Monday, June 22, 2015

Pines (Wayward Pines #1) by Blake Crouch

Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke wakes after a horrible car accident to find himself disoriented and lost.  Ethan makes his way into the lovely town of Wayward Pines - the very town he was sent to, to investigate the disappearance of two secret service agents.  Immediately, things about the idyllic looking Wayward Pines start to seem strange.  When he cannot get in touch with his boss at The Secret Service, or his wife and child, Ethan gets determined to leave Wayward Pines.  The problem is that the town members have decided that the only way for Ethan to leave is in a pine box.

I'll be honest and admit that I decided to read this book simply because of the fact that it has been adapted into a television series.  That said, if you've seen the first five episodes of Wayward Pines the television show, this review will not contain any spoilers for you.

The only character really developed in the Pines is Ethan Burke.  We learn about his fear and his PTSD, after having been captured and tortured in Afghanistan.  Ethan is clearly a haunted man.  He knows that he hasn't been a good father to his son and he most certainly has not been a good husband to his wife Theresa.  Ethan's clear that had Theresa been the one to be unfaithful, the marriage would have been over whereas; Theresa is clear that not only did she forgive Ethan his one dalliance, she would forgive him even if he cheated again.  Theresa talks about Ethan just being everything for her and yet that is clearly not the case for Ethan.  Ethan does truly love his wife but he doesn't actually know how much until his life is threatened and he realises that he might never see her again.

The show does a really good job of giving a good sense of the cult like nature of Wayward Pines but because the orientation meeting is missing from the book, it's not nearly as heavily developed.  We don't learn heavily about the rules.  The terror comes from Ethan's limited interactions with the citizens, like the ever creepy Pam and the increasingly hostile Sheriff Pope. For a time, it's Ethan who seems damaged, despite his insistence of the opposite because he is after all the one running around town claiming to be Secret Service, without any identification at all.  It well could be the emotional breakdown that Jenkins suggests.

It isn't until the end that we learn that Pines is really about a dystopia.  Humans are no longer the apex predator and the world that we know it is gone.  Even though that is an explanation of sorts regarding the nature of Wayward Pines, it still feels off.  People tend to come together in times of adversity and I tend to believe that the truth would have made for a more cohesive community.

Wayward Pines is Pilcher's baby.  It's clear that in the books to come, he is going to butt heads heavily with Ethan.  Despite Pilcher's great vision and his clear intelligence, there's something extremely cold about him.  

There are only four female characters in this novel: Pam, Beverley, Theresa and Kate.  Pines, is told from Ethan's POV so we don't really get to know these characters at all.  Pam is the nurse in the hospital and she turns from saccharine to vicious and lethal in a heart beat.  Beverley is the only ally that Ethan has in the town and she dies so that he can learn exactly how dangerous Wayward Pines is.  She has one heroic moment, saving Ethan from the hospital before she dies.  That's fridging at its finest folks. Theresa became the symbol of everything that Ethan lost.  Finally, there's Kate, who has a very small role in the book.  Kate is Ethan's former lover and partner but when Ethan sees Kate again, she has aged significantly.  Kate, unlike Ethan, has adjusted to life in Wayward Pines and is not willing to risk herself for him.  She is the final indicator that something is very wrong with Wayward Pines.  All the female characters are wrapped around Ethan in some way.  They are empty and hollow with no real personalities to speak of.

Wayward Pines is also all largely White and as far as I can tell thus far, all straight, though the novel does include one throwaway character of colour.   It seems that Pilcher specifically chose some people and the rest came from people who just happened to stop by the tiny town of Wayward Pines.  As an explanation for the lack of diversity, it seems like a cheap excuse.  I am sick of dystopian books which erase marginalized people because it actively suggests that we aren't worth saving and that our lives have zero value.

In a final note, though I am no scientist the idea that humans evolved into abbrations in 2,000 years seems a tad ridiculous to me.  It seems that a change that significant should take so much more time than that.  Considering what modern cities are built to withstand, why is there so little of Boise left standing.  There are ancient ruins more intact than that city.  

I want to see where this story is going.  I am not sure  if the excitement is coming from the fact that I love the show Wayward Pines, or if some of it is the curiosity from the book.  There's a lot of action in the novel which is normally an element that I am not found of .  I think that some of that could have been erased in favour of greater character development, particularly for the female characters.  Ethan is absolutely compelling, particularly the torture that he suffered but it serves to highlight yet another problem - the only character of colour is actually a torturing, sadist, terrorist.  It gives the impression that White people deserved to live on and repopulate the earth and that people of colour do not because we are violent. It's a problem.

I want to know where this story is going but it has some serious flaws that I hope Church deals with in the books to come.  The character development needs to get better, particularly for the women and there needs to be some real inclusion.