Book Review: Linger

Following up on perfection is a difficult thing. And Shiver was perfection - I reviewed it last summer, in complete raptures over the beauty of the story, the beauty of the writing and the beauty of the narration and when I found out that the story would be continued in Linger this summer, I was as excited as a child on Christmas Eve. To refresh my memory on the story, I reread Shiver a couple of weeks ago and much to my delight, found it to be just as perfect as the first time I read it. If you haven't read it yet, go get it. And stop reading this review, because I'm about to post spoilers. If you’re currently reading Linger, you might want to come back after you’ve finished – there won’t be spoilers, but I will opine.

Shiver ends with the story of the desperate cure Sam, Grace and Isabelle had tried for Sam and Isabelle’s brother Jack, injecting them with blood from someone suffering from bacterial meningitis. Grace's friend Olivia had decided to become a wolf rather than risking death, Jack died, but Sam lived, cured and the book ends with Grace and Sam reunited.

Linger focuses on four people, Grace and Sam, Isabelle and Cole, one of the new wolves made by Beck in Shiver. Isabelle is drawn to Cole, despite his generally obnoxious attitude. Cole has a lot of issues he needs to work out, as does Isabelle and their story is of the two of them dancing around each other, both broken, damaged people who hide behind a shield of tough and dismissive. Grace and Sam have their own issues, to. Not with each other, but with Grace's parents, who despite having spent most of her teen years not being terribly parental, have decided to essentially throw their weight around due to her relationship with Sam. As many parents of teenagers, they worry that their daughter's relationship with her first boyfriend is too intense. Sam is trying to adjust to being cured, to actually being able to plan his life, while adjusting to being the guy in charge of helping new wolves now that Beck has become one permanently. And if all this wasn't enough, there's something wrong with Grace.

The book continues the exploration of the themes and ideas introduced in Shiver. Growing up, death and dying, love and loss. I listened to an interview with the author, Maggie Stiefvater, who mentioned that one of her goals in writing Shaver was to make people cry. And she did that - it is an exquisitely sad book, but in a good way (if you know what I mean). Linger continues in much the same way, even moments of happiness are tinged with melancholy, but it's done well, serving the story instead of gratuitously pressing the tearjerker button.

However - and I cannot tell you how much it saddens me that there is a however - it's not as good as the first book. It has many of the same elements that made Shaver such a joy to read, the language is beautiful, the story is beautiful and most of the narration is wonderful, as well (although why they chose someone else to be Sam is something I do not understand). But here's the thing. It needed a rewrite. There are times when the beautiful language doesn't quite sound true when coming out of the mouth of a teenager - when the last time you remember an adolescent using the word weary? - and whereas the first book was such perfection in terms of the craft of writing, clearly nourished and polished to the point where there wasn't one word out of place or one word too many, Linger stutters.

In the beginning of the book, there's mention of how Grace is an excellent liar, whereas Sam is a terrible one. And it grated, because the person Grace had been until this moment had never been a liar and maybe it's my personal interpretation of her, but someone who has really excellent marks and never misses a day of school does not seem to be the type of person who would lie really well. But whatever, obviously the personalities have to be explored in more detail in the second book, so although I'm not buying it completely, I trust Stiefvater enough to stay on the ride. Except then this sudden characterization is dropped completely until the end of the book. And there are other moments where something is missing - for instance when Cole remembers meeting Beck, he mentions something happening to Cole that makes you really worry and want to hear more about, he mentions seeing Beck and then we never return to continue that flashback.

Maybe I'm nitpicking, maybe I would've loved this book more if I didn't have such high expectations, but dammit, Shiver was such a transcendent experience, one I’d very much hope to continue. I'm planning to read Linger again in another couple of months, to see if maybe I missed something. Because despite my quibbles with the book, I definitely want to read it again. Not just to experience it again, but also to listen more closely to the music and the lyrics to Sam’s songs, both lovely and composed and written by the author.

The last book in the trilogy will be published in July, 2011.
For those of you who’ve read Linger, what did you think?


Knitika said…

I had previously read (and loved) Stiefvater's Lament when I read your review of Shiver last summer. I hurried to buy Shiver, and agreed with you review. It was sublime.

I've been anxiously awaiting Linger, and just finished it last night. I'm afraid I was a little underwhelmed. I agree, the prose is still beautiful, and there were paragraphs where I thought, "Wow, this really is prose perfection." Sometimes, my patience for the book wore a little thin. I didn't really understand what was happening with Grace, and while I'm accustomed to waiting for the end for better understanding, sometimes I was a little too lost. I didn't know what the conflict was, at least until the parental meltdown bludgeoned me with a conflict, but that still felt peripheral.

When I finished it, I was a little more at peace with the whole book. I realised it's a classic second novel. They're always the darkest. The second in the trilogy is where everything descends as low as it can possibly go. So maybe I'm suspending my judgement a little. I'm such a fan of the author that I found a little forgiveness for my troubles with the novel and just accepted it for what it is. I think a later reread is a good plan. In the fall I'll wander through both books, and see what a second go reveals.
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