Sunday, March 25, 2018

Madness is Better Than Defeat

Title:  Madness is Better Than Defeat
Author:  Ned Beauman
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2018. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0385352999 / 978-0385352994

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The tribunal will not reconvene until I've had a chance to consider all the available evidence in my case."

Favorite Quote:  "It's not the fall that kills you, it's the landing. That was what people always said. And she's had no fall to speak of, but a hell of a lot of landing to make up for it."

The enjoyment of this book is based on buying into its outlandish premise. Imagine this:
  • The players:  An expedition looking to return with treasure. A movie crew. A CIA agent. Mayan gods.
  • The settings:  New York. Hollywood. A temple in the jungles of the Honduras. A tribunal back in the United States.
  • The time periods:  1930s. Twenty years later. Years later again.
The plot gets complicated, very complicated. In the 1930s, two expeditions leave the United States for the same destination - a preserved temple in the jungle of the Honduras. The objective of the New York expedition is to take the temple apart piece by piece and transport it back to New York. In New York, it will be reassembled for the pleasure of someone rich enough to sponsor this expedition. The objective of the Hollywood expedition is to shoot a movie at the temple in its current location.

Both teams arrive. Each claim the temple as their own. Both refuse to bargain or concede. In other words, both refuse to accept what they define as defeat. A stalemate occurs. The teams never leave. They set up opposing camps and stay. Why, you say? No idea. Madness, you say? Perhaps, that is the idea. As the title suggests, madness is deemed a better choice than defeat.

Almost twenty years later, a CIA agent arrives to investigate. Let's just say it does not end well. That lands us at the beginning of the book which is the CIA agent investigating his case for his own tribunal with an understanding that he will likely die before the investigation is even completed.

I don't completely buy in to the madness that prompts the two crews to stay. The teams encompass a vast array of characters; yet, no one at any time during the stalemate says enough. At the same time, somehow, that ceases to matter.

Reading this book becomes somewhat like playing with a kaleidoscope. The book is made up of a lot of tiny pieces. It moves between time periods, places, and narrators. It moves between a first person narration and an omniscient narrator. Within the main plot, the book incorporates a lot of subplots related to specific characters. At first, I try to keep the pieces distinct, and that is truly challenging with all the shifts. I almost give up, but finally decide that for me, keeping the details straight does not matter in this book. I step back to let go of the details and enjoy the bigger picture of this completely unbelievable, outlandish, but at the same time entertaining situation.

In a kaleidoscope, the individual granules are not important. It is the image formed when they fall together. Also, in a kaleidoscope, the tiniest of turns completely changes the entire picture. It can be viewed as chaotic or lovely, depending on your perspective. For me, there is something hypnotic about watching the twist and turns and the myriad of images that come through this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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