Panem Bedamn’em

MockingjayThough we’re late to the party, we read at breathtaking speed. Especially Lara, who pretty much camped out—camped out—at a Starbucks to finish. We’re including spoilers, okay? We ask you to read what follows within the Snotty Literati context: Lara’s favorite book is To Kill A Mockingbird; Jennifer’s favorite is Catcher in the Rye. We both went nuts over The Goldfinch. When we started the trilogy (in 2013—we paced ourselves), we did so with a bit of shame (Jennifer) and a desire to get more in touch with popular culture (Lara). Next thing you know, we were wearing Hunger Games t-shirts, and making plans to see the final movie with Jennifer’s mom. So, here we go. We’re giving it all away.

Jennifer: What do you think?

Lara: I’m dog-ass tired, but I am no worse for the journey. We are now part of the mainstream collective that has purchased 65 million copies (to date) of the Hunger Games trilogy. That said… I liked it. And—first spoiler—you know I love that Katniss ended up with Peeta.

Swoony-swoon-swoon-swoon. My love of Peeta and fresh-baked bread would make us the perfect couple.

Jennifer: Whatever. Yeah, Peeta. My thoughts: good for her. No, I thought it was right for the book. I’d argue—it is my job to argue—that it was, in fact, a moral statement. More on that later. Here are some big issues we need to touch on:

  • What did you want for the end? Do you have an alternate end (because I kinda do)?
  • Haymitch’s drunken finale with geese
  • Prim’s untimely/timely death by bombing
  • Which is the best book in the trilogy (because I insist that we identify one)?
  • What is the appeal of the trilogy?
  • The quality of the prose: can Collins write?

I’ll hand it over to you with this: I loved the book. I loved it so much. It’ll be on my list of best-reads this year. It was also my favorite in the trilogy, though I liked the others a lot too. I have, however, returned to my literary fiction ways. There is no Divergent in my future.

Lara: Wow.

Let me just remind everyone that Jennifer was completely against reading The Hunger Games, let alone the entire trilogy. Beneath her. Slum lit. Trash. I believe those are all terms you used. And now Mockingjay is on your Best Books of 2014?

Again, wow.

You’ve grown more than the characters in this series did. And that’s my biggest beef at the end of all this. All of the characters—those who make it out alive, anyway—are exactly the same as they used to be: Katniss is just strong enough, but ultimately insecure in her decisions; Peeta is sweet and in love; Gale is working for the greater good (as he always wanted); and Haymitch is drunk. The geese are new, but he’s a drunk.

So, the trilogy was certainly entertaining, page-turning, and engaging. But at the end of the day, I want character development to propel me through the pages, not just plot.

Jennifer: Oh, I agree! And I’m so proud of you for preaching the Gospel of Literary Fiction! Character development is the most important thing, and plot-driven works fall within the category of genre-fiction. This goes for all art, in which we see the fullness of life versus the exteriors only—the appearances. We’re talking Renoir versus Thomas Kinkade, Jimi Hendrix versus Britney Spears, Huck versus Katniss. And I wholly agree: the characters in this trilogy do not grow in any significant way whatsoever.

For me, the big frustration was Haymitch, my favorite character (though I admit that he may be my favorite because of the movies—I think Woody Harrelson does a fab job). He’s a drunk in the beginning, and he’s a drunk in the end. The potential for a complicated character is so there. He’s forced to get sober in Mockingjay, but he quickly returns to the bottle. Though this isn’t unrealistic—the idea of not being able to stay away from booze—the idea of the endearing, happy drunk is a joke. I was rooting for him, and I was disappointed. My big thought was that Collins might not have any alcoholics in her life, because no one who knows an alcoholic wants a happy drunk around at the end. She did a great job in giving people what they wanted. I didn’t want that for Haymitch, though.

Others don’t like that Prim dies. What did you think? And, on that same note, what are your thoughts on the end? Did you want something else to happen?

Lara: Well, if Katniss isn’t really going to evolve, Haymitch certainly isn’t. Prim being spared, and Haymitch clean and sober would have been too wrapped up for the finale. However, as I am thinking about my frustration with the lack of character growth, the reality is that most of us don’t change all that much, do we? Certainly, we have the ability to evolve—and we do, to a degree—but most of us are who we are. What do you think of that?

Queue mood music, dim lights, and let’s take this convo to a deeper level.

Jennifer: No, I don’t agree at all. I believe people change profoundly all the time. They get better; they get worse. Things inevitably deepen. Certain traits are definitely consistent throughout a given life. For instance, an addict may always be an addict. But he or she may not always be drinking or using.

At any rate (mood music ending, lights back on): Prim. I’m good with her dying.

Because someone had to, so it may as well be her. We don’t want Katniss, Gale, or Peeta to croak, do we? No, we don’t.

Lara: Of course we don’t want them to die. But I think the profound change you are talking about can happen, but it happens over a lifetime, not a few years, and often not at all. Most of us are set in our ways, our beliefs, and our disposition. If change were so easy, why can’t people lose weight, leave bad jobs or marriages, or make different choices after repeatedly experiencing poor outcomes? If people change, it’s often because of something monumental serving as the catalyst.

Jennifer: Yes, monumental like the Hunger Games or having your boyfriend brainwashed by Tracker Jackers or having your home turned into ash—

Lara: The characters in these three books did not change on a fundamental, let alone, small scale. If warring against your government, protecting children from the brutality of fighting one another for sport and spectacle isn’t significant enough for change, I don’t know what is.

Jennifer: You’re right. This is the trilogy’s fundamental flaw.

Lara: And, really, that’s expecting too much from what these books are supposed to be … and that’s book candy.

Jennifer: Assuming that’s what the books are supposed to be … I’m going to assume Collins wanted for them to be more, okay? Let’s talk about the end.

You say it would be too wrapped up if Prim had lived. I think Collins wrapped it up completely with Prim’s death, as she should have (I am a big advocate of resolution); had Prim lived, it would’ve been a bad wrapping job, but still wrapped up. With Prim’s death, Katniss’s battle is elevated from the—bear with me, friend—personal to the universal. At the end, Katniss has won the world, so to speak. She lost her sister, but won freedom for the freakin’ people. Prim’s death is a necessity. We always need some blood.

I do have problems with the end, though. But I want to assert that Collins, book candy-maker indeed, may be going for something important here. I think she’s making some pretty big statements.

Lara: Katniss did win the war, and the greater good is all the better for it. But what I was saying about Prim living is that it would have been a little too wrapped up with a bow on it, like a fairytale-ending, despite all the other carnage and tragedy. It would have been too perfect.

Now, here’s an idea that I think folks can get behind… What if around chapter 20 (there are 27 in the book, plus an epilogue) Collins went all Choose Your Own AdventureTM-style, and everyone could win and get the ending they wanted? If the reader went one way, Katniss and Gale are together; another way, and she’s with Peeta; another, she’s with neither but adopts Rue who is found not to have died but conveniently hidden away just like Effie was.

Jennifer: I’d die. You’re joking, right?

Lara: I’m not sure. Maybe. So what were your issues with the end?

Jennifer: Again, let me emphasize that I Would Die. That’s, like, anti-art. It messes with my narrative psyche. We can get into that some other time, though.

The end, for me, was a little too sudden. I think it was right around Prim’s death outside of Snow’s mansion that it seemed to accelerate too fast. Suddenly, Katniss is down. From there, it’s pretty much over. Katniss is out. Gale’s whisked away—too conveniently, if you ask me—and Snow is captured. We don’t see it. Katniss emerges from the burn unit when it’s over. I did not like this whole thing at all.

Now, if I were writing this mother, I would’ve done something else. Prim can die. That’s fine. That sacrifice/cost is necessary. I would’ve made Katniss come face-to-face with Snow, ready to shoot the arrow into his heart or eyeball or whatever does the trick. Then, in a surprise move, Katniss—who was never all that super—falters. She was always just brave enough (as you aptly noted), but not really brave brave. She was never all that good. Who was good? Peeta, that’s who. But Peeta has been tracker-jacked-up; he’s a wild card. Whose side is he on? Is he really good? Well, guess what’s going to happen in Jennifer Spiegel’s Mockingjay. That’s right: Peeta is going to step up to the plate, and kill Snow when Katniss can’t. Because that’s Peeta for you.

Then, Katniss is going to rightfully choose Peeta because of his core goodness, rather than that lame situation in which the choice is made for her. Katniss’s big act of maturity and growth is to recognize the virtue of goodness, and to prize it above everything else. Go Team Peeta, even if Gale is hotter. Katniss and Peeta can happily marry and have the implied sex, but Haymitch gets sober. He can still have his geese.

And the mom doesn’t stay away—because, really, would she?

The end.

Lara: It did finish too quickly. Maybe Collins was tired and already consulting on the first movie. Who knows? But if I had $2M, I would buy the rights to your ending and make just one stinking final movie. Brilliant.

Jennifer: Thank you. They pay me the big bucks.

Finally, I do think it’s just wonderful! It fails, but it wins! While the prose is not awful, we don’t seem to feel any need to quote any examples of startling, wondrous writing. But that plot! Girlfriend, she had me from the second sentence! And if my fellow writers out there aren’t wondering what’s up with that, they’re, um, damn fools. I think, no doubt, character is king. But plot is not to be ignored! As Glenn Close famously said in Fatal Attraction, “I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan.” Literary fiction writers are often the Dans ignoring plot. Ignore plot at your own risk, writers!

Lara: Oh wait! I actually highlighted some passages. Let’s throw them in! This is a book review after all.

When Katniss and her posse meet up with former-stylist-turned-cat-woman, Tigris, in the Capitol:

“So this is where stylists go when they’ve outlived their use. To sad theme underwear shops where they wait for death.”

Jennifer: Witty!

Lara: After Katniss overhears Gale and Peeta discussing which one of them she would pick when the war was over:

“At the moment, the choice would be simple. I can survive just fine without either of them.”

Jennifer: Deep!

Lara: And near the end, Katniss reflecting on all that has happened (and perhaps the most topically resonant passage in the entire trilogy when you think about what is happening in other places around the world):

“Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences.”

Jennifer: Bravo! And then I’ll just drop some other crap. I don’t think this is YA. The kids miss most of the good stuff. I asked some of my students about it, and they didn’t have much to say—besides noting that the kids in the actual Hunger Games were about their age, so they could “relate.” This, I think, is actually irrelevant. As is the fact that Tina Fey, Queen Latifah, and P. Diddy are my age.

But: it’s interesting that this is YA and—we’re not even talking about this—it’s apocalyptic, dystopian, and godless (though we might want to mention Peeta and his bread, which could be the symbolic “Bread of Life”). These are three things I shouldn’t be neglecting. Really, what can we make of this pubescent preoccupation with a doomed future without the Divine? Even if the kids have no ability to articulate these themes, they’re drawn (unconsciously) to them.

Note, finally, that there is trepidation in the end. It’s good—thank you, Collins! I mean it. Thank you, Suzanne Collins!—but not necessarily happily-ever-after. Plutarch speaking to Katniss, says,

“Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated … But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction. Although who knows? Maybe this will be it, Katniss.”

What?” I ask.

“The time it sticks. Maybe we are witnessing the evolution of the human race.”

The end is potentially hopeful, but not necessarily so. It’s also beyond candy-making, if you know what I mean.

I don’t want to drop this, the significance of the apocalyptic, dystopian, and godless narrative. I think this is a whole other thing . . . and I’m going to bring it up when we see the movie in late November. With my mom, who wants to see it too, since we totally got her hooked.

Lara: Considering that I have been reading this book for the last 24 hours, that will definitely have to be a topic for another day. I’m ready for a nap.

Jennifer: By the way, what happened to Caesar Flickerman?

Next Up!

We go to Ann Patchett for some memoir, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Let’s hear it for the literary!


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