handle that, read the book. And then call me, and I’ll give you a hug.

So that was my week.

How was yours?

~ by Amber on June 3, 2011.

2 Responses to “Friday Gauge Check: Romantic Getaway, With Zombies”

  1. I’m glad you had such a good time. I figured if I spent three days in a car with Xan and didn’t kill each other, we’d probably manage living together, ahahaha, so it’s a good policy!

    The Stand is my favorite book, too. I just love it, idek why. It’s been my favorite for a long time.

    I’d like to get my hands on Deadline eventually. I actually didn’t really like Feed until halfway through it, and then I cried forever at the end. I’m not quite as invested as I could be, now, but I’m definitely curious? Eventually I’ll get a copy of it.

  2. I threw Deadline across the room a couple times. It was… a really hard book to read, for me (though I did it in about 6 hours), mostly because I have a very VERY loud Shaun headvoice.

    Thank god Aub read it first. Every time I made a strangled noise or threw the book, she knew exactly why (which cracked me up) and gave me all the hugs.

    I am so very frustrated that we have to wait a whole year for the next one. However, I’m very excited about the spoilery stuff from the Blackout preview.

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