An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green

I don’t think I actually felt any of those ways, but it seemed on-brand.

This book actually is a remarkable thing. Remarkably horrible, in fact. Or maybe it’s the generation gap – at least if we’re not talking about biological age because Green is just about four years younger than me.

This “Thing” deals with the appearance of aliens in every major city on earth and a young adult woman, April May (seriously?), who becomes an Internet celebrity for dealing with the implications of this “visit”.

I chose the initial quote because everything in this book is pretty much superficial and only deals very shallowly with all the possible implications of physical confirmation of the existence of intelligent life beyond Earth. (Well, intelligence is relative – as anyone reading to the end will find out when “Carl” utters a single simple word as “judgement” on mankind.)

The entire book is basically Hank Green trying to build upon his clout as an Internet celebrity (at least I guess he is; I’ve never heard of him) and tries to stay “on-brand” just like his not-very-likeable heroine.

Oh, and April May is, of course, bisexual. Now, don’t get me wrong: That’s perfectly fine with me (hey, I am, too!) but the way Green writes her makes it very obvious that April is just bisexual because Hank thinks it’s “trendy” and “modern”. She’s a tool on many levels…

April is terrified of intimacy, nevertheless often lonely, insecure, neurotic and egotistical (traits many of which she most likely shares with the majority of the nerd-ish target audience). In short, she’s a mess. A mess with Thoughts, though:

We’re going to skip around the timeline of the story a bit here, but I have now been on the news a lot, and I have Thoughts.

Yes, brilliant, the audience is oftentimes directly addressed which I find almost as HIGHLY ANNOYING AS THE SHOUTING (in net-speak) which occurs often. I actually hate it when literary figures address me as the reader. Do not break the fourth wall unless you have a really good reason for that or the writing talent that Green very obviously lacks.

What he lacks in talent, he tries to make up for in preaching liberal ideas:

But in those manic moments when I thought I could be some kind of vessel for truth, I’d thought about what I’d say if I someday got a soapbox. That income inequality is out of hand. That all people are pretty damn similar so it would be great if we stopped hating each other. That prison sentences for nonviolent crimes are dumb and that drug addiction is a health problem, not a crime problem.

Yes, Hank, I agree with all your points and so probably does about 95% of intelligent mankind with me. Even for an Internet celebrity “stop hating each other” is a bit on the intellectually “thin” side, though, eh?

The entire book seems solely written to build upon Green’s status and to appeal to his “Nerdfighteria” (read: fanboys and –girls) from the “millennials” generation. Parts of the book are probably meant as (self-)criticism or reflection on this Pavlovian reflex to jump on pretty much any bandwagon that (seems to) remotely make sense, no matter what the consequences:

Of course, I was pulling this all straight out of my ass. I didn’t know if the Carls were dangerous or if my mind was being controlled. Who cared as long as my made-up shit wasn’t as poisonous as Peter Petrawicki’s made-up shit. In the end, my brand was me, so whatever I said became something I believed.

Ultimately, though, this will more likely work self-affirmatively – after all, the “Nerdfighteria” are just sitting behind their keyboards and surfing the net; it’s not like they’d ever act like that “IRL” (in real life).

Even when Green tries to do more than scratch on the surface of things, he doesn’t get beyond a single sentence at best before falling back into his comfort zone of writing with the philosophical depth of fortune cookies:

I’m honestly worried, because I think we’re just starting to get used to the impact that the social internet is having on us culturally and emotionally and socially.

Green caters to his audience so much that he even includes verbatim tweets of dubious value to the story, transcripts of interviews and, most annoying, lists, e. g. “Here are a list of thoughts I had in the space of five seconds”.

I could forgive all that stuff if only Green had some talent for writing and something resembling style in between lists and tweets but it only gets to this level:

I reached under my shirt to feel my own skin, warm and soft and as fragile as air.

“Fragile as air”? Her skin? What kind of comparison is that? Have you ever managed to break air? Let’s see how a competent author handles a very similar feeling her heroine experiences:

I felt like a newly laid egg, all swishy and gloopy inside, and so fragile that the slightest pressure could break me.

(From: “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine”, by Gail Honeyman)

That makes much more sense.

All that mess basically boils down to one simple truth that seems to apply to both creation and creator:

I was really, deeply, honestly, and truly infatuated with having people pay attention to me.

Don’t get me started on the ending, by the way; it’s the coup de grâce for the entire book.

So, if you’re a teenager up to a twenty-something (and daft to boot), you might enjoy this thing. If you’re above the age of 40, find a real book. Anyone in between should proceed with caution.

P.S.: If you intend to include senseless, meaningless gore in your book for no reason but to cater to violence freaks, at least have the decency to just write it. Or, better even, just leave it out because, honestly, if you’re aware you should warn your readers, it’s a pretty good indicator you’re doing it wrongly:

This chapter is going to contain some graphic violence. I will tell you when it’s coming. I will not be offended if you skip it.

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