Just as there are authors who enjoy having written and others who enjoy writing, there are books you enjoy reading and others you enjoy having read.
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from his book The Bed Of Procrustes
About a week and a half ago, I was browsing the blog of one of my commenters and I happened upon this quote by an author I hadn’t heard of from a book I’d never read that perfectly summed up how I feel about The Maze Runner. I would say, in fact, that I feel this way about maybe a quarter of the books I read and review. These books fall into a category outside of “books I really love” and “books that are completely forgettable.” They live in the “enjoyed having read” section of my mental library usually reserved for books that are educational (interesting, but dry), political (necessary, but soul-crushing), or horror (haunting, scarring, nightmare-inducing).
You see, I’m that person who never wants to see slasher flicks but who convinces my friends to tell me the entire plot then tries to pretend that the description alone didn’t give me nightmares. I was the kid who was genuinely afraid of books written by R.L. Stine. I didn’t even like to touch the covers, yet I often found myself sitting on the floor of the library reading them; once I started one, it was inconceivable that I not finish (even though the ending was rarely a happy one). I even used to write screenplays in college with the most stomach-clenching scenes – in fact, I knew without a doubt that my class would like the new pages if I was afraid to go to sleep after I finished writing them.
What does it say about me that my imagination is so vivid/overactive/demented that I can create pages of material that frighten me literally as I’m typing it (amusingly, I just hit the caps lock by mistake, so the previous sentence originally read “literally AS I’M TYPING IT.” I think my computer can be a bit melodramatic at times). I’m sure some people would tell me it’s spectacular, and some would recommend I try anxiety-reducing medication, but my own personal preference leans toward avoidance. If I know a book or movie or play (that’s right, I’m looking at you Shear Madness and The Mouse Trap – my eight year old self still hasn’t forgiven you your casual approach to murder) is going to tweak me out, I simply don’t engage.
This technique works well about ninety percent of the time. I have a pretty good handle on what gets under my skin and what I’ve hardened myself to for the sake of a great book. When I picked up The Maze Runner a few weeks back I figured I was in the clear. Both the back cover and the first few chapters read like this book was the love child of Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games. It’s an extremely fast-paced novel, almost too quick for me, but once I got past the overwhelmingly masculine voice (this is a book about sixty teenage boys and one teenage girl – and she’s in a coma for the first two-thirds of the story – so the male voice is appropriate, if a little much at first), I was hooked.
Dashner might not be speaking from a place that I relate to, but he is one compelling story-teller. His book is unapologetically action-packed, and to be honest, it would translate wonderfully to another format (like film) because he doesn’t spend a lot of time delving into the emotional psychology of his characters. Normally that would be a no-go for me, but it works here.
His concept and plot are strong enough that they manage to convey believable emotional overtones without needing each boy to go on a tangent about how terrified/lonely/sad he is – of course they feel this way – they’re children, stuck in a creepy and frustrating horror story. I have an older brother who, from the time he was thirteen until he went away to college, spoke in a language consisting entirely of grunts. If he formed a coherent six word sentence, I paid attention because that meant something. Many of my closest friends in high school were also guys, and while they were more chatty and outgoing than my brother, we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about feelings (well, I spent a lot of time talking about my feelings, and they spent a lot of time listening to me try to explain to them that girls they were interested in might do the same). Do men have feelings? Obviously. Do some men enjoy sharing these feelings? Probably. Have I met many of them? No. Most of what I understand about male emotions comes from context and action on their part, and that is exactly how Dashner has written this book.
It is from this believability, this understated approach to the teenage male voice that made the terrifying parts of the story bother me so much. With a novel like this one, floating in the sci-fi/YA nebula, I’m usually able to remove myself and enjoy the story for its fantastic premise. It’s certainly why I chose to read it (I’m a sucker for an alternate earth storyline). I just didn’t expect to feel that these boys had formed a community with each other, a rather astounding community in fact, and that what they had created should be protected. That each of them should be protected because, after all, they’re just ordinary, fart-joke making, awkward teenage boys – vulnerable, irritating, imperfect and lovable – being tested and callously disposed of by unseen adult hands.
And lest you think everything turns out alright in the end, there’s a sequel (wait – make that two…plus a prequel). That I’m afraid to read. But probably will.
For more on James Dashner and his work, go here.