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on 29 April 2002
The second Lethem book that I have read and in some ways it has made me rethink how much I liked the first (GwOM). Again this is a "genre-bending" (This phrase seems to be used in every review I have seen) book, this time western-SF rather that detective-SF. Western-SF has a much larger heritage that detective-SF as huge amouts of early SF were really just westerns in space. You know the sort of thing, a group of collonists (pilgrims) set out in their spaceships (waggons) to found a new life on a new world (in the new world).
This is a bit different in that for all of it being set against a somewhat confusing SF-Western backdrop it is really a book about sexual awakening, coming of age and the perversions of man. Strangely the thrust of the book is lurking under the surface and does not really ever shine. You get the fealing that the author has tried too hard to fit too many things into one short book.
The final chapters seem particularly rushed, as if Lethem suddenly realised that the book was getting a bit long for a slim paperback. It is almost like a child who gets so absorbed in their english homework that they start writing something good, only to realise that they have already done their 500 words and cut the end of a good tale off in a fit of laziness.
The fact that Lethem (in these books) seems to want to show off his skill, at mixing and changing styles, at painting diverse characters, at rendering believable and solid worlds (all of which he does very well) makes me wonder if these books are not simply "journeyman" pieces, simply designed to show off his skill rather than to effect the reader.
They are wonderfully crafted pieces (aside from the ending of GiL) and I am left wanting to read his other books, but I wonder if I will ever find substance beneth the fine glaze that his words form
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on 14 June 1998
Pella and her family, leave behind an underground earth, their fathers political defeat, and their mother's unexpected death for the planet of the archbuilders. The great civilization built by the archbuilders is left in ruins, and the currenct archbuilders are deemed poor copies of their once great ancestors by the immigrants. In a dusty frontier "town" with a few other families, archbuilders, and the unspoken leader, Effram, Pella finds herself a political pawn. First to her father as he decides she and her brothers will not take the medication to protect them from the archbuilders virus. Then to Effram who is trying to undermine Pella's fathers' place in the town as a leader, and kill the remaining archbuilders. The adults fear and prejudice toward the archbuilders prevent them from understanding the archbuilders, and leads to violence in the town. These actions rip the town apart and damage the fragile community. Finally Pella, her family broken by the move, and tired of watching the destruction of the town by Efframs' anger at the remaining archbuilders, begins to fight for justice. For herself and the others. Pella's transformation by the events in the town and the archbuilders virus, and Efframs anger at the current archbuilders and obsession with their ancestors make for two compelling characters. Tension, anger, voyeriusm, and grief color this story making it wonderful and at times suspenseful read.
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on 4 April 2006
I guess the other reviewer was not very sensitive, or was blinded by the usual prejudice against SF. I do not want to waste your time defending SF and its dignity as a literary territory. Read Dick, read Disch, read Delany, read the early Ballard, and then judge, if you please. But saying that SF is not Lethem's favorite playground obviously means you don't know much/anything about Lethem. He's a brilliant, gifted, and highly original SF writer who turned mainstream when he wrote Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude. But he never forgot his roots. There's a hommage to Philip K. Dick even in the Fortress (which, being based on superheroes among many other things, is partly SF too). As for Girl, it's a great, moving, disquieting vision of America, projected on a faraway planet whose landscape has been cut and pasted from a disquieting masterpiece of US western mindscape, The Searchers. A book about families, children, multicultural relationships, thwarted ambition and crippled love, about loss and mothers, and motherless children. A great book.
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on 24 April 1998
This is what novel writing is all about, a truly imaginative exploration. Lethem may have been pegged as a science ficiton writer, but he is one of the most intriguing young American Fiction writers working today regardless of genre. "Girl in Landscape" should be one of those crossover type books the people who like to label writers are always so eager to discover.
At first I was struck by some similarities in a novel I read 2 years ago ("Straitjacket & Tie" by Eugene Stein), but as Lethem's story progresses the clash between Archbuilders and humans becomes less of an alien/Earthling struggle and more of a metaphor of all explorers in new worlds, both on land and in the heart. It is hard to ignore the essential American frontiersman and Native American analogies that Lethem's story evokes as well.
What makes this book so compelling is that we discover the Planet of the Archbuilders and its secrets as Pella does. Discovery is part of the novel's rich landscape. Pella - a growing teenager confilcted with herself and family - tries so desperately to find a new place in a new world that she can call her own and, as a result of the alien virus, floats out of her body becoming a literal outsider - sometimes looking in on herself. There is also the alien's discovery of the English language and the way the Archbuilders (particularly Hiding Kneel) make use of its poetry and even learn to make jokes.
This is a novel that speaks to our very humanity forcing us to look at how we treat each other, how we exclude others because of difference, how we all keep looking for a new home - a better place where we can finally belong.
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on 2 October 1998
Jonathan Lethem has shown an amazing command of different genres, from the pulp "Gun, With Occasional Music" to the road trip "Amnesia Moon" to the twisted romance of "As She Climbed Across the Table." To call Lethem a Science Fiction Author is to do him a grave disservice by limiting the great scope of his small body of work.
"Girl with Landscape" is a of coming-of-age western set on a dreary planet with the ruins of an alien civilization. Pella Marsh, the central character, represents innocent youth, but also the strength of youth that most adults refuse to acknowledge.
The characters are all too real, especially in their bigotry and hatred, and the aliens are well-thought out, garnering are sympathy and occasionally our irritation and even disgust.
No lines are drawn clearly and no easy routes are taken in this novel. It's dreary and dark, but a brilliant work worth reading by anyone who likes good writing and a good story.
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on 30 August 1999
"Gorgeous" is the adjective that kept coming to mind after reading this. A great hybrid of science-fiction, western and coming-of-age novels (a sort of post-bildungsroman story). I really cannot understand why other readers found the grown-ups in the novel two-dimensional. They were absolutely real, and Efram Nugent is a bigger-than-life character that reaches mythical status. One should thank Lethem for his ability to show how surrealistic the United States can be. And his absolutely perfect, terse style, that is getting better and better as he goes on! After this, one wonders what comes next... definitely one of the best novels of the 90s.
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on 12 June 1998
I have read all the Lethem books and I must say this one was up there with Amnesia Moon as the most complex. The story of a young girl's coming of age seemed an odd topic for Lethem, but once you added in the futuristic world and the typical Lethem oddness of chracters it all fell into place. The young girl is forced to mature quicker than all the other charcters in the book, even the Adults. As the world as her world slowly begins to foucus on her, and her alone, she knows that she must take responsiblity for all those around her. This a departure from Gun and Amensia Moon, but it's still a terrific novel. I recommend it to all Lethem fans and fans to be alike!
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on 15 September 2015
The description sounded quite promising, but the book really doesn't go into detail about anything mentioned there. It seemed to be completely rushed and as though the author wanted to cram lots of deep thoughts and meaning into one tiny book, which just made it very jumbled and nonsensical.
- Too much focus on 'sexual awakening'
- Everything is very vague, no explanations
- The story fell flat and trailed off to an unimaginative, boring ending
- Don't learn much about the 'Archbuilders' and they conveniently know nothing about themselves or their origins in the book
- Characters are fickle and not very likeable
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on 2 June 1998
This was quite a ride for me. I enjoyed this book and the creatures seemed very confusing, but I began to understand. I love the plot and the setting. I like the time period also, after the apocolypse. Anyway, I recommend this to anyone who likes fantasy or heart.
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on 4 September 1998
Letham still writes quite well, and his imagination still astounds, but I just didn't like this one that much. I just couldn't identify with any of the aspects of the story. I was never a girl coming of age having a power struggle with the adults around me, and I never lost a parent at a young age. I also was never froced to move very far away from home to someplace strange. I was never much of a spy as a child either. So in the end all I had was a odd landscape against which a fairly depressing story was staged. If you can identify with any of the above experiences you might like this book more than I did. I won't say it was bad, but I wish I hadn't shelled out hardcover price. (something I'd gladly do again for Amnesia moon)
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