Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pure ~ Julianna Baggott

I think it's pretty safe to say that dystopia has gotten awfully popular lately, which a younger version of me would have loved.  Years ago, once I'd read The Handmaid's Tale, 1984, A Brave New World, and Anthem, I used to desperately search for other dystopias.  I was satisfied with The Road, though that's really post-apocolyptic (but still has the remnants of a world gone wrong) and was happy to get Oryx and Crake.  Then, all of a sudden, dystopia exploded - not only was everyone reading it, but everyone was writing it too.  As tends to be the case with such things, the overall quality inevitably went down, though there are still some gems, like The Hunger Games and, I thought or at least hoped, Pure.  I was excited to read it.  Really, really excited.  Not only is it both dystopia, but it's also post-apocolyptic AND I'd heard great things about it.  Unfortunately for me, it fell flat on its face.

The background: There are wretches and there are pures.  The wretches were caught unawares in the Detonations (nuclear bombings), which ravaged the world ten years before, and those who didn't die were fused to their surroundings.  Some fusings, like Pressia's, are relatively innocuous - the head of the doll she was holding became her fist.  Some created distubring masses of people, all fused into one, inescapable group.  And some rendered people totally inhuman - a person who fused with a wolf became more beast than man, and some fused with the land itself.  However, others were spared.  These are the pures, who were lucky enough to be in the Dome at the time of the Detonations, a place that protected them from the onslaught and allowed them to remain human and whole.  The Pures are remaining in the Dome until the world resets itself and they can enter New Eden.

The story: Pressia, a wretch, is turning 16.  That means that she is required to present herself to the militia, to become either a soldier or a target (it depends on the extent of her handicap).  She is planning on hiding.  In the Dome, Partidge, the only living child of one of the most powerful men in this world, is becoming discontented with the controlling world he lives in.  He is also slightly unsatisfied with the information he learns about the Detonations and suspects that his mother, who died in the Detonations, might still be around.  He escapes the Dome, the first person to ever do so, and discovers both the horrors of the outside world and Pressia.  She promises to help him find his mother.  Stuff happens.

The best thing this book had going for it was the world building.  Starting in the book's past, there's the whole rise of conservatism that does not seem so unfamiliar, with women being forced back into the homes and a whole Stepford Wives vibe, not to mention asylums for those who just can't or won't conform.  Then there's the (supposed but probable) decision by an elite few to nuke the world as a means of resetting it, while the privilege few are nice and cozy in the Dome, where the crazed control continues, as children are drugged into compliance (having worked in a children's counseling center, this isn't so unfamiliar either).  So it's a good setting.

Then there are the "wretches," people fused to objects, surroundings, and even other people and animals.  They were grotesque, which I suppose is appropriate, except that some were so grotesque that they bordered on the comic.  Take Pressia's grandfather, who has a fan fused into his throat that whirs when he breathes, like a tracheotomy gone horribly awry.  Then there's the revered woman with window frames fused to her chest in the shape of a cross, in case you weren't sure what she symbolized.  There were fusings that seemed almost lovely, like a young man with birds fluttering on his back (I pictured them as blue), but for the most part, the wretches were overdone.

My issues with the wretches wouldn't have been all that big a deal if it wasn't for the bad writing and sloppy story-telling.  As for the narration, you can tell that the author is trying.  You can almost feel her slaving away over lovely metaphors and descriptions, and sometimes she accomplishes it.  Usually she doesn't.  Many times, her editors totally failed her, like in the paragraph that had clearly been written in the narrative voice and was hastily changed to dialogue: "I pulled the gun from my waistband, and, within the dense tangle of bodies,  found the back of a skull...  The Groupies must have felt the sudden shock of death throughout their shared cells" (140).  SNORT. Nobody speaks like that.  And there were other issues, like how Pressia calls her mutation a "doll's head fist" to herself but never aloud, and then other characters call it that too.  That's not actually the obvious thing to call it - the term should be hers, and hers alone.

As for the sloppy storytelling, it was more lazy than anything.  The exposition at the beginning made the book hard to engaged with because it was so obvious, like when sixteen-year old Pressia tells her grandfather to tell her a story she's heard a hundred times before.  Also, the repeated use of the deus ex machina just prevents the characters (and thus the author) from exhibiting creativity and ever really being at risk.  Two - count them, TWO - people believed dead come back to save everyone's butts, and one of them promptly dies again (the other one is too useful to kill off).

Okay, this post is getting excessively long, but one final complaint: the whole allegory was a pile of malarkey.  Partridge goes on and on about this fairy tale his mom used to tell him, which even before we hear it is obviously symbolic to the story, and then we finally hear it and it's too ridiculously long to conceivably be a child's bedtime story or be remembered in such detail.  Then, the characters are painfully slow in figuring out what it all means and when they finally figure it out, they insist on spelling out the whole meaning because apparently the readers are morons too.

This post came out a little more ranty than I intended, but I think that's just indicative of how disappointed I was.  I had high hopes for Pure, partially because of a review I read by somebody whose opinion I respect and partially because it is sold in the adult's section, and it's bad enough when books talk down to kids and teens.  A lot of it just felt lazy and rushed - there was potential there but it wasn't fleshed out.  If this was rewritten by, say, Margaret Atwood, I'd read it in a heartbeat.


  1. Oh, how disappointing. I've been eyeing these books since Pure was published, wondering whether I should wade into them. From your review, I would guess not!

    1. Definitely not. I was really excited for it and it just fell flat. I read it with a friend, who liked it a little better than me so she tried to read the next book, and she couldn't even finish it. There's potential, but it's too poorly written and edited.