Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Stranger in a Strange Land

The observant reader will recognize that I finished Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land last evening. However, since it is a book I am reading with my book group, I don't want to write a thorough entry about it, preferring instead to save those comments for the book group interaction. But I also feel that I need to say something about the book here, since that is rather the point of creating a blog in the first place.

It has probably been about five years since I last read this novel, and I would say that I have probably read it about twenty times. That same observant reader will note that the novel shows up in my profile as one of my favorite books. And yet, this particular reading left me a little blah, and I'm having trouble determining why. Could it be that I have read it so many times that I have milked all the goodness from it and rereading has become an exercise in nostalgia? Are current events in my life somehow affecting my reading (of course they are, but I mean in such a negative way)? I can't say for sure.

But I can say that this is the first reading I can recall where Michael appears to be such a two-dimensional character. I know that one of the most popular criticisms of Heinlein is that his characters really are very flat, with little development over the course of his stories. Generally, I find that to be untrue, especially in the case of his juvenile novels, the very point of which is to show the maturation process of the characters. And to be certain, Michael is certainly not *static* in the novel--he grows from being an uncertain waif to forceful leader. But I realized that almost all of the growth that Michael has is given in third-person, through the eyes of other associated characters. In fact, there is very little of the book that is told from Michael's perspective, and in the course of this reading I found that to be a little jarring.

And as I think about it, I feel like the story had to be written in that way. Ultimately, this is a story not about Michael, but society and its reactions to, first, a human/alien psychological hybrid, and second, a new messiah. And yet in my memory of the book, it's always been about Michael. Interesting houw our always-moving experiences continue to shade static things. I'm sure this comes across as a truism, and I would say it is for most things, but I have held this book so dearly in my memory for so long that it's a bit of a shock to uncover another fold in it or in my appreciation for it.

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