Quantcast

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Shine Shine Shine: Humans Being

Here's a point to ponder: We're all flawed. But the good news is that it's these flaws that make us, us; indeed, that make us human. Throw in a robot-constructed moon colony, a Burmese-born bald woman named Sunny, and flashbacks (I mean, a TON of flashbacks) to childhoods and adolescence, and you have the general framework for Lydia Netzer's debut novel Shine Shine Shine

Maxon Mann is a socially awkward and way-too-literal-minded robotics engineer. He's the genius behind the design of a moon colony completely built by robots and he's on his way to the moon to put his plan in place. Maxon's flaw is that he wants to be perfectly logical — to eschew the three things he can't seem to program into his robots, "Show preference without reason (LOVE)...doubt rationale decisions (REGRET)....trust data from previously unreliable source (FORGIVE)." Even as Maxon aspires to "elevate" himself to pure logic (robot?), he still seems to understand the value of being human: "Humans work. They are an evolutionary success. The more they evolve, the more successful they become." And he's glad he fell in love with Sunny, despite all rationale to the contrary.

His wife, Sunny, who since they were kids has tried to teach him how to act based on feeling instead of logic, was born to American missionaries in Burma. She just wants to have a normal life, and her flaw is not being able to resist the temptation to celebrate what makes her unique — which is the fact that she has been born bald. And quirky. When she and Maxon decide to begin having children, she begins wearing a wig — a (maybe-way-too-obvious) symbol for normalcy. Their son Bubber is autistic, and in her more unguarded moments, Sunny blames Maxon that his too-logical, too-literal genes caused their son to be abnormal. 

As Maxon is rocketing off into space, a car crash right at the beginning of the novel sends Sunny into a existential tailspin. But Maxon and Sunny met when they were kids, and so, much of the novel is told in flashback. It often felt like just as we got going in the present, we'd pulse back to the past for more back story that would show something supposedly meaningful about Maxon and Sunny's relationship.

Perhaps you've noticed by the tone of this post so far that I wasn't exactly a fan. And that's tough, because a lot of folks whose opinions I trust have loved this novel. If there were ever a time to throw out a (somewhat meaningless) review cliche, it's now: "I really wanted to like this." And more, when you aren't exactly enamored of a novel everyone and her sister seems to love, it's easy to fall into nit-picking to defend your opinion. For instance, the heart-throb TV newscaster neighbor, who all the neighborhood wives lust over, is named Les Weathers and is a fantastically cliché caricature of a real person. But that's not useful.

Really, what this came down to for me is that it just seemed so precious — as if we'd think "Yeah, this is all very precious, but it's also quirky and unusual and quite an inventive story, so it's okay that's it's precious." That, and the constant (perhaps overdone?) flashbacks gave the novel such a recursive feel. After about page 100, I kept thinking,"Wait, hadn't she made that point already?"

Please don't throw tomatoes at me. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I can definitely see why other readers loved it. Netzer is a clever, funny writer (check out this line: "Pigs are earthy; their proximity may lead to carnal thoughts." And that line's even funnier, I realize now, loosed of context). But so, I just couldn't find my way into this one. If you're on the fence, read other reviews, and then decide. Chances are pretty good you'll like it more than I did. (How's that for passive-aggressive?!)

8 comments:

  1. I "really want to like" this one as well. I've heard such good things--until now. I do tend to be okay with things that are overly precious, or twee (I'm a big fan of Miranda July for example). I like that it's a love story, but I'm not sure I'm going to like the structure. I'm still hoping.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I'm the only one I know who didn't like it. As I think more about it, it really was the flashback structure that bothered me more than the precious love story. But that's really personal taste. I don't think it's a bad book, by any means.

      Delete
  2. Yeah I wasnt drawn to picking this one up. So thanks for further confirmation

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh dear, I'm totally an over-user of the "I really want to like" cliche (I just used it in my review of The Leftovers, which I really did want to like, too).

    Sorry to hear this one didn't click for you. I really enjoyed it, but I can see how the ABUNDANCE of flashbacks could be irritating, coupled with some particularly obvious characters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know you were a big fan - so is Rebecca (Book Lady). That's why I "really wanted to like it." ;)

      Delete
  4. You're not the only one who didn't like it - I didn't either. And like you, I did want to and expected to because other bloggers whose opinions I trust loved it. I had trouble pinpointing exactly what bugged me. You point out some of the things, but I think overall I just didn't really like or care about most of the characters and they just annoyed me, and the story and writing weren't enough to make up for that. I didn't hate it, but I just don't get what everyone else thought was so awesome about it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, nice to meet a kindred spirit! Yeah, the story wasn't enough for me, either - I was often charmed by her writing, but it seemed like the flashbacks sections were less carefully crafted than the "real time" story. I also had trouble pinpointing exactly what bugged me - except that just knew around page 150 I wasn't really enjoying it and wanted to move on to something else.

      Delete