End Date: October 25
Author: Blake Crouch
Genre: Suspense / Thrillers
Pages: 305 (paperback)
Selected By: Lady Esbe
“Secret service agent Ethan Burke arrives in Wayward Pines, Idaho, with a clear mission: locate and recover two federal agents who went missing in the bucolic town one month earlier. But within minutes of his arrival, Ethan is involved in a violent accident. He comes to in a hospital, with no ID, no cell phone, and no briefcase. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels off.
“As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into the disappearances of his colleagues turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he get any phone calls through to his wife and son in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what is the purpose of the electrified fences surrounding the town? Are they meant to keep the residents in? Or something else out? Each step closer to the truth takes Ethan further from the world he thought he knew, from the man he thought he was, until he must face a horrifying fact: he may never get out of Wayward Pines alive.” – from the Goodreads summary.
Caveat: This review contains spoilers!
I must start with I had high hopes at the beginning of the novel. However, by the end I was a wee bit indifferent. The initial mystery and intrigue convinced me that I would likely continue on in the series to see how it would end. By the end, I wasn’t quite sure if I could push on through the next installment. I tend to watch a screen adaptation before I read a book simply because I feel, the director will screw it up with his vision or the casting director will ruin it with poor casting choices. I also realize this is an upcoming television series for Fox and from reviewing the IMDB file on the impending production I took a gander at the casting which guaranteed that I WILL NOT BE WATCHING the show for the aforementioned reasons.
Before I continue on with the novel critique, I just have to impart my belief of making poor casting decisions will doom a project. Warning, my review will be peppered with references to the casting, which is just as weird and fanciful as the novel itself. Some of it was just ridiculous. I agree with Elle, by no means is Ethan Burke equated to Matt Dillon. Beverly, I picture as someone capable but wily and that definitely does not equate to Juliette Lewis. I hated Sheriff Pope, and I’m not a fan of Terrence Howard, and somehow I still disagreed with the casting of the role. So, yeah. . . I don’t see the point of subjecting myself to something so poorly cast (despite the salaries they are going to end up shelling out on this)that I don’t see how it will get past the first season, unless it will be just a miniseries.
You can’t help but like a story that begins “(h)e came to lying on his back with sunlight pouring down into his face”. As the story unfolds and we are introduced to Ethan Burke, I found myself being equally inclined to root for him and being frustrated with his actions and wanting to put him out of his misery myself. Ethan is likely a very apt Secret Service Agent who was previously a military helicopter pilot. This brings to mind someone who is cool under pressure and considering the sector of the Secret Service he works for, he would be capable and willing to tread lightly to achieve his goals. However, this is not how he behaves, which made me concerned as to why he so ineptly maneuvered through a good portion of the book. I tried to allot for his disorientation as a result of the accident. Initially, I didn’t agree with Elle and am still a little reluctant to attribute his attitude and actions as the arrogance of his station. To some degree, there is the arrogance that Ethan has the full backing of the U.S. government behind him as he investigates the whereabouts of his missing colleagues, but he doesn’t think or understand to tread softly when he is utterly without back up. His arrogance can definitely be portrayed by Matt Dillon, but the build and good looks are way off the mark and if they are going for me to be annoyed with Ethan, they probably couldn’t have cast his part more perfectly. (I don’t think I have like any role of Matt Dillon’s going back to The Outsiders, even though I loved that movie) His ineptitude and haphazard oafish investigating causes the death of probably my favorite character, Beverly.
Beverly is quite simple. She’s a strong, yet cautious woman who finds herself in the same situation as Ethan, but unlike Ethan, she does her best to stay under the radar. Upon her introduction in the local tavern, Beverly was the first likeable character that is smoothly sassy with what appears to be a good head on her shoulders, even if she was out of her depth, and gave me hope that she could be an invaluable ally even though we don’t know very much about her at the time. Unfortunately, Juliette Lewis does not fit this bill. Ditzy? Yes. Awkward? Yes. Useless? Absolutely. So I’m not finding her to be a viable option to portray Beverly. Add her annoying whiney, voice into the mix and it’s just nails on a chalkboard for me. Though Beverly is in the same situation as Ethan, finding herself to have awakened in a picturesque town that she would normally just pass through, or in her circumstances, there on a sales call but to find herself living there, she’s not the bull in the china shop. She makes it a point to be as inconspicuous as possible to keep herself alive even while plotting her escape. But in her misguided attempt to help Ethan, she paints a very large target on her back. No matter the care she takes, she is doomed by the mere association with the clod, Ethan.
The town in and of itself is an amazing “character”. I was able to envision a scenic and charming town that made me want to visit, to take in the scenery and leave within a day to escape the small town monotony. On the exterior, it’s the perfect sleepy little town. On the twenty-eighth page of the book Crouch blatantly warns you, “this place isn’t perfect. . . there was darkness everywhere human beings gathered. The way of the world. Perfection was a surface thing. The epidermis. Cut a few layers deep, you begin to see some darker shades.” You couldn’t miss this telegraphing unless you were willingly allowing yourself to be blind to this fact. Building on this, that the beauty is only skin deep, even in a town, cuts deeply. There are many things awry that makes you question throughout the novel. The inability to reach the outside world is certainly the most dire of issues that set me on edge and made me curious as to which level of hell Ethan has stepped into.
To be honest, there are many characters that grated on my last nerve during the course of novel, but I do believe it was by design. Nurse Pam was creepy and psychotic, but it was expected. I think the actress selected for her role is a good choice (Melissa Leo), even if I did envision her a bit younger. She has the Nurse Rachett appeal but with a more sinister sociopath streak coated in what I like to call a false southern charm. Again, her nice façade cracks as Ethan becomes more uncooperative and harkens back to the quote above. Ethan’s fear of returning to the hospital, while not explained initially, is well founded.
Dr. Jenkins, possessed the creep factor that you would expect in such a novel. I do believe that casting Toby Jones as Dr. Jenkins is an excellent choice. I could picture not trusting this doctor on sight. It isn’t until the end of the story that it is revealed that Dr. Jenkins is actually one of the greatest thinkers and inventors of his time that created Wayward Pines as a sanctuary for the last of mankind, for the select few he elected to carry on the species. So, we’ll say he’s brilliant, he’s created and figured out a way to sustain the habitat he has created as an oasis in what is now a wasteland. However, there are a couple of things about Jenkins/Pilcher and the whole scenario that truly bothered me during the course of the novel and all is revealed. First, he is so arrogant that he doesn’t think to invite people of their own free will to join his society. I know this doesn’t necessarily get you a great mix of people, but picking them willy nilly as they happen into the town is also not a true science. Furthermore, upon abducting these people, his pat explanation for their arrival into town is not tailored to each person and their general psyche. While it may not have made for very much suspense, you cannot tell me that he is so brilliant he doesn’t think of a way to integrate people with different personalities and characteristics that he has deemed worthy of staying in different manners to effect the least amount of resistance. We find that Ethan was attempted to be integrated three times. If the first try wasn’t a success, why not try a new method? Or are we to just assume that Jenkins/Pilcher is such a megalomaniac that it just doesn’t matter? I’ll acknowledge that Jenkin/Pilcher’s did adjust his recruitment for periphery character’s into his town. However, you must say that he did not really give Theresa Burke a choice, but framed it as one.
This leads me to Theresa Burke, wife of Ethan. Theresa’s grief over the apparent loss her husband is palpable and understandable. However, her willingness to put her son in harm’s way without truly knowing Ethan’s status was a bit much. It would seem to me that though she was grieving and her desire to be reunited with her husband was unmistakable, I thought her uninformed risk to herself and her son was fraught with errors. Are we to believe she is so desperate to have her philandering husband back, that she would invite a complete stranger into her home, spinning what could only be assumed as a farfetched and ridiculous tale, that she would just say, “sure, take my son and me, it’s all good”. Nevermind, she could be walking into a trap. The woman playing her character is Shannyn Sossamon (A Knight’s Tale), who I actually do like. If anything, I could picture her as Beverly, not the twit who puts her son in harm’s way by faith that the stranger wouldn’t deceive her regarding the fate of her husband. I also couldn’t understand that if they tried to integrate Ethan into their “life” in the Pines previously, she didn’t know him well enough to suggest that telling him the truth, no matter how farfetched it seemed, would be the best course of action. So, she too, is useless.
Sheriff Pope is the typical big fish in a little pond type of sheriff. He enjoys his power and I feel that his actions of antagonism and general airs of doing nothing to help Ethan’s situation was more out of fear of losing his job to another lawman was more his motivation than not rocking the boat of their simulated life. If he had shown his problem solving skills versus sitting on his duff and generally being rude would have ensured he survival versus his certain demise. I found Sheriff Pope annoying and since that is how I feel about Terrance Howard, great, so be it. However, to listen to his voice is also very grating to me and yet another reason to avoid this adaptation.
I found that the conglomerate of the characters left me feeling disenchanted by the Pines versus feeling like something so supremely ominous was occurring there. Initially, I was thinking, this is just a strange situation and I was curious as to where the author was going. We moved from Twilight Zone or Children of the Corn or even The X-Files or Fringe feel to b-rated SciFi network made for television movie (enter Sharknado or similar absurd movie). Attempting to reason for the time lapses, aging up of characters and the like, I was hoping it was a situation where they were experimented on versus cryostatis. The reason for the stasis was understandable, saving humanity. However, the explanation of what happened to mankind, or the evolution of mankind outside of the Pines was lacking.
All in all, I was excited most of the way through the book. However, as we close in on the last twenty-five percent of the book I found myself growing impatient for a resolution and that in adding more and more was only bogging the book down. Not only do we have to deal with an angry mob hunting Ethan down in town. Then we have to deal with the monstrous creatures hunting him within and outside the sanctuary of the Pines. Enough was definitely enough. It felt as if Crouch couldn’t decide which way to go or how to resolve and build into the next installment of the novel. Because most of the novel was intriguing I cannot say I hated it. However, by the end, I definitely couldn’t say that I was absolutely in love with it. There was the potential for something great here and it unfortunately, it fell short.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Beverly.
Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I’m so sad about this novel, because I really was into it for about 70%. I mean… REALLY into it. I read the first 60% in one sitting on Day 1 and didn’t even realize it until my husband thwacked my foot with his hand, effectively snapping me out of the eerily Stepford town of Wayward Pines, and demanded to know if I was ever going to go to sleep or if I planned to read my “freaky book” all night long.
As a whole, the novel moves quite rapidly. There are some jarring moments when the story abruptly switches its point of view from one character to another, but the confusion is obviously intentional and adds a touch of anxiety to the overall tale; just when things begin to come to a head, we leave our protagonist to his own devices and move to someone else, someone whose story begins from a different direction and whose motivations are, while mildly irritating, still believable.
I read the author’s notes at the end of the book, and I must say that, while I see the parallels between Crouch’s self-admitted inspiration (Twin Peaks), it’s a bit ambitious to compare Pines to such a cult classic. The author and I are roughly about the same age, and I also remember being a wee me and thinking Twin Peaks was the strangest thing I’d ever seen up until that point; it asked so many questions and provided very few answers – or hinted at answers and then threw a surreal hallucinatory scene in the way (I am still so, so very messed up over “This is a Formica table… green is its color...” and “The chrome reflects our image…”)
Pines begins with a similar feeling: it’s surreal, it’s bizarre, the surroundings are familiar and yet twisted in such a way that it’s all slightly “off.” It has a very Stepford Wives / The Village sort of charm about it: there is no crime to speak of, the town is picturesque and timeless, the inhabitants are friendly and possess the sort of small-town charm that you just know cannot possibly be genuine or end well for anyone. Ethan bumbles and bluffs his way through Wayward Pines, asking a million questions and receiving smiles and nods in reply, forced to piece together a puzzle for which he has no real pieces. I know Esbe and Em didn’t care much for him or his response to his situation, and I’ll admit to being a bit confused by the fact that he really seems to lose his cool quite quickly for someone who’s withstood the amount of torture he’s allegedly experienced in his past… but I was totally with him for most of the book. I really was.
Then… Ah, then I hit the dreaded 70%. Ethan literally reached the wall outside of town, and I figuratively hit a wall of complete disinterest. I was prepared to buy quite a few possible scenarios for what was going on: a social experiment, perhaps… or something akin to the plot of The Village… I even began to wonder if maybe Ethan was still in that cell being tortured, and all of this was some sort of hallucination…
But no. No, at 70%, Pines becomes cheap and mundane, morphing into a story that I’ve read and seen a hundred times already – it’s been done, done to death, and done better and bigger and more cohesively. It seemed as if Crouch began trying to top himself, or perhaps he’d collected all of his favorite science-fiction twists and decided to smash them all together in one story, opting to connect the weakest and most unbelievable resolution possible to an otherwise quite interesting story. He almost achieved the Twin Peaks mode he was looking for, only to lose control of it in the home-stretch, morphing it into a made-for-TV ScyFy Original Movie; I literally went from devouring the book to scoffing at the absurdity of it all.
As for the characters… Most are relatively flat, and we learn very little about their motivations or even who they are, as they are left as little more than movable, interchangeable scenery. Our protagonist, Ethan Burke is, while not exactly the most charming of men, a believable character for most of the story. His sense of entitlement may come across as over-the-top, but he is written as an attractive, desirable man in a job that is often associated with perks; in reality, people would no doubt respond well to him, and the promise of good publicity or a payback in the near future would certainly push others to do him favors.
Theresa Burke, on the other hand, is – while believable – not one of my favorite characters; she is weak and entirely co-dependent upon her husband, loving and forgiving him not for his character (which is horribly flawed) or his treatment of her (which, at best, could be described as neglectful and absent) but for the fact that he’s handsome and desirable – she even makes decisions for her future and her son’s future on whether or not she’ll get to look at Ethan’s purdy face again. A promising character appears in Beverly, but she’s entirely out of the plot before you really get an opportunity to learn much about her, other than the fact that she’s a bartender who has refused to drink the town’s crazy Kool-Aid. And the antagonist essentially turns into your typical megalomaniac mastermind, cackling in a corner and rubbing his hands together while spouting off all of the details of his elaborate plans.
So, I would give the first 70% 4 cups and the last 30% 1 cup… I’ll split the difference here and go with 2 cups of lukewarm tea – it was an okay read, but certainly not good enough to push me to read any other selections from the series.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Beverly. She knew who she was and wouldn’t compromise her true self or deny the dangerous truth in exchange for a comfy, cozy lie.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
Caveat: This review does contain spoilers!
I really did like this book; it was a quick read and kept you on your toes. The mystery behind the plot didn’t end up annoying me quite as much as it did the other Ladies, but I had already guessed a good chunk of it before the story laid the details out for me.
I personally felt that Blake Crouch did an excellent job of making Ethan a real person rather than a superhero; yes, he was former military, and yes, he was in the Secret Service, but you are never given the impression that this character feels that he is perfect or that he can do everything on his own because of his training or his expertise. In fact, Crouch does the opposite: Ethan seeks help, he’s desperate for it, and he makes great, oafish errors that are glaringly obvious once you finish the book but which seem quite minor when they originally occur. He is arrogant, but I found this made him all the more believable; I would be arrogant and pushy if I was in the Secret Service, too, and I would certainly use that position to my advantage. We are also repeatedly told that he is exceptionally good looking – another weapon which he uses to get his way.
Mrs. Ethan – or Theresa Burke – just pissed me the hell off. There wasn’t a scene in which she appeared that her whining, mousy, oh-Ethan-isn’t-he-pretty-oh-don’t-I-have-a-dreamboat attitude didn’t make me want to knock her head clean off. And I can tell you one thing: if my husband cheated on me, I certainly wouldn’t convince myself it was okay because of how handsome he was. And he sure as hell better not come running to me for assistance when everything goes belly-up and expect to find me waiting there with open arms to take his sorry ass back, either. Nope. I mean, she was already prepared to forgive him for future infidelities that hadn’t even happened yet!! And then Ethan turns around a little while later and makes it very clear that, had their roles been reversed and she had cheated on him, he certainly would not have forgiven her. I mean… seriously?!?!?! What???!!!!???!!!
The story had quite a few plot twists and left many questions unanswered; I would, of course, be interested in knowing how all of this turns out – but, in the end, the final sci-fi twist threw me off just enough to make me disinterested about the remainder of the series. I think I might have been okay with the psycho-scientist excuse if – and only if – we found out at some point that he’d had a mental breakdown and something had happened to his family that pushed him to make this decision for the good of all of us. I need more than, “Well, this one uber-rich scientist in the 1970s knew humanity would be extinct by such-and-such date, so I decided to take a few volunteers and then run around and kidnap a bunch of unsuspecting people so that our race could avoid going the way of the dinosaurs.”
I mean, really, I’m supposed to believe that some random rich guy decided to kidnap people and cryofreeze them… just to wake them all up in a couple thousand years? And why did he do this, again? Ah, yes, of course: because he knew the human species was going to crash and burn. Well, my question about this would be: why would he care? He and all of the people he knows in his lifetime would have been dead by the time this mass extinction occurred. I would, of course, like to believe that humans as a species will be around for all time – but rather than, say, build a bunch of cryotubes for a random selection of strangers, I think my first step to ensure our survival might be to take care of the planet we all have to live on. I’m certainly not going to leap straight to building a containment cell for myself so I can wake up and be Empress over the handful of people I snatched up and then confused the shit out of by playing games with their heads when they first woke up. (And trust me, you wouldn’t want to be one of the chosen few I locked in cryotubes, either; I have horrible decision-making skills and would end up like Wormtongue, slowly dragging our pitiful species towards some other horrible end.)
And that, now that I think about it, would have almost been a better ending. Ridiculous, yes, but no more ridiculous than cryofreezing a bunch of random people just ’cause he wanted to. “I wanted to be King of the World, and the only way that could happen was if humans were annihilated and I hand-picked the most idiotic group of human beings imaginable. Welcome to Wayward Pines – otherwise known as the Island of Misfit Toys.”
I don’t want to give you the impression that I hated this book – I rather liked a majority of it. But that last quarter of it or so just really tried my patience, and the ending was so ridiculous that I can’t help but feel strongly opposed to it. So, I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a fast-paced, fun, diverting read… just don’t expect too much from the ending.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Beverly.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
The Divine Ms. Em:
Caveat: This review does contain spoilers!
This novel did manage to keep me on the edge of my seat for a good portion of the story, though the back-and-forth between characters and periods of time were a little strange (they were eventually explained in the end, but the way those instances abruptly interrupted other established scenes and points of view was quite jarring).
I had a hard time following the explanation (nor do I agree with the premise) that the authority figures in any sort of brave new world would resort to physical and psychological torture in order to keep a handful of survivors in line; there would be no human race worth mentioning or capable of reclaiming and retaining even a portion of the earth if what we were reduced to was a little pretend town that spent a majority of its time, energy, and resources maintaining its Stepford-like appearances. The only way I can really grasp this now that I’ve finished the book is by assuming those authority figures were simply trying to keep the “sheep” in the dark until the population reached large enough numbers that a few could be lost without effecting the entire gene pool… but until that time, how such a civilization might be self-sufficient and self-sustaining is impossible, considering the inhabitants were never permitted to leave town and there were no farms to speak of.
I also thought the whole premise of Ethan continuously repeating the same “unacceptable” behavior (such as running from the townspeople and going back and forth from the hotel and hospital) was absurd and bordered on insanity; it wasn’t enough that he go through the same rigamarole once or twice – no, they let him do it three times, over and over, and yet seemed genuinely shocked that the results were always the same. The mob mentality that rose up so easily and willingly at certain times of the year was also totally ridiculous; Crouch has written a world where the authorities can’t tell the plebs that their town represents the last remaining humans on the planet, and the world of the future is NOW and is dominated by devolved humanoid creatures that live just outside the walls a few yards from their doorsteps, but it’s perfectly acceptable for those same authorities to pick up the phone and call those “delicate” citizens and tell them to don their costumes and come out into the night for a few hours of hunting, torturing, and killing one or two of their own?? Seriously??!! I bet they don’t advertise that in the brochure.
I had a hard time buying any of the plot, to be honest, nor could I believe in the main character. Ethan’s entire attitude just didn’t fit the description of him that we were given, and I don’t buy that he would agree to live in that horrid little happy town of psychopaths under the dictatorship of Pilcher – he accepted a position for a job which became vacant only after our “hero” witnessed his predecessor being purposefully left behind to be devoured alive by the aforementioned feral mutant humanoids. I mean… the protagonist stuck to his beliefs for so long – well over half the novel – and he went through complete hell over and over, just to say in the end, “Oh… okay… well, sure, I’ll play along, then.”
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Beverly. Though I don’t think I could cut that tracking chip from my own thigh! 😦
Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.