lunes, 30 de marzo de 2015

Harrison Squared, by Daryl Gregory


(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)

Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Monster by Scrimshander (Spotify).

Harrison Squared, Daryl Gregory's newest novel, is a prequel of sorts to We Are All Completely Fine (my review), his novella from 2014. And I say "of sorts" because the events told in Harrison Squared are just fiction in We Are All Completely Fine (or are they not?), just a novel about a teenager called Harrison Harrison who is not the same Harrison Harrison of the novella (or is he?). 

So, we have two books that might be linked (or not) by several characters and some unusual events and that are better read and appreciated together, but that are quite different in a lot of respects. While We Are All Completely Fine has a dark, pessimistic tone and is even a bit experimental in its form, Harrison Squared is a much more straightforward narration, lighter in mood and might be classified as YA fiction. 

In fact, one of the things I enjoyed the most about Harrison Squared is that it is full of humor. The dialog is intelligent and witty and the novel has many scenes that are really funny. Consider, for instance, the following paragraph:
Aunt Selena was unmarried, with no children of her own. Like I said, people on Dad's put off spawning as long as possible, and I figured she'd probably never swim upstream. When I was little I saw her at a few holidays, up until Infamous Last Christmas. That morning, while Mom had fought with Grandpa, Aunt Sel had asked me to bring her a glass of wine - it was nine in the morning - and when I'd delivered it she'd handed me a ten dollar bill and said, "I dislike children, but I do appreciate decent service."
Aunt Sel is just one of the many amazing secondary characters in Harrison Squared, and probably the only "normal" one. We have the amphibian Lub, the Toadmother, the Scrimshander, Prof. Waughm (go threshers!), Nurse Mandi... Despite some of them appear only a couple of times, all of them are fully fleshed (fish-fleshed, in some cases) and have a distinct and unique voice. Gregory obviously has a talent for writing unusual but lovely characters (one of the things I loved the most about the amazing Raising Stony Mayhall) and it shows. 

Another strong point of Harrison Squared is the mysterious village of Dunnsmouth, a clear homage to Lovecraft's work (the novel is full of meta-literary references). With just a few sentences, Gregory is able to set an enigmatic atmosphere, especially about the strange High School Harrison is forced to attend:
"Hello, Harrison", the students said in unison. Not just generally at the same time, but in perfect synchrony, like a choir. A choir that had been rehearsing.
I lifted a hand in greeting. They stared at me. They were dressed in blacks and grays, not quite a uniform, but definitely a look, as if hey all did their shopping at ClinicalDepression.com. My tie-dye shirt was like a loud laugh at a  funeral.  
As always, Gregory's prose is deceptively simple, making look easy what is really difficult to achieve, and setting the tone for the rest of the book with just a few, wonderful scenes. Also, he manages to mix that sense of mystery with the funny and clever dialog I mentioned above, in a seamless, natural way in which nothing is forced. Few authors are capable of sustaining that kind of combination, changing from the sinister to the humorous in a sentence, but Gregory excels at it in Harrison Squared.

For all its virtues, I also found some problematic aspects in the book. On the one hand, maybe because of the YA feel of the plot, I think that the novel fails to convey the sense of impeding doom that one might expect from the threats that main protagonist has to face. The atmosphere is mysterious and enigmatic, yes, but never horrifying and the violence and gore are toned down a lot, at least when compared to We Are All Completely Fine. On the other hand, I found Harrison Harrison a bit disappointing as a main protagonist, especially since the rest of the characters are so well-developed. He is too much the typical teenage hero, and the traits that could make him unique (his anger issues and his prosthetic limb) are not, in my humble opinion, as well integrated in his personality as could be desirable.

Despite these problems, Harrison Squared is a good book and one that I recommend reading (together with We Are All Completely Fine, if possible, for a more complete experience). It may not be as good as Raising Stony Mayhall, but at the end of the day, very few novels are. The epilogue sets everything in place for a sequel, and I won't be missing it if it finally happens.

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español)  

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