Saturday, January 25, 2014
They hadn’t played the Wide Game. They had been played. He’d been a pawn on a chessboard, a toy soldier in a war fought for the amusement of obscene fates.
So many books and films have been made about high school reunions that it is hard to minimize their importance in the general culture of the United States. It’s almost an adult coming of age ritual, a time to face the joys and agonies of a past you thought left well behind. To process what they mean to you as an adult as you move on with the rest of your life. Michael West’s The Wide Game is very much focused on this process of reconciling reality and the internal fiction of what is often a glorified idea of the past. And people get chopped up something fierce.
So we follow Paul Rice to his 10th year High School reunion and back into his past. The days of his first love and the night that nearly ruined him. They call it the Wide Game, a tradition that dates back to the old Indian tribes that used to people the land that became Harmony, Indiana. A last hurrah of their ending youth. Until the laughter turned to screams and Mellencamp started splashing blood on the scarecrows.
As a basic bit of horror slaughter fun, The Wide Game does all that it promises. We’re given teens in peril, fighting and fucking among themselves before becoming the inevitable meat for the beast. Then we get the continued infighting and a whole lot of terror as they begin to realize the full stakes of their situation. Giant crow attacks, murder, temptation and blood, blood, blood. For the most part, the pace is smooth, even if the transition from adult to youth back to adult does slow down the story a bit. It makes for a quick, enjoyable read.
However, the characters present a bit of a problem here. We aren’t given much more than cardboard cutouts. They walk. They talk. They do stuff. But I just didn’t feel like they were whole beings. I couldn’t form any type of emotional bond to them. That’s a big deal to me, especially when it comes to whether or not I’d bother reading a book again in the future. I think it is partially due to splitting the POV so many times, but just as much due to glossing over their internal lives. I think I could have been much more invested than I ended up being.
Also, I’m not too hot on how the Miami gods and religion are portrayed. It is established that the Game was started by the old tribes, as a part of their deal with Mondamin, the corn god, that granted them fertile crops. But, as the cover art makes abundantly clear, thar be demons in them rows, laddie. While no direct correlation is spelled out, it is hard to ignore the implication the Miami Indians were demon worshipers. While that may fall in with some traditional religious teachings, it doesn’t sit well with me.
On the other hand, I do appreciate how West deals with the idea of sin and forgiveness. Especially in how they relate to guilt. How redemption does not necessarily remove guilt and certainly does not wash away the past. I found this approach quite interesting.
If you’re just in it for a quick good time, you’ll fair well here. You may even find some interesting wrinkles to add to your next theological argument. I didn’t find the heart to the characters that I was looking for and found some parts of the central conceit problematic.