Tag Archives: conspiracies

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

What a shame it is I never read anything by Robert Cormier when I was a young adult.  I am, instead, forced to read his books as an adult, and lament the fact that I didn’t have the pleasure of reading his stories a long time ago.  I Am the Cheese is an excellent story for tweens and teens that has lost none of its edge since its first publication over thirty years ago.

The first book of Cormier’s I read, The Chocolate War, was good, even if it is what I would consider a boys’ book, with a plot that is exotic in its strangeness to this woman’s brain.  I Am the Cheese has, I think, a more universal appeal.  Adam, the protagonist, faces challenges that are more compelling for a wider audience, which makes it better, in my opinion.

Cormier goes back and forth between two separate parts of Adam’s life.  One is told in straightforward prose, recounting the events of his bicycle ride through three states to visit his father and deliver a package to him.  The other is told through interview transcripts, in which an official of unknown training and origin asks and guides Adam’s exploration of his family’s past.

The lovely thing about Cormier’s telling of Adam’s story is that you feel as though you are learning about Adam slowly.  You know he has things that he is keeping hidden, and you can guess at some of them.  The really delightful thing is that I was wrong a couple of times, so I was still surprised despite my attempts to be ahead of the author’s pacing.

Adam’s story ends up being very interesting, indeed.  I don’t think it’s inappropriate to compare I Am the Cheese to something like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest of Catch-22 for both complexity and the fact that the story involves, in a very integral way, the question of the protagonist’s sanity.  Adam’s life story leads him to question who his parents are and, consequently, who he is.  Worse yet, he finds himself in a situation where he is constantly being asked questions about his family and who they truly are.  This questioning is done in an institution that does not make itself clear to Adam; he’s not sure if he’s in a mental hospital, he’s not sure whether his interrogator is a psychiatrist, and he really doesn’t know how long he’s been where he is.

If there is any drawback to I Am the Cheese, it probably is the loose ends Cormier leaves in the story.  We never find out what happens to Amy, Adam’s best friend.  The story about his bike journey falls apart at the end, as well.  While this might be a case of deliberate stylistic choice on Cormier’s part, I found it a little odd and, at the end, sad.  I wasn’t quite sure what he was attempting to convey through how Adam’s trek concluded, but I didn’t find it all that satisfying.

Overall, I found Adam’s story to be one that kept my interest and kept me guessing.  I’d imagine I Am the Cheese still pleases a young adult audience quite well, despite the lack of vampires or shallow cliques — or, worse yet, the lack of shallow vampire cliques.  For the reader who likes realistic and intelligent fiction aimed at a slightly younger audience, one could do a lot worse, and not a lot better.

Rating: 4/5.

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Filed under 4/5, Book review, Favorable, Fiction

Fatherland by Robert Harris

I have to admit, I was a little excited to read Fatherland.  It was recommended to me on the basis that it takes place in an alternate history.  I am a sucker for alternate histories, so I bit.  The premise sounded interesting:  what if Nazi Germany had won and survived World War II?  What type of society would that be?  Just such a nation is set as the backdrop for the story of a detective charged with solving the puzzle of the death of a high-ranking retired Nazi official.

It is unfortunate that the premise doesn’t lead to a truly unique story.  Our hero, Xavier March, is a detective in Berlin.  Called in to oversee the investigation of a body found in a river, March soon realizes that the death is more than a simple drowning.  He makes some quick discoveries as to who the dead man is, learning that he was one of the first high-ranking Nazi officers.

Then he is thrown off the case.  This is the first in the cliches embedded in Fatherland.  It makes liberal use of the tropes of how mysteries and thrillers work.  Despite the cleverness of the setting, Robert Harris merely took his story out of a real-life setting, like Russia, and plugged it into a slightly more interesting place and time.  He also has the woman who, at first, hated our hero, but came along and became the only person he can trust.  And we have the betrayals by people close to March — all of which were pretty predictable.

Even Xavier March’s feelings toward his own country are relatively predictable.  He’s always spurned the nationalistic activities and groups.  This makes it easier for him to accept the horrible secrets he later discovers, but it also makes it fairly unrealistic.  What person, raised and grown almost entirely in a land full of national and ethnic pride, is likely to be a malcontent?  He should, at least, be involved to an average degree.  I can’t help but think that, if he were miserable in Germany, he would have found a way to leave in a way acceptable to his government.  After all, his son isn’t a pull enough for him to stay once he realizes he needs to leave; he merely was going to give him some money.

I do think, however, that Harris’ setting is remarkable.  The way the society is structured is pretty believable.  The actions of people — the reporting of others, the shunning of those who don’t make the cut, the sterilization of people thought to have Jewish heritage, the fear of anyone in a uniform, the growth of an underground opposition — these are all clearly divined from what happened in the real (and failed) German Nazi state.  There, Harris has found something remarkably terrifying in its potential reality.

In whole, Fatherland‘s setting and society is wonderful.  The plot and characters are not.  For someone who enjoys the typical mystery thriller, this can, at least, provide for some entertaining and predictable reading.  But it almost certainly will disappointing those wanting more out of a book with such amazing promise.

Rating: 2.5/5

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Filed under 2.5/5, Book review, Fiction, Mixed