Monday, April 03, 2017

What we're reading: Guilty pleasure?

I was browsing the new books shelves at the library last week, and didn't quite register what I was seeing at first: a new book by...Stephenie Meyer? Coincidentally, I just finished re-reading Twilight, since I had assigned it to my grad students in Young Adult Literature at UCLA as the game-changer novel that redirected all YA fiction for almost a decade, so I was fresh off my dislike for the moody, passive Bella and the sparkly but slightly creepy Edward. I did enjoy The Host, Stephenie Meyer's previous book for adults, when I read it, although seeing the movie afterwards reiterated all the danger signs of a rather poorly thought-out premise. But I was intrigued by the double dedication in this new book, The Chemist ("To Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross"), since I am a big fan of suspense, thrillers, and mysteries, so I decided to give it a go.

The main character, whose real name turns out to be Dr. Juliana Fortis, used to work for a clandestine agency of the U.S. government. She was an expert in her field, which was the creation and use of drugs for interrogation. But that agency had secrets it didn't want anyone, including her and her boss, to reveal; when they killed him, Juliana effected an escape from her lab and has been on the run ever since, because there is something she knows (she has no idea what) that poses a threat to them.

It's not much of a life--she runs from place to place, changing appearance and identity, and sleeps in the bathtub in a gas mask. So when her former "handler" contacts her and offers her a way out, she decides to take it, hoping to be able to go live a fear-free life, even though she has doubts about his veracity. And sure puts her right back in the agency's crosshairs.

I spent about the first 40 pages focused on the slightly stiff, too self-conscious characterization and the less-than-literary language, and then...well, and then I started enjoying myself, and I never stopped until the end.

Is it full of clich├ęs and some insta-love? Yes. Did I care? Not a bit. Meyer pulled off a novel of suspense, intrigue, revenge, and, yes, true love. I liked the characters, enjoyed even the most improbable of scenarios, and got a giant kick out of this book.

For everything negative you can say about Stephenie Meyer as an author, I will say this: Prior to picking this up, I had just read the latest Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child and the new stand-alone thriller by John Lescroart, and honestly? I didn't enjoy either of them as much as I did The Chemist. Is she a wordsmith? No. But can she tell a completely engaging story? Absolutely.

I'm sure that, as with The Host, my critical editor side will succeed, when I look back on the book, in picking out many flaws, but the person who just wanted a good book for the weekend is quite happy right now.

One parenthetical comment: Is that the worst cover ever? Sometimes minimalism works, and sometimes it doesn't. In this case, the publisher didn't do much for this book by going with this cover art.

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