Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Review: Flowertown by SG Redling

My Kindle must have been pushing this book at me for weeks. First, it was advertised as "Coming Soon," and then it was "here!" and I kept ignoring it because ever since I downloaded both Breaking Dawn and the Fifty Shades trilogy, my Amazon recommendations have read like a Harlequin Romance gone very, very wrong. I'm talking love triangles a-plenty, minimal characterizations, heroines who are practically comatose, and lots of vampires.

To try and even things out, I downloaded several adult fantasies and it seems to have worked. But Flowertown I actually purchased as an accident. I clicked on the advertisement and read what it was about. I wanted to download a sample and I ended up with the whole book.

I could have hit the "purchased in error" button, but I didn't. For one thing, the description seemed really interesting, and for another, it appeared to be about zombies. I'm all for a good zombie book.

No, this book isn't actually about zombies. But it's good anyway. Oh MY is it good!

There's a huge difference between allowing a story to unfold and watching grass grow. Some stories that start out slowly highly resemble watching grass grow. This story unfolds beautifully. And it has to. You have to have the background, you need to know and understand the characters that you're dealing with. Since it's more character-driven than anything else, the foundation is necessary.

You meet Ellie in painstaking detail. She's a slob. She has no issues with wearing clothes that are three or even five weeks old. She likes to be stoned. All the time. She lives in Flowertown, and as soon as you know what Flowertown is, those other things about her all make sense. Sure, she's the person at work who shows up, goes on eight breaks and a four-hour lunch every day, draws her paycheck, calls in sick every chance she gets, and doesn't contribute to any part of the office through either work or morale. She's the black hole. She's the one you roll your eyes over and whisper about when she leaves for her ninth smoke break of the morning and it's only 10 o'clock.

But here's the kicker: Ellie isn't working in your office. She's in a secure quarantine facility that spans seven square miles in the middle of Nowheresville Iowa. She's not supposed to be there. She was only visiting her boyfriend's parents while she was on her way to another country, and then the chemical spill happened, her boyfriend died, and she's just stuck there. She's not THE stoner-slacker at work. She's A stoner-slacker at work with a whole bunch of other stoner-slackers who also managed to pull the short string of Fate in this scenario.

As the book progresses, we find out more about the chemical spill and the pharmaceutical company that designed it (it was a pesticide), and what they're doing to counteract the toxins. In the meantime, everyone's been stuck in one place for seven years, seeing the same faces day in and day out, no change of routine, no reason to not get stoned and slack off, no real reason to shower every day and wash your clothes and care.

If you suggested that Ellie might be clinically depressed, I think you'd be right.

So, I was along for the ride because I was pretty sure that I had this all figured out, and in a lot of ways, I did. I'm the annoying person who sits down to watch a movie and says, "Bruce Willis is really dead," or, "Kevin Spacey is Kaiser Soze." I mean, there are only a few stories out there, so when you tell one, you have to make it your own. I think Redling made this story hers.

Ellie is a real person. You maybe even know her. She's driven and ambitious, but take away her dreams and she's left with nothing to strive for. She has a best friend, Bing, and a roommate, Rachel. Bing supplies Ellie with her pot. Rachel supplies Ellie with someone to care for. Rachel was just a teenager when the spill happened, so Ellie is a slightly maternal, very big-sister to her. Bing is a conspiracy theorist, though his conspiracies never really entail the pharma company keeping them all there in the middle of nowhere to use as human guinea pigs, which I found lacking (could it be a plothole, or foreshadowing? Both? Maybe!). Things start getting crazy when Bing starts looking less right-wing nutjob and more right. It's not paranoia if you're right, right?

Throughout the town, people keep using the expression "All You Want" and it keeps appearing on things, like trucks and newspapers.

Things begin to unravel, and as Ellie's life starts getting worse, she finds herself fighting against the unfairness of it harder and harder until she finds the house of cards that can send it all tumbling.

It really is a great story. I'm glad I bought it, and I'm glad I didn't delete it when I could have.

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