Monday, April 16, 2012

SM Johnson ~Bloody Monday~ Hunger Games

Hello, darlings!

I am broadening the scope of Bloody Monday to include some things from the Darker Side. Without vampire nominations and with my reading time fairly limited, my vampire creativity is fizzling.

So I'm going to talk about more than vampires.

I'd like to bring in some of the surprisingly dark works that have been spinning through pop culture - the Harry Potter/Twilight/The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/The Help/The Hunger Games/50 Shades of Grey... and whatever might be coming up next.

I'll welcome discussion and suggestion.

I live and write outside the mainstream. In some respects, my life is quiet and abnormally isolative - the life of a writer. In others, I am bold, and daring, and surprisingly non-traditional. I hate reality television, and, in fact, most television. Oh, I like Bill Maher, and I'm attached to some Showtime/HBO dramas - Californication, The Big C, Shameless, Nurse Jackie, Big Love, Treme... and I've recently fallen in love with The Vampire Diaries. But overall I'm not much of a pop culture participant.

Here's my recent track record:

I enjoyed the first 3 Harry Potter installments, and found the others to be, quite simply, much too long. Nothing ever seemed to happen between fall and spring except Harry whining a lot.

I intensely disliked Twilight, which I talked about on Edward's Bloody Monday, so I won't cover that ground again.

I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. In fact, I thought it was one of the most satisfying trilogies that I've ever read.

And The Help - OMG, where to start? Of course I loved it, I mean, it's about a writer and a best selling book - what's not to love?

Suzanne Collins
I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey yet, which leads me to The Hunger Games.

Oh, wow.

Once again pop culture has my number.

Grr, I hate that.

The Hunger Games is a deceptively simple, barbaric little book. It is a book that is quick to read, and then damn near impossible to forget. In fact, last night I went to bed after having read 86% of The Hunger Games. This was a terrible idea, because I did not sleep. I dozed. I dreamed. I woke up. I stared at the ceiling and battled anxiety.

I probably should have just got up and finished reading. Only it wouldn't have helped. Because the winners of the Hunger Games can never really win, and the story certainly doesn't end when the book does.

Sure, Katniss and Peeta win the Hunger Game in the arena, but then a whole new game begins. I mean, no wonder their mentor, Haymitch, spends as much time as possible intoxicated - even when the nightmare ends, it doesn't end. Let's pretend to be happy about winning, let's pretend that pitting human teenagers against each other in a fight to the death is good, healthy entertainment.

Yeah, let's pretend, shall we? Let's pretend forever.

I mean, my God, talk about dark fiction!

Suzanne Collins
This morning I started book 2 of The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, so I'm sure I'll have more to say about The Hunger Games before the end of the week.

But in the meantime, answer me this -

What do you all think of The Hunger Games? Have you seen the movie? (I haven'tand I don't know if I will - if I've loved the book, I usually don't care for the movie). But if you've read the book AND watched the movie, how does the movie measure up to the book?

Or if that's a boring topic - tell me this - what shocked or disturbed you the most about The Hunger Games?


  1. I have now started Hunger Games 3, Mockingjay. My feeling is that all of this cannot possibly end well. I am hoping for a satisfying ending, but with the complexity of this world, the horrors of war, and the puppet-like manipulation at every turn, I feel that a happily ever after ending will be impossible.

    These books are not romance. They're not really even action adventure. The theme so far seems to be that sometimes the best possible scenario is war (change), and the best we can hope to accomplish is to be who we are and trust that the human spirit will survive.

    Whoa. Talk about dark fiction.

  2. (Replying to myself again - it is a lonely conversation).

    I finished the Hunger Games Trilogy at 2 am this morning. Oh. My. God.

    I cried. Ohhhhh, that damn cat. I sobbed. I sniffled.

    I haven't had a good cry over a book in quite a while. In fact, I keep Elizabeth Berg's Talk Before Sleep around just for those days when I'm melancholy and need to cry. It always works. I may invest in the Hunger Games in paperback for the same reason.

    This is what I know: There is NO WAY I can bear the Hunger Games movie.

    Yesterday I had at least 3 distinct nightmares. The first during an afternoon nap that went on far longer than I intended it to. The other two between 2 and 7 am this morning.

    I typically have exciting, action/adventure dreams during which I know I am dreaming. I never have nightmares.

    The Hunger Games has completely fucked with my head.

    Kind of like war.

    I am wrecked.

    I give the Hunger Games Trilogy 100% FIVE stars with absolutely no reservation.

  3. Okay, I am going to be a bit of a prickly pear here and say while I loved the first two books in the Hunger Games series, I really disliked book 3. Actually, disliked is a pretty mild way of putting actually made me angrier than any book has made me in a long, long, time...maybe ever. I was completely sucked into the first two books, and while they were dark, as you say, I felt like I could get behind what the author was doing, and the darkness had a thread of reality to it, and a complexity in terms of how it played out with the different characters and the looming question of war and change in the background.

    Book 3 actually struck me as deeply manipulative on the part of the author...and really kind of a bait and switch with the other two books, for the purpose of selling a pulpit-esque kind of PC morality about "all war being bad, no matter what." Not because she's anti-violence in a Buddhist sense or anything, but because human beings essentially suck, and it will all end terribly if the little guy gets any shred of idealism and tries to actually fight for the side of freedom and lack of oppression. To me this felt manipulative in the sense that I almost wondered if she suckered people in deliberately to force me to listen to her depressing rant...the first two books being about perseverance of the human spirit, all so she could beat this depressing "all war is bad, no matter what you do, the a**holes will end up in charge at the end, all people are essentially crap" kind of political diatribe that completely flipped not only the themes of the original two stories, but gutted everything I liked about Katniss and most of the other characters. She deliberately killed off characters that she'd invested a great deal of time in with no sense of the meaning of their lives or contributions to the story at all...she made Kat into a basketcase who ends up married to some guy out of quiet desperation, rather than any kind of genuine feeling or even a sense of independent thought.

    It felt like a political polemic, not a novel, and frankly, by the end of it, I was ready to throw the damned book in the bin. It actually very, very nearly ruined the entire series for me, mainly because it made me distrust the author and her motives. The first two books I thought were fantastic, but honestly, at the end of book free, I felt like I'd been sucker punched in the face by someone who got me to let my guard down by selling me one product only to have me get home and find a box full of something I never wanted in my home.

    I realize that this is all preference and that many others likely felt differently about this book...and also that my issues are more thematic than technical in any way, so clearly have nothing to do with the skill of the writer...but as a reader I still reserve my right to hate it, and to resent the author for having decided to sell such a depressing, disempowering and ultimately fatalistic theme to millions of adolescent readers.

    Phooey on her, lol.

    Interestingly, my niece (who is 11) felt the same way I did. She used different words of course, but when I asked her about the books, she talked with great enthusiasm about books 1 and 2, then made a disgusted, almost angry face as she described why she hated book 3...

  4. Oh, but I saw the movie for book 1 over here (in India) and really liked it! It's not "perfect" of course, but I thought the translation to film was well done! I really loved book 2, so am looking forward to see what they do with that. Book 3 should make an interesting movie (spoiler alert)...2 hours of Katniss with PTSD, ciutching her hair and moaning in closets, jackertracker Peeta wild-eyed and foaming, seeing the pointless death of all the fun characters from book 2 as well as the sister that Katniss did all of this for in the first place...

    Jh, yeah, I think I'll skip it...

  5. Hi JC! Thanks for your perspective. I am laughing about your rendition of book 3 made into a movie - stellar!

    I was angry through all of the books - but it was tinged with sorrow and sheer desperation throughout book 3. I read them back-to-back and by the end of 3 I was absolutely keening. Damn that freaking cat, anyway. Aarrrggh. Somehow that was the sucker punch for me - and yes, I actually agree with you on several levels - but the pure emotional gamut that I experienced as an invested reader of the trilogy is where I think Collins really nailed it.

    I actually don't know that I *could* read them again - I found Collins' world to be a harrowing, ugly place, with no safety net whatsoever - and yet I also felt like that was kind of the point.

    One thing that did piss me off was Katniss allowing Coin to dress her like a doll and televise her as the face of the revolution. I wondered, if all the districts were falling, how anyone had time to watch TV... and I would think electricity would be disrupted in at least some of the war zones. So all of that felt very contrived, even when it was presented at times as sending messages to Snow.

    I actually felt that in book 3 Katniss became what she would be - a person so severely damaged that all she was capable of doing was "going along" - much the same way that Haymitch coped by making every attempt to stay intoxicated.

    The world presented is an ugly one.

    There was a (negative) review somewhere (probably Amazon) that pointed out many, many society-building flaws, and I agreed with many of them (i.e. if there was game available, more of the society would learn to hunt before passively starving to death), and yet still cannot ignore the emotional impact of the full story.

    Thanks for your comments! I hope your retreat is all that you want!

  6. Hey SM! Sorry it took me a little while to respond - yeah, the retreats are going well, but I only have 5 days between "chunks" and damn, they go FAST! Lol. So I am way, way behind on writing people, which is kind of a bummer...and on the writing stuff in general really (although I'm editing book 5 as fast as I can, so hopefully will have that to you soon!).

    Yeah, everything you said makes total sense to me, re: the Hunger Games. I agree with the world-building stuff, too.

    Honestly, though, I think she kind of succumbed to the whole "all people are crap" thing way, way too much, even in the auspices of the world she drew. The sense I get is that she had a "political message" she wanted out there, and suckered people into the story to hammer them with it. I don't care what your political stance is, whether I agree with it in principle or not, I personally DESPISE polemic writing when it comes to fiction. It's just a personal thing. I know my opinions certainly filter into my work in various ways, but the day I start to do that intentionally to "educate" people under the manipulative auspices of fiction is the day I hang up my hat. I think that's why I had such an extreme reaction to book 3. I have since read that Collins was a television writer and that she deliberately set up the structure to make an anti-war statement of some kind. And yeah, I'm anti-war too...I just personally hate the way she delivered that message. It's the same reason I can't stand Philip Pullman's athiest polemic in the guise of children's literature (His "Dark Materials" trilogy).

    Again, though, I'm totally aware that this is just one of MY hot buttons, yeah, take it as just that. :)

    I had a lot more detailed critiques of book 3 too...everything from Peeta's "off-camera" recovery to the way Finn was killed (and yes, the cat, like you said) and Katniss's ridiculous response to Gale by holding him "responsible" for Prim's death in the middle of a war. That whole thing struck me as completely lazy writing and an excuse to simply get Gale out of the picture because Collins decided she should be with Peeta. Which, again, fine, but I don't like seeing the machinery clunk around as she pushes the story too and fro to get the outcomes (and the political messages) that she wants. I didn't feel that in books 1 and felt like she was following the natural arcs of the stories and the characters, but in book 3 I felt her staring over it like a chess board and making "illegal moves" to get the outcome she wanted...

    Yeah, sigh...obviously I have strong feelings about that one, lol. :)

    On a totally unrelated note, I miss you!!! I want to carve out time to write you, just so I can hear of the doings in your world!!

  7. Hi JC! I sent you a quick email. We'll have lots to catch up on when things slow down!