Apr 21st

Thirsty for Diversity Thursday April 22, 2016


A Fierce and Subtle Poison

I began A Fierce and Subtle Poison with high expectations that ultimately were not met. The writing and description was often beautiful, many of the side characters were fascinating, and the magical elements of this story were quite interesting. Slow pacing and an obnoxious (and obnoxiously boring) narrator really detracted from my enjoyment, however.

The setting is Puerto Rico, the main character a young, wealthy son of a white real estate developer. The story opens with the story of a scientist, his wife, and their cursed home at the end of Calle Sol. I was immediately captivated by this prologue. Unfortunately, things being to get less interesting as the story progresses and we become familiar with Lucas, the protagonist.

Lucas is written to be an antihero, I suppose. His father has made his fortune developing resorts in the Caribbean. Lucas himself is the spoiled, irresponsible young man one would expect. He overindulges in alcohol and is preoccupied with various young women whom he largely sees as disposable. He has a horrifically annoying streak of self-loathing. In my opinion, Lucas was the prominent shortcoming of this novel. I take no issue with characters who aren’t likable, but Lucas was a mixture of both irritating and dull that was difficult to stomach. He is also prone to complain:

“What my dad didn’t get was that Mara Lopez hated me not because I was white but because I was spoiled. I sometimes hated myself for the same reason.”

Well, gosh. Must be hard for you, buddy.

The issues of colonialism are touched on lightly within the story, often through small details such as many of the locals’ disdain for Lucas and his father. Isabel’s father, the scientist, is another vehicle through which we see that.

I can’t help but think that this story would have been better told through Isabel, the scientist’s poisonous daughter. Lucas often seemed less a character and more a vehicle to deliver Isabel’s story to the reader. I understand the technique–it brings to mind Richard Papen in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History–but it ultimately falls flat as Lucas is just so unlikable and we fail to get a nuanced take on the events surrounding Isabel, her father, and the disappearing girls who make up the central plot of the story.

The prose is lush and beautiful, however, and I was invested enough in Isabel’s fate to finish the book. Samantha Mabry’s prose is excellent and her descriptions often made me feel as though I was transported to Puerto Rico. Supporting characters in this story–the scientist, Celia, Lucas’ group of friends–were far more interesting than Lucas himself, and I found myself very invested in how their stories would conclude. Celia, one of the young girls who goes missing, was particularly interesting to follow.

Ultimately, I think that whether or not this book is for you depends upon what you look for in literature. If you are particularly taken by good writing and lush descriptive language, some of the flaws within this story may be easy for you to overlook. I look forward to reading what Mabry produces in the future because of this. The pacing does fall short, however, and I think the story would have been better told from virtually any other character in the book. If you find it difficult to read stories with unlikable main characters, you may want to pass this one up.


A Fierce and Subtle Poison

I began A Fierce and Subtle Poison with high expectations that ultimately were not met. The writing and description was often beautiful, many of the side characters were fascinating, and the magical elements of this story were quite interesting. Slow pacing and an obnoxious (and obnoxiously boring) narrator really detracted from my enjoyment, however.

The setting is Puerto Rico, the main character a young, wealthy son of a white real estate developer. The story opens with the story of a scientist, his wife, and their cursed home at the end of Calle Sol. I was immediately captivated by this prologue. Unfortunately, things being to get less interesting as the story progresses and we become familiar with Lucas, the protagonist.

Lucas is written to be an antihero, I suppose. His father has made his fortune developing resorts in the Caribbean. Lucas himself is the spoiled, irresponsible young man one would expect. He overindulges in alcohol and is preoccupied with various young women whom he largely sees as disposable. He has a horrifically annoying streak of self-loathing. In my opinion, Lucas was the prominent shortcoming of this novel. I take no issue with characters who aren’t likable, but Lucas was a mixture of both irritating and dull that was difficult to stomach. He is also prone to complain:

“What my dad didn’t get was that Mara Lopez hated me not because I was white but because I was spoiled. I sometimes hated myself for the same reason.”

Well, gosh. Must be hard for you, buddy.

The issues of colonialism are touched on lightly within the story, often through small details such as many of the locals’ disdain for Lucas and his father. Isabel’s father, the scientist, is another vehicle through which we see that.

I can’t help but think that this story would have been better told through Isabel, the scientist’s poisonous daughter. Lucas often seemed less a character and more a vehicle to deliver Isabel’s story to the reader. I understand the technique–it brings to mind Richard Papen in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History–but it ultimately falls flat as Lucas is just so unlikable and we fail to get a nuanced take on the events surrounding Isabel, her father, and the disappearing girls who make up the central plot of the story.

The prose is lush and beautiful, however, and I was invested enough in Isabel’s fate to finish the book. Samantha Mabry’s prose is excellent and her descriptions often made me feel as though I was transported to Puerto Rico. Supporting characters in this story–the scientist, Celia, Lucas’ group of friends–were far more interesting than Lucas himself, and I found myself very invested in how their stories would conclude. Celia, one of the young girls who goes missing, was particularly interesting to follow.

Ultimately, I think that whether or not this book is for you depends upon what you look for in literature. If you are particularly taken by good writing and lush descriptive language, some of the flaws within this story may be easy for you to overlook. I look forward to reading what Mabry produces in the future because of this. The pacing does fall short, however, and I think the story would have been better told from virtually any other character in the book. If you find it difficult to read stories with unlikable main characters, you may want to pass this one up.

By Oliver Lumpkin

Oli oli oxen-free
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