Friday, October 24, 2008

I Am The Messenger

Excellent writing. Superb. So superb that if this story were to be turned into a film, the movie would be awful. Dull. Banal. In fact, I think the film's interpretation would be a commercial and critical flop because people would think it was so cheesy and predictable.

But...when read, the characters are so real, so satisfyingly flawed that I didn't care about Ed, Marv, Ritchie and Audrey's mediocre lives and stunted emotional maturity. Zusak writes Ed so convincingly and with enough honesty that I hurt when Ed hurt and felt a little giddy with each of his successes. I don't know any actor that could "emote" Ed's depth, especially when he seems so simple upon first glance. Sometimes (o.k....most of the time in my perfect world), you need words and an author that knows how to use them, to really know a character.

The book begins with Ed, Marv, Ritchie and Audrey, four hapless young 19 to 20 year old friends, lying flat on the floor of a bank while it is being robbed. Following some rather entertaining bantering, Ed becomes a very unlikely hero after he uncharacteristically foils the bank robbers escape.

The chapter is perfect. The setting is vivid and with limited prose, the personalities and relationship between the four friends is immediately drawn. Following Ed's heroics and subsequent attention in the press, Ed receives a mysterious playing card, an Ace of clubs, with three addresses and different times of day next to each. Ed realizes, with a little help from two thugs who break into his apartment and threaten him, that someone is watching and waiting for each message to be delivered. After he figures out what to do at each address, the ace of diamonds is delivered, with an even more mysterious message. Because Ed has to figure out what the messages are and who to deliver them to each time, the story has a suspense/mystery feel to it, even though most of Ed's missions aren't scary or dangerous (notice I say most. Some of the messages are downright "Aw, shucks"ish, but he also has to figure out how to stop a drunk who rapes his wife every night and eventually does it with a gun. Not exactly Hallmark material).

In spite of my love affair with Zusak's writing, which truly has me gushing, the plot is flawed. Preceding the book's lame-before-I-understood-and-even-lamer-after-I-understood ending, I couldn't help but think while reading, "who would do this?" Who would act on coded messages on a playing card, without contacting the police, without knowing how or why or when or who? It wasn't as if Ed was some super sleuth. His James Bond/Ethan Hunt make-over seemed a bit of a stretch. I simply didn't believe that Ed, in his 19 years of living without confidence or ambition, would even act on the first card. How did Ed, who cannot tell the girl he loves how he feels, or his mother to be nice, suddenly have the nerve to hang out with an elderly woman pretending to be Jimmy, her husband who had died in the war? The leap seemed too great. Buying an ice cream cone for a poor single mother, yes....I could believe that (although I have to admit that each time the message was this simple and and easy to deliver, I wondered, "who is bothering with this elaborate ploy?" Kind of a lot of brou-ha-ha for icecream/lights/telling your friend to get a job.

From it's ending, I get it. Zusak is. He is the messenger and the book is his message. He created Ed and Ed's story because he wanted us to know, whether great or small, we should help each other. More than that, we should be the kind of person who is willing and available to help each other. Because by doing so, we help ourselves.

Fine and great, but by inserting himself into the story, after writing in such a typical, fiction-like manner, the whole book became kind of space age. I guess I felt duped. The strength of the book came from Ed being so real, but the author took that away from me by the end. I felt...manipulated. I mean, I didn't realize I was reading the Wizard of Oz. At least that book had flying monkeys and talking lions.

Bad ending. Great book.

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