I went to the good B&N today, the one that always has the books I can't find at the bad B&N. (Around here, my choices for buying books are B&N, Walmart, and online.) They had Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman.
It's awesome. I read all day and just finished it. But my reading was almost interrupted by hobbits; I was invited to a Baggins birthday party today, but I called off at the last minute, citing as my reasons A) I don't know anyone at the party except the hostess and my sister-in-law, B) I have way too much to do this weekend--which is true, especially since I spent the whole day reading, and C) I don't actually like Tolkien very much. I like the movies.
So the Grossman book. I loved it. It wasn't precisely what I expected, but it was beautifully written and hugely entertaining--so well written, in fact, that I literally did not notice it's written in present tense until I was already to chapter three. Ordinarily I don't read anything written in present.
What I like most about the book is that Grossman's focus is on the main characters, evil genius Doctor Impossible and insecure cyborg heroine Fatale. It would have been easy to camp it up, to turn the book into a prose version of the old X-Men comics (which I used to read religiously, gawd help me), all heavy-handed melodrama. But Grossman's characterization is nuanced, sophisticated, and very human.
I had expected to find the book in the SF/fantasy section, but it was shelved with the non-genre stuff. Now that I've read it, I agree. Non-genre lit has a feel to it that's hard to define but easy to recognize, a sort of bleak reality and almost joylessness--even in a book that, like this one, made me laugh out loud more than once. It's not a style I care to emulate in my own writing, and I don't read it often, but when I do I appreciate it. And I like Grossman's clean, crisp writing (although his dialog tends to be a bit too writerly to be believable). I do think the book badly needed more continuity editing--I kept noticing little things, like someone speaking up a few paragraphs after we're told that character wasn't in the room.
Now it's bedtime, and I didn't get anything done today except laundry and grocery shopping (and I see that all I bought was soup). Tomorrow I have three stories to critique for my writing group, plus two stories of my own that I must finish, one a new story I want to have ready for the group on Wednesday, one an already-critiqued story I'm rewriting as my Writers of the Future contest entry. It's a good thing I didn't go to any stupid hobbit party after all.