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Book Review: Same Same

on Fri, 03/01/2019 - 14:52

Full disclosure: I was provided a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, which I believe I'm providing.

I can barely think of a way to write a review about this book without revealing a massive spoiler. But ahead I plow.

This book takes deeply into the story of Percy, who undertakes a special project in a special place. He is surrounded by a collection of people that provide a background onto which Percy's live to be unfolded, and so for the duration of the book, we occupy Percy's mind as he attempts to complete his work in this background. 

This is a complete immersion into Percy's psyche; as the Percy's project proceeds, we experience it entirely from Percy's first-person perception of it - not as an independent viewer listening to a narrative and plot being woven by an author.

And Percy has a unique way of perceiving & processing what is happening around him. He dives deep, wide, and flies all around it while trying to assimilate it. Important elements of information and experience around his project emerge from a special shop - the Same Same - that fixes things that Percy has found awry, often with surprising impact. Pages and pages of paper in this book are spent with us accompanying Percy on his journey of mentally processing the fundaments of his project and the things that emerge from the Same Same.

And here's where I have to figure out whether I actually liked being part of that journey. Percy's walk around the information he must process can become ... tedious. The author - in order for us to truly understand what it's like to be part of Percy's information processing - doesn't hold back on this tedium. A given moment in time can go on for either a single sentence, or for a chapter of flowing, wide-ranging consideration of all the aspects and implications of that moment.

Here's an example of percy, describing Miss ☺, the Brand Analyst:

"Simple, you'd think. One of these: ☺. But no, no, she's a forward arrow: →. Or, a fingerpost. Better still, just a finger, pointing; ☞. For the jolly little trendsetter that she is: a disembodied finger. A finger with a pretty little pink nail. Pointer finger. Trigger finger; pew, pew. Digitus secundus. It's perfect actually-- as apical creative and ideation manager at a creative consultancy responsible for branding, systematic trend-watching, scenario development, and visioning. A modern oracle, she is. A roadmapper. A strategic consultant. Sniffs for trends, and then sells forecasts to high-bidding clothing manufacturers, game designers, packaging specialists, fashion conglomerates, entertainment studios, food labs, app developers, and even, ouroboros-like, to other creative foresight consultancies. For a not-insignificant outlay of money she will tell you what that color, that  style, that phrase, that cadence, that disposition or humor, that taste will be--the one which will appeal next season, next year, in ten years, as far down the pike as you wanted her to look, all the way to the end of cindered time. Incredibly high success rate: predictions-to-outcomes. Day after day, in her office, diode-lit by three monitors, tabs open, phone lines on speaker, silent feeds us polling, networks and platforms auto-updating, page-view by page-view, analytic by analytic, click after click, vibrating with the hum of cooling fans and brushed by the building's ventilation, peering at now's entrails, its wasted wants, its dissatisfactions and refuse, reading in this..."

The depth to which Percy goes to think through situations increases steadily as the book proceeds. Around halfway through the book, I started to have difficulty being interested the full depth of Percy's reflections. So much so that I started skimming. And skimming faster and faster. I had to ask myself the question "Do I care about Percy's explorations of this next moment?"  Too-often, the answer was "No", and I skimmed faster, only occasionally slowing to make sure I didn't lose the plot line.

Which is sad, because the work done by the author here to craft Percy's explorations is monumental. It must have taken an incredible dedication to descend so deeply into what Percy is thinking. A bit of a descent into hell, from my perspective.

At the end, we see the the ultimate completion of Percy's mission. And if the reader - like me - is skimming too-fast by that point, it's possible to miss this. And even when revealed, the completion is so obscured buy Percy's analysis of it that it's almost hard to grok the final outcome.

There's a part of me that says "A good editor might push the author to shorten this book by 25% and make the book more palatable." The other part of me says "It is precisely the tedium that you dislike that makes the book effective; shortening that would reduce its impact."  This might be true; but at its current length, I struggled mightily to finish it (actually complaining to my wife about its endlessness), and concluded I had not enjoyed it by the time I was done.

At the end of the day, I think this book will be seen as a masterwork by a particular type of reader - the ones where the point of reading the book is to examine what the author can do given the challenge of writing from Percy's perspective. But people who thrive on narrative, plot, story, interactions between characters, and the structure of a "normal" novel are unlikely to enjoy this.  I must say I'm one of those,  If I were providing a rating based on this element alone, I would have given this a 1-2 star rating.

OTOH, given the incredible depth the author has plumbed, and the level of intensity of that effort, I'm going to give this three stars out of respect fort the effort. My normal rating rules - - might demand 4 stars. But, when all is said and done, I didn't *enjoy* this book enough to give it 4 stars.