Sunday, August 29, 2010
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Linger does exactly what a good sequel is supposed to. It picks up where Shiver left off, refining that book's strengths and minimizing it's flaws. It doesn't cheat readers of the original, nor does it regurgitate the same plot. Instead it takes the story in a new direction, which progresses from the previous book in a very organic way. Most of all, it provides an engaging tale with an interesting cast.
Three months have passed since the end of Shiver. Grace and Sam are living the life of young love- enjoying every day, and moving towards a bright future. Sam, however, is looking over his shoulder- he worries that lycanthropy is not a foe easily vanquished, and that one day a strong north wind might steal him away from his humanity. He soon runs into a more pressing concern in the form of Cole. Back in Shiver, before the cold took him away forever, Sam's adopted father Beck infected three new werewolves in an attempt to keep the pack going. (A development which was then subsequently forgotten, to the reader's consternation, but never mind that now.) Cole is one of those wolves- an obnoxious, self-hating junkie who took Beck's deal so as to forget his human life. Ironically, the solution proves fruitless when he finds himself unable to hold wolf form. Sam immediately dislikes Cole- his determination to escape his humanity is a mockery of Sam's own struggle to hold on to it at any cost. But Sam doesn't have much time to address the issue, because one night Grace wakes up in excruciating pain and smelling like a wolf. And slowly but surely, everything starts to fall apart.
In Shiver, Stiefvater alternated between two narrators- Grace and Sam- providing two different perspectives on the story. In Linger she uses the same conceit, but ratchets it up by adding Isabel and Cole as narrators. This allows her to work two storylines at once- Grace's and Cole's- which is a very good move. Shiver didn't have enough plot for its word count, resulting in a tedious middle where things moved very slowly. Having two stories to divide time amongst improves the pacing dramatically.
Of the narrators, Cole is by far the most interesting. In fact, he damn near steals the show. He's a conflicted individual, part Kurt Cobain and part Axl Rose. He's torn between apparent success and a sense of utter helplessness, a conflict exacerbated by no small degree of selfishness and egotism. Cole had a band, which he toured with and saw the world. He had friends, including a girlfriend. He had a brilliant mind, both on the creative and intellectual level. But he destroyed it all with drug abuse, self-hatred, and general jerkiness. He chose lycanthropy because it seemed like a slightly more pleasant form of suicide. Sam despises Cole because he's essentially Sam's shadow- he had everything Sam wanted, but threw it away. At the same time, the similarity between them compels Sam to show Cole the path back to humanity- a dialog which drives around two-thirds of the book.
Furthering the comparison, Cole falls into a relationship with Isabel. Among other things, this proves that Stiefvater is much better at writing relationships in progress than relationships aborning. In terms of believability, primal lust segueing into emotional attachment is a step up from Grace and Sam's glorified Love at First Sight, but it still gives the impression of glossing over things to get to the good stuff. I freely admit, however, that once you get into the meat of that subplot, it's one of the most enthralling bits of the book. Grace/Sam produces stability- they cleave to one another to hold themselves up amidst a dispassionate world and an uncertain future. Isabel/Cole produces instability- the presence of each in the other's lives brings into stark relief what's wrong with them, and drives them towards change. This is probably why Sam, despite his best efforts, can't really do anything to help Cole. Most of the major turning points in Cole's character development come from interactions with either his friend Victor, or Isabel.
Actually, you could make a rather strong case that Isabel is the real heroine of this series, and Grace and Sam are just supporting cast. In Shiver, it was Isabel that came up with both the idea and the means to cure lycanthropy, and Isabel and Olivia who were dealing with Jack offscreen. Grace and Sam spent most of the book being lovey-dovey and trying to hold off winter. In Linger, Isabel is instrumental in Cole's redemption, and then Isabel and the reformed Cole work together with Sam to try and deal with Grace's problem. Grace and Sam spend most of the book in denial about the fact that their future together is slowly crumbling. When Sam finally starts taking an active role, it's only because a pair of metaphorical boots have sharply impacted his posterior- one of said boots having been applied by Isabel.
Mind you, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. From a certain perspective, it's entirely appropriate to the story. Grace and Sam don't want to save the world- they just want to hold onto their love and happiness amidst an uncaring world. A world that they're slowly beginning to realize will tear them apart someday- one way or another. Really, what is adolescent romance but exactly that? On the other hand, it can be hard to remain sympathetic when seemingly everyone is doing more about their problems than they are themselves. Stiefvater tries to compensate by emphasizing their powerlessness, but this rings false when the biggest obstacle in their path is their own refusal to accept that they have a problem. But then again- here comes that third hand again- this is also how teens in love are.
(I'm deeply ambivalent on the matter of Grace and Sam's relationship. Can you tell?)
My one unqualified complaint about Linger is the ending. It does two things badly. First, it turns upon a radical revision of the nature of lycanthropy, one which complicates the metaphor underlying the entire book. I see how it could work, but it certainly doesn't work when introduced ten pages from the back cover with very scarce buildup beforehand. Second, it's a cliffhanger ending. I have nothing against these in principle, but I have to call bullshit when the writer merely finishes a critical scene and then does a two-page "Tune in next time!" Come on, Ms. Stiefvater, you can give us a better denouement than that.
Then again, maybe she wasn't aiming for a denouement. Combined with a number of things brought up in Shiver that aren't addressed here, it's clear that she perceives this as a single story told in three volumes. This annoys me- I like my books complete, dammit- but it's the author's prerogative to tell the story however she wishes. And it worries me that she may be putting a bit too much pressure on Forever- the pending third volume- to tie this all up neatly. But really, though I may whine and worry, the fact remains that I will pick up Forever to see how it all ends. I had some problems with Shiver, but Linger has sold me on the series. Definitely worth reading.