Book Review from the Pocket Pistol: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow (Roughly 325 Pages)
I loved this author’s collection of short stories, Overclocked: Stories of Future Present, and his “young adult” novel, Little Brother. That’s why I found this book somewhat disappointing, despite the fact it wasn’t a bad read overall.
My impression of the writing style was that Doctorow was reading a lot of Gaiman around the time he wrote it. The fact that I had just recently finished The Graveyard Book had Gaiman’s authorial voice fresh in my memory, so I kinda feel like I know what I’m talking about when I say that Doctorow’s narrative voice and story elements in Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town came across a little bit like an imitation of Neil Gaiman’s — though the story itself was of course a significantly different beast than that in The Graveyard Book. By no stretch of the imagination was Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town written for anyone but adults.
I had a lot of difficulty sympathizing with any of the characters at all, let alone identifying with any of them. It’s certainly a good idea for characters to have flaws and other humanizing features that make them more accessible and give them depth, but it’s usually not a good idea to give them flaws that make them almost wholly unlikeable on some level. The few characters that I might have been able to sympathize with on some level were treated rather cavalierly, as supporting cast of only tertiary importance. The one potential exception for me, someone that I rather thought I’d like when given the chance to know him better as he became a more central character, turned out to be not at all what he pretended to be in an extremely underplayed twist ending, thus ruining any sympathetic qualities he might have had.
I was more interested in a fairly well developed subplot than in the main plot through most of the book. The core plot, though, became a lot more interesting as the climax got up to speed. Unfortunately, it crashed a bit for me with the escape after the second fire (that’s as close as you get to a spoiler in this), and the denouement didn’t do much for me.
This was, in comparison with Overclocked and Little Brother, what I’d call a “failure” for this author. We’ll see how I feel after I read more of his stuff in the future. A lot of it felt like literary experimentation that was kind of rough around the edges, and needed more editing and polishing, before it would be something that measured up to those other two works. Still, a “failure” in this author’s hands seems so far to be better than a win in the hands of many lesser authors I’ve read, and as a result it’s actually a very readable book, even engrossing at times.
There is another novel by Doctorow that I’ve read: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I liked it only about as much as Someone Comes to Town (maybe a bit less), but for completely different reasons. Maybe the problem is that I like his short stories and young adult novels, but not his more adult-targeted novels so much. I’ll definitely need to read some more Doctorow to come to a solid opinion on such trends, though.