Sunday, March 1, 2015

Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Published: Mulholland Books (2014)

The Book:

“Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies, but this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half-boy, half-deer, somehow fused. The cops nickname him "Bambi," but as stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?

If you're Detective Versado's over-achieving teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you are the disgraced journalist, Jonno, you do whatever it takes to investigate what may become the most heinous crime story in memory. If you're Thomas Keen, you'll do what you can to keep clean, keep your head down, and try to help the broken and possibly visionary artist obsessed with setting loose The Dream, tearing reality, assembling the city anew.”

I’d been waiting to finish my review of The Shining Girls before I read this, and now I am once again caught up with reading all of Beukes’s novels. I’ve also heard that this one is going to be adapted as a television series.  I’m going to keep an eye out for that!

My Thoughts:

Broken Monsters shares a number of similarities with The Shining Girls (which I reviewed few weeks ago). They’re both serial killer stories with a supernatural twist, and so tend to lean toward thriller and horror genres. They both also have viewpoint chapters from the killer’s perspective.  They are also both set in a major American city, and the culture of the city is a heavy influence (Chicago for The Shining Girls and Detroit for Broken Monsters).  However, the focus and structure of the two novels are quite different. In terms of structure, I felt like Broken Monsters was moving a little bit back toward the style of Moxyland, where there are multiple characters with separate storylines, which intersect at different points.  I liked that there was a lot more going on in the plot besides the central murder mystery, and I think this was a major reason why this book captured my attention so completely.

A major focus of the story involved social media and modern art, and the intersection of the two in terms of presentation, audience and meaning.  I think it is pretty tricky to involve a lot of social media and communication technology, because the trends through which people communicate can change so rapidly.  In relation to the current world, I thought the memes, teenage behavior, and txtspk felt fairly accurate, though I don’t know how gracefully these aspects will age.  For example, will anyone know what Nyan Cat was in ten years, and what will Facebook become? On the other hand, I doubt that the basic idea of the use of social media as a kind of form of performance art and identity construction will change anytime soon.  The creative aspect of social media is seen in both Jonno’s journalism and the risky online activities of Layla and her best friend.  The Detroit modern art scene plays a prominent role as well, and even the murders can be seen as horrific attempts to bring dreams to life. I enjoyed how many of the storylines explored the connections or lack of connections between the artist’s intent, the observer’s perception, and reality.

The focus on social media and art was a major part of what I liked about the novel, but I also enjoyed the characters (though their actions sometimes stressed me out).  I feel like all of the primary characters are ‘broken monsters’ in their own ways.  The killer is a monster, but his murders are more related to mixing dreams and reality than homicidal intent.  The other main characters are less monstrous, but still deeply flawed. For instance, Jonno wrecked his previous relationship and career, and is so desperate to recover them both that his sense of morality has started fraying.  Layla’s problems mostly come from her inexperience and poor decision-making, and her mother struggles to balance her loyalty to the police force with her loyalty to her daughter. TK is probably one of the kindest of the main characters, but he also has a lot of mistakes and heartache in his past.  It was fascinating to watch each of these characters struggle to cope with situations spinning far out of their control, and I ended up staying up far too late one night to see how things would come out in the end.

My Rating: 4/5

Broken Monsters is another of Lauren Beukes’s novels that fall outside of my usual favorite genres (SFF).  Like Shining Girls, it is a horror and thriller about a supernatural-tinged serial killer, but the many viewpoint characters and separate storylines reminded me a little of the style of Moxyland. The post-collapse city of Detroit and its culture plays a large role in the story, and the usage of communication technology feels very contemporary and accurate.  I really enjoyed the role social media, art and ideas of perception vs. intent played throughout various plotlines. In the end, I thought this novel was excellent, and I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of story Beukes will write next!

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