Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Black Is Many-Hued

I don’t remember all that much about my elementary-school days. However, I do recall one art class in particular. My teacher held up a color wheel and pointed out the three primaries. Combining these in varying proportions, she explained, yielded the rest of the colors. Red and yellow made orange, yellow and blue formed green, and so on. This fascinated me, but what really blew my six-year-old mind was how she said we got black -- by combining everything. That couldn’t be right, could it? So I did what any doubtful kid would do: I dumped all my Crayolas on the desk and started wildly scribbling with each one on a fresh sheet of paper. A similar sense of unfettered experimentation marks Ted Dekker’s genre-bending novel Black.

Thomas Hunter has gotten himself into a fix. It was bad enough that he borrowed two-hundred grand from the Mob under false pretenses, but the fact that he hasn’t paid it back has made matters even more tense. Fleeing from a posse of contract killers through the backstreets of Denver, Thomas gets clipped on the head by a stray bullet and passes out. When he wakes up, he isn’t in the Rocky Mountain state. Or the USA. Or anywhere on earth, as far as he can tell. Thomas finds himself in a wood black as midnight being attacked by a horde of ferocious bat-like creatures. He soon collapses from blood loss -- and is back in Denver. He quickly learns that he’ll alternate realities every time loses consciousness and that both places are in danger of destruction, one from the bats (dubbed the Shataiki) and the other from a global pandemic (soon to be caused by a virus called the Raison Strain). Only Thomas isn’t sure which location is actually real and if he’s supposed to avert the disasters -- or be their cause.

Let’s admit it up front: Black is a bit of a mess. When it comes to genres, Dekker not only throws in the proverbial kitchen sink, he chucks in the bath tub, the washer and dryer, the dining room table, a chandelier, and some insulation to give things texture. In Black, you can detect a bit of (breath) the higgery-jiggery time-travel paradox of Twelve Monkeys; the viral terrors of The Hot Zone; the mythic strangeness of George MacDonald’s Lilith; the chop-socky fisticuffs from The Matrix; the spiritual allegory of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series
; the bosom-heaving passion of a Regency historical romance; the high-stakes geopolitics informing a Tom Clancy technothriller; and the perspective-bending horror of Silent Hill. Sounds awful, right? It isn’t, though. True, a lot of the novel doesn’t work. (The romantic interludes pretty much always fall flat.) But Dekker goes at it with such gusto that you can’t help reading on to see what combination he’ll try next and cheering him on when he succeeds. Black may not achieve a uniform sheen, but its palette is fun to behold.

(Picture: CC 2008 by
Paradox 56; Hat Tip: B. Nagel)


Unknown said...

wow sounds crazy! great review.


Loren Eaton said...

Thanks, Aimee! It's an interesting book. Not without its flaws, but interesting all the same.

B. Nagel said...

There's a lot in that review. And I agree.

There's also a fair amount of Lewis's Space Trilogy but that may come in the next book.

The annoying/amazing thing about Dekker is that even if the story doesn't track 100%, you can't put it down.

Planning on reading Red?

Loren Eaton said...

You know, when I first started reading it, I thought, "Oh, crap, I think I'm going to hate this." The flipping back and forth wasn't working for me, and the romance felt completely tone deaf. But Dekker kept trying all this different speculative stuff, and about halfway through the pieces started really coming together. The clenching scene for me came when Thomas is running through the jungle, gets shot in the skull and finds a way to get healed in the alternate reality in the split second before death. That was well done.

I'll probably pick up Red at some point. The reading list has a queue of about five titles now, though.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

I've been avoiding Decker for some time now, mainly because I have too many books on the queue that I'm not skeptical about. But your account of how messily it blends genres makes me rather more curious to read it.

Loren Eaton said...

It's definitely unique. You have to love that kind of genre experimentation to enjoy it, because there are plenty of things to trip over. But when it rolls -- and it really does a few times -- it's quite fun. Oh, yes, and it's pulp. Don't go in expecting lit.

ollwen said...

I picked up "Red" not knowing anything about it and listened to maybe half of it on audio book across Tennessee and Virginia before returning it to Cracker Barrel. I couldn't decide if I liked it or not. Based on one interview I heard of Dekker, the experimentation really is the thing for him. (The interview was on the release of 'white' or 'green' the 4th book- sequel/prequel of the 'trilogy' if that gives any clues)

I've known people that love his work and others that could care less. I have wondered what someone like Loren might think of it. Thanks for the review.

Loren Eaton said...

Thanks for reading, Sam! Dekker's definitely eclectic. I'll probably get to Red at some point, but my reading list is pretty crowded in the short term.