Friday, March 15, 2024

Karen S. Wiesner: Oldies But Goodies {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Oldies But Goodies

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Host by Stephenie Meyer

by Karen S. Wiesner

After I finished my last writing reference, I'd started to hear about what I thought was a "flavor of the day" trend going around writing circles. In direct opposition of everything I'd ever taught about the crucial need to go deep with characters, writers were being told that it's best not to include more than basic information about main characters, not even providing last names for them--this supposedly allows readers to fill in the blanks with their own details, making the characters whatever they wanted them to be.

I can't impart to you just how much I disliked that idea then, and how much I hate it now. First, my characters don't belong to readers. They belong to me. And, since they're mine, I choose who they are and what they stand for, what choices they make. It's inconceivable to me that any writer would surrender proprietary rights of character development to readers, that author's don't care enough about every aspect of their stories and craft to protect them from poking and prodding, breaches and violations. Beyond that, how can character development be fluid enough to allow something like that without compromising everything vital in a story? There can be no solid ground in that situation.

Individual character choices directly influence outcomes. That's a no brainer. Logically, if a character isn't well defined, motives and purposes are constantly in question as well as in flux. Additionally, if readers can't understand where the characters are coming from, then how can the story make any kind of sense? 

Ultimately, how can readers root for characters and want them to succeed? They can't. Readers not emotionally invested enough to, frankly my dear, give a damn what happens move on, unimpressed. Don't kid yourself: A story without impact is quickly forgotten.

Unfortunately, what I thought was a trend that would come and go quickly ended up becoming the norm in the last few years. So many of the books I read these days, the films and TV shows I watch have characters that just make no impact on me whatsoever. Even if I'm captured by a plot, the imbalance of bad things happening to unformed lumps of clay that haven't bothered trying to convince me to care…well, what can I say? I'm not moved. There's more of an eh, so what? response while I move on and I don't look back.

This really came home to me recently. I watched the science fiction suspense movie called I.S.S. and, later, someone asked me how it was. My response? "It was good with a compelling plot, but I never learned much of anything about the characters involved in the conflict. Bits here and there." At the end of the movie, the survivors had a short conversation, to the effect of:

#1: "Where are we going?"

#2: "I don't know."

My brain reacted to this with a sum up with, Who cares?

I was barely curious about what might happen next, though normally I hate stories that end on a cliffhanger.

I can't help feeling about this and other stories like it, what a waste. This film could have been so much better, so much more memorable if only the writers cared enough to make us care. Another forgettable installment that'll fall by the wayside instead of resonating with people for longer than the one hour and thirty-five minutes it took to watch it.

For at least the past year, I've found myself much less interested than usual in reading anything new because it's such a rare thing now to find something with a good balance of character and plot development. In my mind, both are required if I'm going to invest myself emotionally, physically, and financially. So I've been re-reading books from my huge personal library that I liked enough to put on my keeper shelves in the past. Over the next month or two, I thought I'd revisit a few of these oldies but goodies with reviews.

The Host was the first new work by Stephenie Meyer after the Twilight Saga reached its pinnacle. Published in 2008, the romantic science fiction tells the tale of Earth being invaded by an enemy species in a post-apocalyptic time. A "Soul" from this parasitic alien race is implanted into a human host body. In the process, the original owner loses all memories, knowledge, even the awareness that any other consciousness ever existed. However, one Soul, called Wanderer (or Wanda), quickly realizes its original host won't be so easily subdued. Melanie Stryder is alive and well and begins communicating with Wanda. Like it or not, Wanda begins to sympathize and realize the violation her species has visited upon humans. The movie adaptation in 2013 was faithful to the story told in the book.

It's never easy for an author that reached the heights of fame Stephenie Meyer did when Twilight fever swept the world to move past such an epoch. The Guardian reviewer Keith Brooke, unfairly I think, said of The Host, "The novel works well, and will appeal to fans of…Twilight…but it is little more than a half-decent doorstep-sized chunk of light entertainment." The Host was well-written and interesting, a solid balance between fully fleshed out characters and conflicts. I enjoyed it. Its only real flaw was falling in the shadow of its dazzlingly bright predecessor.

The author has said she'd like to make this book into a trilogy, and in February 2011, she reported she'd completed outlines for them, even done some writing. Thirteen years later, the only non-Twilight related work from the author has been The Chemist, released in late 2016, a suspense story with no connection to her previous books. Sometimes it's hard to return to things you've been away from for so long, they no longer feel like your own. Maybe that's the case here, and if it is, luckily the story contained in The Host is satisfying without requiring anything more to tie up loose threads.

Next week, I'll review another Oldie But Goodie you might find worth another read, too.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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1 comment:

  1. I totally agree in disliking the trend you discuss in the first paragraph. I haven't come across it before, and, like you, I reject this concept of character development (or non-development). Some pieces of fiction may work better with a protagonist who's a "blank slate," but they would be special cases. I'm with you that the author should know her characters in depth, even if the story doesn't call for revealing everything to the reader. As for last names, I do often omit them in short stories. The narrative is in the protagonist's POV, and how often does one think of one's own surname (except when introducing oneself or filling out a form)?