Wool: Great Short-Story Idea(s?), But A Flawed Novel

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Wool is the story of a tiny civilization living in a 100+ storey underground silo.  The air above the Silo, due to some apocalypse, is poisonous and causes death within seconds of exposure.

Culturally, the Silo folk are a literally stratified society.  Also, there has developed over the generations of Silo-living, a tension between the politicians and the technocrats.  The political side is represented by the Mayor and by Law Enforcement.  The technocrat side is presented in a much more sinister light, and is represented by what the author simple calls “IT,” as in Information Technology.  When it comes to the past and to the knowledge of the outside world, the people of the Silo only know what IT wants them to know… mostly.

There are some nice twists in the story.  The tale’s tone, in fact,  often reminded me of the television series, LOST: a group of people marooned in a mysterious and hostile world– with the line shifting between baddies and buddies.  But also like LOST, sometimes the twists seem tossed in just for the sake of the surprise turn or revelation.

The best of the book is the Holston story up front– minus all the backstory.  My guess is that this part of the book is the original core of the story.

To state the rest plainly:  there’s a lot not to like about Wool.

There Are Small Points Of Style I Quibble With:

1) Wool is overly long.  Complete sections could be dispensed with.  Descriptions of various activities are too minutely and tediously described.  Relatedly, some of the dialogue is tinny and monotonous.

2) A central idea in the book is that people banished from the Silo to their deaths in the toxic air above always– always– voluntarily do some simple maintenance before they die their horrible deaths minutes later… I never, ever bought this.  Not good for such an important conceit.  Also, I felt the whole scenario of the death sentence was unjustifiably and unreasonably over-elaborate

3) The ending for one set of characters is a little too zippy and happy (I won’t say more since I feel that the closer one comes to talking about the end of a book, the less one should say)

But I also have a few major issues with the book:

My Number One Major Issue With Wool:

More than once in Wool, we-the-readers are set up with a long Point-Of-View from a character we are meant to identify with– only to have the rug jerked out from under us and that character whisked away and the point-of-view changed.  I don’t mind a story with different points of view, and have even written a novel or two myself from multiple points-of-view, but this is different.  I’m always up front with the reader and establish early the multiple points-of-view style, and all my point-of-view characters are introduced before the first fourth of the book is over– probably before the first tenth.

Howey is introducing new point-of-view characters far into the book.  I’m not one for “rules”– do whatever works for your narrative, I say.  But this giving and taking away of the central character– and then this foisting of a stranger’s point-of-view upon us toward the latter part of the story– well, it is a dangerous method at best; the author risks alienating the reader, betraying the implicit trust given by reader that, yes, I can invest myself emotionally in this book and devote some time to these characters.  I know I felt alienated to have my POV-character yanked away not once, but twice.

I understand that this novel was once a set of short stories or novellas that have been stitched together — I suppose for marketing (aka money) purposes– but I contend that the overarching story would have been better served (if this resulting novel was the best stitching that could be done) by presenting the tales as separate but related stories.

My Number Two Major Issue With Wool:

This is actually a consequence of Issue Number One.  Later in the book, there’s a whole group of characters– the friends and co-workers of the book’s major character, Jules (or Juliette)– that wind-up having a great amount of stage time away from the main characters.  I’ll tell it to ya straight:  I just skipped these chapters entirely, and didn’t feel like I’d missed a thing by the end of the book.  I just didn’t give a damn about these people, and after investing more than enough time in a novel that was losing my love, it was all I could do to hang on til the end even without the unwanted additional points of view.

My Number Three Major Issue With Wool:

I never particularly liked any of the characters.  Furthermore, I felt that sometimes the characters didn’t stay in character, but would do things for the convenience of the plot.  In particular, there was a suicide that I felt was just a convenient way to get the character out of the way in a dramatic, surprise-twist fashion.  And while we’re on the subject of death, I think some of the murders were a little under-motivated.

My Number Four Major Issue With Wool:

The wife of the Sheriff of the story is presented as an intriguing personality– but is then (trying to stay away from any spoilers in this review), to say the least, wasted.

My Number Five Major Issue With Wool:

The story within a story of the Mayor and the Deputy, though not a bad story taken by itself, could have been left-out entirely from the novel with little detriment to the overall tale.  In fact, the longer this over-long review of mine goes, the more I see that the seams of the once-separate stories of this novel are glaringly rough and obvious.

My Number Six Major Issue With Wool:

If she wasn’t the closest thing Wool has to central character, I would just file this under “minor annoyance,” but the character Juliette is suddenly promoted to the highest law enforcement official in the civilization– and there is never any good justification given for this rocket-ride to the top.

My Number Seven Major issue With Wool:

I thought the explanation given for the apocalypse and for the existence of the Silo was totes lame.

So, all in all, I’d say Wool starts with an intriguing premise (What sort of civilization might develop inside an underground silo?) but doesn’t quite pull-off the inflation to a novel-length story.

 

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