Master of None Reviewed

This critique is dedicated to my good friend Zack, who asked for it. And as always, spoilers ahead.

You’d think love was all about the chase. That’s what I get from books, television, and movies anyway. Someone’s relationship is always just starting, or ending, or nearly ending before being renewed. And I understand why. Storytelling is the delicate art of maintaining tension. Where is there more tension than in the transitions of love?

But being in a long term relationship, I do sometimes want to see that represented. And without the relationship being undone in the eleventh hour.

Which is why Aziz Ansari’s Master of None disappoints me. The show took an episode or two to settle into itself, and I sometimes got the impression that Ansari, as “Dev”, was talking to himself instead of having a dialogue with the other characters. But these are minor flaws that do not detract from the show at its best.

And at its best, it’s quite good. Ansari plays to his strengths — physical comedy, and his nuanced second generation American viewpoint. Dev seeks work as a comedian, and ends up taking a part in a bad horror movie, providing Ansari the chance to die hilariously. Dev asks his immigrant parents (played by Ansari’s actual parents) about their childhoods, and their stories are at once harrowing, poignant, and still funny.

Even the romance arc of Master of None is strong. The love interest, Rachel (played by Noël Wells), has good chemistry with Ansari, and is very funny in her own right. Their relationship becomes a vector for more comedy, with Dev and Rachel embarking on small adventures. An uncomfortable taxi ride to buy Plan B. An early date in Nashville, because there was a deal on tickets there. Conversations about feminism, and relationships.

It’s a lot like Louie, or Maron, with insightful or even critical moments interspersed between the laughs. And sometimes it’s all mixed up.

One episode focuses on the grandfather of Dev’s friend, Arnold (Ed Wareheim). Dev and Arnold decide to visit Arnold’s grandpa, as it would be a nice, responsible thing to do. Dev and Arnold are first bored by the old man, but once he starts telling war stories they are enthralled. Then they meet grandpa’s companion — a robotic plush seal named Paro, who manages to be both adorable and deeply unsettling.

As Paro is a warm, fuzzy absurdity, most of Master of None has a warm, fuzzy quality that is less common in Louie, and absent from Maron. Of the three main characters, Dev is the youngest, the freshest, and the least jaded. Dev’s flaw is naïveté rather than wizened bitterness and depression. In many ways, it is a welcome change.

Which brings us back to where Master of None lets us down. Despite Dev and Rachel’s penchant for adventure, they pass up on the great adventure — growing together over time. Their relationship gets a little stale, but rather than work through that they suddenly break up.

It’s a sad ending, in no way funny, and that casts a negative light on all the preceding episodes. I can’t rewatch the show to enjoy the good times between Rachel and Dev, because I know it’s all just going to fall apart over nothing but uncharacteristic insecurity at the end.

I like Ansari’s comedy, and I wish him well with season two of Master of None in 2017. But I urge him to remember his strengths, and play to them. And while poignancy and deft handling of nuanced material is within Ansari’s comedic capabilities, a serious breakup from a serious relationship without any comedic twist really isn’t.

Find Other Writers

Hello again! I’m back to blogging. Did you miss me? (All five of you?) I didn’t mean to go on hiatus, but I’ve been through a weird, unsteady, totally blocked time in my writing journey. I sent my novel out, got rejected, and got hit with some other, more personal issues at the same time. It took me awhile to figure out how to move forward again.

I’d say more about it, but there is already a glut of information out there. So many blogs and Twitter feeds and Pintrest boards dedicated to writing advice. So much overwhelming and sometimes contradictory information. So I’ll keep it simple.

Ordinarily, writing is a solo activity. But if you’re stuck, and get rejected over and over, you’ve got to get beyond your circle of friends and family. Find a bunch of writers, and ask for help. Go to a writer’s workshop with an option for a manuscript critique. Enter a flash fiction or other writing contest that provides critique in return for your entry fee. There are local writer’s guilds, and bookshops and libraries sometimes have readings or other events that bring writers together. You can take a continuing education class, or join a writer’s group.

There is so much help and connection out there, and the best thing about it is meeting other writers. When I went to my first writer’s workshop earlier this year, it was wonderful to walk into a room full of people like myself, with my quirks, my obsession with story form and well-turned phrases. And everyone was so positive, so kind. I’m a life-long introvert, but I felt comfortable enough around my fellow writers that I found myself acting like an extrovert.

I can’t promise that reaching out to your fellow writers is a sure path to success. But it sure is nice to not be alone any more.

Don’t Publish Your First Draft! Go Set a Watchman Reviewed

I wasn’t going to read Go Set a Watchman. My interest was piqued enough by the sketchy circumstances surrounding its publication that I read “Atticus Was Always a Racist: Why Go Set a Watchman Is No Surprise” by Catherine Nichols over at Jezebel, which I thought told me everything I needed to know.

Then Harper Lee died, another round of articles came out, and for some reason I thought, “Okay, fine, I’ll read Watchman now.” I do like to be Well Read after all, and I was in need of another book at the time. I guess news as advertising works.

So I read it. And my first impulse was right. It was not worth my time. It is not worth anyone’s time.

It’s a goddamn first draft.

This isn’t news. It’s there in the Wikipedia. Harper Lee wrote Watchman in the 1950s. She used this manuscript to attract a publisher, Tay Hohoff. Hohoff really liked Lee’s work — she described Watchman by saying, “[T]he spark of the true writer flashed in every line.” But she also noted that it was, “more a series of anecdotes than a fully conceived novel.”

So Hohoff helped Lee through several drafts, until Watchman became To Kill a Mockingbird. Along the way, the focus of the story changed. Watchman is about Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, a young woman, coming to grips with the fact that her paragon father Atticus is merely human after all in rather dramatic fashion, against the backdrop of late 1940s southern race relations (which were shockingly bad). Mockingbird, by contrast, features Scout as a child who observes Atticus’s struggles as a white lawyer defending a black man in court in the early twentieth century south (when race relations were even worse).

It is true that at one point there were two sequels planned for Mockingbird, and if Watchman had been edited it might have served as book three of that planned series. But it has not been edited. As a result, there are some big issues. Tom Robinson, the black defendant, is found guilty in Mockingbird, but acquitted in Watchman. There are passages copied from one book to the other. Some characters are more thinly conceived of in Watchman than in Mockingbird, which is weird for something marketed as a sequel.

But the worst offense in my mind is the ending of Watchman. It is completely outdated in a way that no part of Mockingbird is. Jean Louise is dismayed by the overt racism of Atticus, her pseudo-boyfriend Henry “Hank” Clinton, and diverse other characters. She does not remember these characters being so racist during her childhood, and doesn’t understand what has changed. She fights with Atticus, Hank, and her uncle Jack about it, and eventually comes to an understanding with them. And part of that understanding is a good laugh at the notion that most people would ever marry outside of their race.

Maybe that was one of the more centrist positions on the issue in the 1940s and ‘50s, but as the key plank in Atticus’s bridge across the philosophical gap between himself and his daughter it is groan-worthy. This is a book about race published in 2015. It was predestined that people in mixed-race marriages would read it, and they did, including myself.

I don’t know why Lee didn’t edit Watchman, whip it into shape at least a little for its twenty-first century audience. I imagine she must not have been capable — the soundness of her mind was extensively questioned when news of Watchman’s impending publication first surfaced. I can’t imagine she simply didn’t want to expend the effort.

Whatever the reason, Watchman remains a first draft, an early version of a thing that got better. Yes, the focus and plot are substantially different from what it became. That doesn’t make it a stand-alone object, worthy of being contemplated on its own.

And while it could be argued that seeing a Great Novelist’s creative process laid bare is instructive, I argue otherwise. You learn writing by reading a lot of finished texts (both ones that you love and ones that you hate), and then by writing your own. Lee’s process is only meaningful to me because I already know it, and can relate to it. I have learned nothing by seeing Lee in her proverbial underwear, and I don’t even have the benefit of voyeuristic thrill. I just feel mildly embarrassed for her.

Alright. I guess I could have learned that Atticus Finch was a racist all along. But like Nichols said, if you paid attention, Atticus always was.

Why So Serious? Captain America: Civil War Reviewed

In many respects, the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a triumph. The cinematography was beautiful, the acting was excellent, the costuming was marvelous. The fight scenes were well choreographed and easy to follow, and they did indeed drop my jaw. Not to mention that the story held together with only a few holes  despite an enormous number of important characters. But alas, there was something missing from Captain America: Civil War that has been such a major part of the franchise.

What happened to the witty banter and quirky moments?

Like, we get it. Big, serious things are happening. Everyone’s down in the dumps. Are they really going to crack jokes when their friends keep running off to who-knows-where (like Thor and the Hulk)? Or falling on opposing sides in a political power struggle? Or getting seriously injured?

Sure, Iron Man makes a few fun comments. But there’s a reason that Spiderman webbed in and stole the show — he was having fun! Why wasn’t anyone else having fun? Or at least chilling out with some shawarma after a hard day of misunderstanding and brutally beating their friends?

And this is not just a problem with Civil War. I’m sure you’ve all noticed that grit is having a moment right now. Has been for the last few years. From Game of Thrones to Batman v Superman to The Walking Dead, what’s popular in broadly defined speculative fiction is dark and dour.

And I’m kind of done with it, because we can actually do better. I haven’t seen the show, but the book series of The Magicians walks the tightrope between realistic with realistic consequences and big colorful magic, and then finishes with a triple backflip and sticks the landing. Robert Kirkman’s other big comic book series, Invincible, isn’t a TV show like The Walking Dead yet, but it too manages to juggle serious and fun. Deadpool continues to blow my mind for being so crass, so funny, so over-the-top, and so real all at once.

I watched The Witch, a horror film peopled entirely with unsmiling, sin-obsessed pilgrims.  And even they knew to punch up the MAGIC at the end. So what happened, Civil War? Why so serious?

My hypothesis is that our current wave of blockbuster comic book movies is still riding the wave whipped up by Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, which were notably dark and gritty in a complete departure from earlier comic book to film adaptations. They did have their fun, colorful moments (the Joker, cough cough), which is why they mostly worked, but grit was the main theme.

So maybe the big studio exec default thinking is if they don’t have utter genius writing the script, at least keep it serious. People take serious things seriously, right? And this is a big, serious story. But the problem is that serious by itself is boring.

Tell me, which would you rather see?

(1) A bunch of characters state that they will or will not sign the Sokovia Accords, give brief explanations as to their positions, and then rather than talk about it Captain America goes to a funeral for a character that — to be honest — only he really cared about.*

(2) A bunch of characters order Chinese take out and have an actual conversation about the Accords, argue its merits back and forth, make each other and the audience laugh about it, have difficulties with their chop sticks, and ultimately agree to disagree without yet fully grasping how bad things are about to get bad. Skip the funeral scene.

Two sounds better, doesn’t it? It still deals with the weighty subject material, but it doesn’t make the audience suffer for it.

I’m not arguing for pure escapism, like a certain serious “literary” subset seem to think all this super hero, giant robot, and magic stuff is. If you divest these characters of their moral confusion and PTSD and just have them fly around and hit each other with wiffle bats and rainbows, you’ve lost my interest and don’t have a story.** It’s a balance.

Here, I’ll make it simple. I liked Civil War, especially the big six-on-six fight which was the entire reason we were all there. But I would groan if you asked me to rewatch it.

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*It could be that Peggy Carter is a major character in Agents of SHIELD, and I’m just ignorant. I have my own books to write, I can’t watch, read, or otherwise imbibe everything! 😛

**Some amazing art though…

Is It Sexist to Hit Her? Deadpool Reviewed

Deadpool is fantastic! Five stars, two thumbs up, new Facebook Wow FaceTM. Go see it before reading this, because you’ll laugh your ass off, and avast, thar be spoilers ahead.

Alright, so first I want to give a big shout out to my favorite joke: “Written by The Real Heroes”. Because it’s true. While the effects team worked pure magic and Ryan Reynolds knocked it out of the park (and dat ass…), without top-notch writing this movie would have been a big, obnoxious mess. My hats off to you, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.

And the runner-up jokes:

–The little figurine of “Deadpool” from X Men Origins: Wolverine.

–Going to meet Professor X. “Which one, Stewart or McAvoy?”

–Angel Dust’s boob popping out of her bustier mid-fight, and Colossus freaking out.

There are, of course, many, many more fine jokes from Deadpool to reminisce about. But at this point I’d rather take a long look at that last one. The boob, the gentlemanly freak-out, the coy acceptance of Colossus’s chivalry. And then Angel Dust hits Colossus hard with a sucker punch, because you don’t look away from your opponent in a life-or-death battle. Not even if she’s a pretty, and partially exposed, woman.

Thanks to Reese and Wernick, this movie gets exactly where we are in this conversation. Is it sexist to hit a woman? Is it more sexist not to hit a woman? Deadpool himself asks this question mid-movie. He answers by shooting the woman in question with comedic timing; perfect Deadpool. But yes, there is an automatic cringe upon seeing such a cute, petite woman gunned down by a masked maniac.

But we just saw Deadpool treat a dozen guys the same way. They’re all “bad guys”, they all work for Ajax/Francis, and Deadpool isn’t portrayed as heroic for killing them so it’s okay. His brutality is funny. Dark satire pratfalls.

So, in context, is it sexist to hit the woman? She’s just another hench(wo)man. No super powers to even out nature’s muscular imbalance — but those other henchmen weren’t powered up either. In context, it really seems more sexist not to hit her.

And that, oddly, is what makes Deadpool the “hero” in this film. He’s the only man on screen who isn’t sexist. Okay, yeah, so he encourages the cabbie Dopinder to treat the object of his desires as an object. But Deadpool is comfortable talking about masturbation with his roommate, Blind Al. Which is normal for male roommates, but Blind Al is a woman.

Similarly, Deadpool doesn’t get jealous about the chosen profession of his lady love. They never talk about it once — we have no idea if Vanessa is still turning tricks or not. Because it doesn’t matter. Deadpool and Vanessa love the heck out of each other. Whatever their relationship looks like, it’s working for them, and that’s what matters.

And there’s a streak of Bugs Bunny’s transvestitism in Reynold’s Deadpool. He never wears a dress, but he’s impressively comfortable with his own sexual objectification. His cross-acting (what else can I call it?) is used for comedic effect on screen, but it’s clear the character himself really doesn’t give a damn about gender norms. Unless he can use them to crack an excellent joke.

Meanwhile, Francis totally forgets about the Vanessa in the Fridge behind him. So when she escapes, grabs Deadpool’s sword, and stabs Francis…I can’t even call that a joke. That was cosmic justice for every damsel in distress who hasn’t waded into the fight the moment she could.

To acknowledge the naked elephant (stripper) in the room, yeah. We have a little full frontal female nudity in this film. But we also have a long shot of Ryan Reynold’s muscular butt, and another long shot of Everything when Francis leaves him to die in the burning laboratory. That, my friends, is gender equality.

It must also be mentioned that this movie is dark, intensely violent, and vulgar. It’s not the kind of movie I expect to find myself thinking good for people. Not good for kids, no. To the mom and dad who brought their two little boys to see Deadpool with them and sat in front of me — your boys are super well behaved, but what the heck is wrong with you?

For adults, though? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with depictions of violence in media, so long as the writers, directors, actors, etc. are honest with the audience. Violence is shocking, disgusting, and holds the possibility of dire, even mortal consequence.

Once that is stated (and it is, in spades), why not make fun of what squishy meatbags we are?

In short, if it’s fiction, just hit the girl already.

Star Wars Awakens: A Film Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is good. It’s really good. It has so many clever flourishes and amazing moments that it isn’t just a movie, but a film. It’s art. A+ for JJ Abrams and his cast and crew. If you haven’t seen it yet, go. Go now. Definitely don’t read this first, because it’s full of SPOILERS!!!

Okay, so you’ve seen the film. Good. Here we go.

From the opening shot of a shadowed star destroyer flying over and blotting out a bright planet, we know The Force Awakens is both the Star Wars we know and love (not that Prequel nonsense), and that it’s about to get turned on its head.

Sure, we’ve got the mechanically inclined future Jedi scrambling around on a desert world full of aliens and ‘droids. We’ve got an even bigger Death Star. We’ve got Storm Troopers and blue-tinged holograms and light sabers. We’ve got the Sith Lord and his far more interesting Apprentice. We’ve got the clash between light side and dark that is central to the Star Wars mythos.

It’s Star Wars reborn; all the old, beloved stuff we grew up with fresh and new on the big screen again. The Prequels may not be expunged from the canon, but they are utterly irrelevant.

So what’s new?

Diversity.

Not that the original Star Wars movies didn’t push the envelope with Lando Calrisian and Darth Vader both played by black men. But Vader the character is white when his helmet finally comes off, and Leia seems to be the only woman in the Galaxy after Beru is murdered.

By comparison, the Resistance is richly diverse. Male and female, human and alien, Caucasian, Asian, Indian, African. I haven’t seen  a more diverse cast of one-line characters and extras since The Matrix.

In sharp contrast, the First Order is pointedly homogenous. They got the women-in-the-workplace memo, but anyone with a little extra melanin had best keep his white helmet on, thank you very much. And aliens aren’t wanted. I don’t even remember any ‘droids among the First Order.

Since every other setting is rich with aliens, ‘droids, and humans of every color, it becomes clear that the purely human, overtly white First Order is a creative choice. Abrams has given his evil army a Nazi-ish vibe, emphasized by their military trimmings, their whiteness, and their chilling, bent-armed variant of the Heil Hitler salute. And before you roll your eyes at the Jewish director casting Nazi-analogues as his villains, remember that we have a certain political party campaigning on a platform of fascism and xenophobia*.

Think about it. Nazis are way more relevant now than when Captain America was punching them back in 2011.

Star Wars wasn’t so political before, but it was never meaningless space opera. It was psychological. The story of Episodes IV, V, and VI is a basic hero’s journey, and everyone undertakes their own inner hero’s journey when they decide to start fighting their inner demons. And Abram’s Star Wars remains psychological, the politics an extension of the discussion about light and dark.

The locus of that discussion isn’t Rey, or Finn. It’s Kylo Ren.

Having watched the film twice now, I’ve got to give a shout out to Adam Driver for his amazing performance. He’s suave, menacing, pathetic, and completely unhinged by turns. In Driver’s capable hands, Kylo Ren’s emotionality and fragility emerges slowly, until he’s outdone by a kidnapped, restrained, and untrained Rey.

Kylo Ren is the realization of what George Lucas attempted — and utterly failed — with Anakin in the Prequel Trilogy. We only see Ren near the bottom of his fall from the light, but we can picture his childhood with two famous, demanding parents and the threat of assassination over all their heads. We can imagine young Ben (his true name) training with Luke, asking questions about the nature of light and dark and receiving unsatisfying answers from his half-trained master. We can see Snoke entering the picture, the first to tell Ben that all his fear and anger is okay, even desirable.

Unlike Anakin’s fall, Ben’s transformation into Ren makes sense even if it doesn’t happen before our eyes.

As the good guys, Rey and Finn still stumble and struggle and don’t always have the courage to face what they fear. Yet they are strong in the light — they will follow their Hero’s Journeys to their end. But Ren? Who knows. I can’t predict if Kylo Ren will follow the full circle of Anakin/Vader’s path from light to dark and back to light, or if he will emerge as a more confidant Dark Lord in Episode VIII, or if madness will take him down some murky third path.

I’m guessing, obsessing over a character that could have been a complete joke.** There aren’t many stories that get me so involved.

Holy crap, I love The Force Awakens.

I love the new characters and the old ones. I love the nigh seamless mix of CGI and traditional effects. I love the costumes and the sets. I love the story, and Abram’s audacity to actually kill Han Solo. I love the performances. I love all the brilliant little moments; Poe Dameron looking back in interest at his jiggling blaster bolt as it hovers, caught in Ren’s power. Rey’s bread rising up out of a bowl of water and her “quarter portion.” BB-8 unveiling R2D2, and looking so small and sleek beside the older ‘droid. Ren’s red light saber jittering against the steady blue of Finn’s and Rey’s. Luke saying nothing at the end, but speaking volumes of hesitancy and pain with his gaze alone.

If I had to give The Force Awakens a critique, the only one I can offer is that the main characters never take a break. They run straight from scene to scene without the time to sleep, or eat, or even take a bathroom break in between them.

And that’s it.

Sure, there’s a good deal of Deus ex Machina, and the characters are awfully competent, and really, a whole planet has been terraformed into a giant sun-gun? But no one can honestly complain about such things. That’s Star Wars. That’s what we all wanted, and it’s exactly what we got, only made richer, contemporary, and unexpectedly relevant. Thank goodness, and thank Abrams.

I can’t wait for Episode VIII!

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*Bernie Sanders, you’re our only hope.

**I love Kylo Ren, but I also love Emo Kylo Ren, who has one of the funniest Twitter feeds I’ve ever seen.

Mockingjay’s Flaw (The Limitations of Perspective)

One of the first decisions to make when beginning a writing project is perspective.  Is the main character going to tell the story herself (first person perspective), or will a more or less omniscient narrator take charge (third person perspective)?

Third person has always been my perspective of choice for writing fiction.  I like to stick close to one character, detailing what she sees, hears, and feels, before leaping away to focus on someone else.  George R.R. Martin uses the same technique in his series, A Song of Ice and Fire, as does Robert Jordan in The Wheel of Time.  Stephen King uses a variation of it in The Dark Tower; King frequently wanders from character to character mid-chapter, and sometimes skips off to detail some obscure corner of Midworld or fill in a scenic vista in broad strokes for his readers.

It is the style of big, sweeping epics.  You can have characters in two countries, or on two continents if you like.  You can move around a scene or situation, taking it in from different points of view.  You can still have a main character, or avoid identifying one character as the most central or important.

It is also possible to write without ever quite landing on any one character, but this tends to be an antiquated style.  It is used in myths, legends, and the Bible, but not so much in modern literature.

More focused stories can also be told in third person.  The technique is useful for exploring a character or the events he experiences with more insight and wisdom than the character himself has.  Jack London uses this technique in White Fang, an early 20th century speculative fiction novel detailing the life of an Alaskan wolf.

Because London chose to write in third person perspective, the reader gains insight not only into the events of White Fang’s life, but of the greater forces that shape his life.  White Fang may not understand the Alaskan Gold Rush, greed, addiction, or the psychology of abuse, but London does, and so London can elicit greater empathy for his titular wolf with third person perspective than he could if he forced White Fang to somehow speak for himself.

Similarly, the Harry Potter series uses third person.  It’s an interesting choice now, considering the recent surge of popular first-person, Young Adult novels (Twilight, Divergent, The Hunger Games), but I think it was the right one.  Through third person, we get a clearer picture of Harry Potter growing up than we would if he had to tell us about it directly.

It also allowed J.K. Rowling the flexibility to move away from Harry Potter’s direct experience from time to time, broadening her Wizarding World.  In first person, it’s always a bit awkward to take in a bigger picture, or add a second main character to also speak directly to the reader.

Which brings us to first person perspective.  It is the default perspective, the one we use automatically when telling others about our own lives and experiences.  It also has a long literary history, and can be used to great effect.

If you want to get really intimate, first person is the way to go.  Diana Gabaldon writes her Outlander series in first person, with steamy results in her bedroom scenes.  At the same time, because her main character Claire Beauchamp has traveled back in time, she is able to tell the reader about events and places far away from herself, and so Gabaldon’s 18th century world remains much larger than Claire herself.

I also imagine it is the intimacy of first person perspective that drives the popularity of series like Twilight or Fifty Shades of Gray.  First person is indeed a powerful tool.

First person is also the right choice if you want to deliberately narrow your reader’s worldview.  Mark Twain uses first person in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and so we only become intimate with Twain’s fictive 7th century England as the titular Yankee does, and that serves Twain’s satirical purposes.

Alternately, first person is the only way to write an unreliable narrator.  Whether the narrator is an anti-hero or a straight-up villain, using first person gives that narrator the chance to give his story spin.  In Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov turns Humbert Humbert’s tale of manslaughter, kidnapping, and child-rape into a semi-comic romp.  It isn’t until the end when the full horror of what he has done to Lolita hits Humbert Humbert, and therefore the reader.

And that brings us to Mockingjay.

I love Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games series.  I devoured these three books.  They are written in first person, which makes sense.  As Katniss Everdeen dreads, we dread.  Her perspective is limited, and so is ours, adding to the tension.  There is a scene in the second book, Catching Fire, where Katniss hears mockingjay birds (which mimic what they hear) screaming, and sounding suspiciously like her mother and sister.  It is possible that the sound has been manufactured — or has the Capital imprisoned and tortured her family?  She can’t know, and neither can we.

But the third book, Mockingjay, is problematic.  As the conflict becomes larger, as civil unrest grows into a civil war, the first person perspective suddenly becomes claustrophobic.  We’re stuck in a bunker with Katniss and her self-pity.  We’re led to believe that her propaganda videos are the most important element in President Coin’s strategy to overthrow the Capital — and that doesn’t make sense.  She’s important, but not that important.  Through Katniss’s vantage, the war is as distant and unreal as the war in Afghanistan has been to anyone without a soldier in the family.

Katniss does eventually put her boots on the ground in the middle of the main conflict, but even then her point of view is too narrow.  A major character dies off-page because Katniss is too busy running for her life to look back.  We do not see major events, we are told about them afterward.  This is deeply unsatisfying for a reader.

The obvious choice for the epic that The Hunger Games becomes by the third book is third person, not first.  Third person would have given Collins room to tell us about more battles, or the real effects of the war on the Capital and the Colonies.  We could have spent more time with Gale, Peeta, Presidents Snow and Coin.  The world would have seem larger, fuller, more complicated, more satisfying, and less sublimated to the vanity of Katniss.

But the first two books would have lost their edge, and the deep empathy created for Katniss.

It is a puzzle.  I don’t know if the books would have been as popular, or as gripping, had they been written in third person.  At the same time, the film adaptation does greatly improve the first half of Mockingjay by taking a more third-person approach with the script, and spending a good chunk of time with Katniss off-screen.

It just goes to show you, the stories you tell will be shaped and made great largely by how you tell them.