Sunday, April 21, 2013

Genre-ally Speaking: Matched by Ally Condie

Title: Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publication Year: 2010
Read: April, 2013
Genre: YA-Dystopian
Dys-miss or Dys-hit: Dys-miss. **

The Quick and Dirty:

Tired dystopian clich├ęs make the background for a typical YA love triangle. Attempts to make the book "deep" (i.e. quoting poetry) merely irritate me.

The Wordy Version:

Tolstoy’s famous quote is that every happy family is alike but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. If only this could be applied to futuristic novels in addition to families. As far as I can tell, almost every unhappy future envisioned by novelists is unhappy for the same reason of having a fundamentally flawed socialist government taking away people’s individual freedom.

Matched is the latest YA dystopian book that I’ve read, though I could say that I’ve seen most of its ideas before in The Giver, Brave New World, and the play, Futura. Cassia is seventeen, which means that life is finally starting for her—she’s to receive her government-appointed “match” (selected for the greatest likelihood of success in marriage and co-parenting) and she’s ready to take her qualification test for her future work in the “sorting” industry. Cassia’s ready to follow this path until an official admits that another boy would be a better possible match for her if he weren’t ineligible for his birth father’s politics. As Cassia draws closer to her would-be match, she learns that her society’s seeming prosperity and happiness comes at a price for a large segment of the population, and that her society is about to face military conflict.

I found Cassia to be an insipid character, and neither of her matches to be particularly interesting. Presumably they’re all very smart—Cassia is a patterns whiz-kid, Xander is a master of games, and Ky is possibly more brilliant than both of the others—but their dialogue is dull as dirt, and Cassia’s narration is no more vivid.

Author Ally Condie tries to infuse life into the book by making Cassia and Ky memorize Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” but the poem is reduced to its title, and stripped of almost all of its emotion. I don’t know how many readers take the time to look up the complete poem (which is three-times as long as the quoted section), or “Crossing the Bar” by Tennyson, which is cited and then ignored, but if you read them fully, it’s bizarre that Condie lets Casssia’s interpretation be so limited. Seriously, what Cassia gets from the two poems her grandfather leaves her as a deathday present is an appreciation for the beauty of words (evidently the 100 surviving poems from the world don’t use evocative language?) and the idea that she should fight the establishment. She doesn’t even consider mortality as a result of reading them. Not that this presents a problem to most readers, because any mention of death from these poems is somehow not in the book.

The only thing the poetry manages to do in the context of the novel is show, very clearly, how much more quality can be found in the written word than what Cassia thinks. And this just makes me annoyed again at hoping to get more out of the book than the same tired futuristic socialist vision it promised.


Alyssa said...

I also am irritated when books try to make themselves deep simply by inserting some poetry, which upon closer inspection actually has no connection to the book whatsoever (or a superficial one). Example: In Colleen Houck's Tiger's Curse she quotes William Blake's "The Tyger." As far as I can tell, that book has absolutely nothing in common with the poem, except the fact that both contain a tiger. Granted, I lemmed that book after a only a couple chapters, but if anyone has read it in its entirety and found there to be a real, substantial connection between book and poem, please let me know.

That being said, when done well, the insertion of poetry can really add to the reading experience. John Green and Libba Bray come to mind as authors who excel at that. Libba Bray's use of Yeats' "The Second Coming" (And what rough beast, its hour come round at last / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born) in The Diviners was particularly powerful.

But if poorly executed...yech. The addition of poetry or references to it in the story itself or as an epigraph can definitely add depth, but when done poorly it just highlights bad writing and gives an impression of less intelligence.

Ash said...

I completely agree with your assessment! When I think back to treading the trilogy (yes, I read all three in the hopes that something would deepen) all I feel is annoyance. There was so much potential there--even going back and re-reading 'The Giver' afterward, a book that I love but always leaves me wanting more, wasn't enough to wash away the bad taste it left me. And I really think it was the absolute disappointment that has me so mad.

I wasn't even entertained by the end. And had absolutely no investment or caring for the characters--I have been known on more than one occasion to continue reading a book that was not particularly well written as I was entraptured by the characters. But the characters themselves, or the "romance" between Xander, Cassia, and Ky was nothing worth noting. I was underwhelmed with the characters to the writing itself. I had hoped that once there was a break from Society that it would pick up (book 2) but really, the best parts of Matched (the world itself) were taken from The Giver. What a great world Condie chose to play in and what a terrible job she did considering it was supposed to be about the power of words.

Alyssa said...

Have you read the sequels to The Giver? I believe there are three--I haven't read any of them, but they might give you the "more" you want! I remember when the second one, Gathering Blue, came out, but I seem to remember it being more of a companion novel than a true sequel. And I had no idea there were more until last fall, when the author came to my local bookstore to promote the final one!

Susan said...

Power to you for pushing through the next two installments. And thanks for confirming my guess that the "romance" doesn't develop into anything! My only curiosity by the end of this volume was if Xander dies in the end (which would be a terrible reason to bother to read anything narrated by Cassia).

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