Sunday, April 15, 2012

Too Much of a Good Thing

An enthusiastic reviewer led me to Divergent, Veronica Roth’s young adult novel of a girl coming of age in a tightly controlled society.  I loved the premise—at age 16, youth must choose their future culture or caste (overtones here of declaring a major, finding one's niche or lifestyle).  In Divergent, the cultures are called factions, and they resemble personal orientations we recognize:  Abnegation, Erudite, Candor, Amity, and Dauntless.  Beatrice is born into Abnegation, but her tests show aptitude for three factions instead of one.  She’s “divergent,” a dangerous quality she must not reveal.  At her choosing ceremony, she leaves her family and joins “Dauntless,” the reckless faction.  You can see where this is going.

I was bothered throughout by the fact that the faction names aren’t all noun forms.  But I can live with that.  More serious, about halfway the story changes its focus from the girl’s progress in her new society to her tentative romantic explorations.  For me, this emphasis was TOO MUCH.

Like the best science fiction, Divergent offers a view of contemporary society, and until it turns into a teen-age romance, the novel comes close to the effectiveness of The Hunger Games.  No doubt the repeated scenes of touching and feeling work for thousands of genre readers (maybe hundreds of thousands), but I think it causes the novel to lose appeal for a crossover audience.  A little bit would have been fine.

The second example of TOO MUCH in this story is the fighting.  Once the story shifts from training to actual conflict, the fight sequences seem repetitive and boring--blow by blow, like directions for the movie actors.  I started skimming.  Yeah, I skimmed the entire last half, so I allow that my judgment may be unfair. 

My point is emphasis and balance.  I doubt that any writer knows when enough is enough--we need astute editors and critics.  Critiquers have said to me, “You can cut this.  We get it.”  I’ve given the same critique when I think a sequence goes on too long, when I’m bored by silliness or banter or exposition or gratuitous anything. 

I suspect Divergent is a good seller.  I think it missed an opportunity to be a better novel.