One of my greatest resolutions this year is simply to read more. Over on Goodreads, I gave myself the 2015 resolution of reading 40 books. It seems do-able, and I kicked all of this off by finishing Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore yesterday. Continue below for my non-spoilery Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore review!
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore is a quick read, which is not to say that it was easy or simple. In fact, like most of the reviews stated on the Goodreads, the actual plot and kicker of the book, I didn’t see coming from a mile away. The overall idea of the plot was well-executed and well-structured, and I found it invigorating because it’s a basic adventure novel, much like the one I am writing.
The narrator and protagonist is hilarious and easy to like, aside from having an utterly douchebag name (Clay. Who the hell names their character Clay?) He’s just enough of a sad-sack to make you like him, but smart enough to not be pitiable or just another mid-20s male suffering from acute Peter Pan syndrome. There’s no Phillip Roth-y males here– they’re all loveable, artsy, and intelligent dorks. Additionally, there are awesome people of color AND women in the immediate supporting cast, who are both smarter and more capable than the main character. It helps to read a story about a well-off white guy when he stands in constant awe of his Indian best friend and a woman.
The main things I didn’t like about Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore was, essentially, that some of the writing was a bit sloppy. Not grammatically or anything, but the fact that details that would have gotten me into the book faster (or have made reveals all the better) were delivered too late. It’s like watching a sci-fi movie and finding out that your character has a Ph.D. in astrophysics just in time to build a rocket. The surprises are nice and you do always root for the right people, but the build isn’t long enough for suitable payoffs. Truly great adventure and mystery novels give you the details you need to know before you ever realize you need to know them.
Then again, I am starting to wonder if today’s readers care so much about the suspense and payoff. One of the main things I hated about the Hunger Games trilogy was just how convenient all of Katniss’s outs were. Starving to death? Soup falls from the sky. Need amazing weapons? Bow and arrows fall from the sky. As a writer, I’ve always been told to steer very well clear of anything that resembles deus ex machina, the antiquated and downright cheesy trope that translates literally to “god from a machine,” an old technique in Greek theater when a completely unsolvable problem would suddenly and abruptly have a solution when, like, Zeus would be lowered down from the catwalk on ropes and declare the problem solved. Since plot comes from struggle, what fun is it when your character needs money and has a billionaire best friend, or when your person is dying and medicine literally falls from the sky?
Both Penumbra and Hunger Games try to give us good reasons as to why their deus ex machina excuses exist (for Hunger Games, it’s because patrons can “root” for tributes by sending them gifts; I’ll leave Penumbra’s excuses out of this because you should totally read the book) but honestly, it’s lazy. A lot of my own writing for my book has been trying to go through it with a fine-toothed comb and eradicate any situation where a character gets something for nothing. It’s not realistic, even though I’m not sure if reading audiences can even tell anymore. I’m going to sound like a crochetty old bitty, but in the day in age when you can Amazon Prime toilet paper (and lo, how I do), is it that farfetched to assume that anytime you need something, you can get it nearly instantly?
All in all, if you need a super quick and entertaining read, you could do a lot worse than Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. I also have to mention that my paperback edition has a glow-in-the-dark cover, which is freaking awesome. I gave it five stars on Goodreads for its humor, ingenuity and overall good time.