One of my favorite because of its all-around quality: great story, characterization and performance; exciting and thought-provoking. I especially like the perspective of a protagonist who has attained mastery through life-long discipline and ongoing flexibility, a mastery that no longer seeks to prop up the ego or diminish the various capacities of others, and so, can recognize his own past failings in the posturing of others -- and take advantage of that hard-won knowledge when pushed to it.
The same kind of exploration concerning self-mastery, its callouses and its relative price and worth over time, is likewise explored in two other of my favorites: The Fencing Master by Arturo Perez-Reverte and The Last Gunfighter series by William Johnstone. All three have a "pulp" quality that all the more endearingly frames such "action-thrillers" given that there is actually much gravitas seamlessly tucked into these masterpieces of the genre, call it, a dogged persistence of vitality amidst a correspondingly weathered, self-effacing yet somehow un-tragic sensibility.
Barrett attains here something like the "sublime" performance most fully realized in the telling of Will Patton. By "sublime" I mean that the narrator is fully himself yet fully self-effaced into the characters and context. A simplicity and direct attunement of astonishing artistry and, indeed, artifice. This is pretending of the first order: It takes a great actor to be so completely "not acting" at all.
Here is that rarity of a truly engaging story that rises higher: by way of philosophical promptings that are implicit to the story itself, not abstract, pedantic or glib add-ons, rather like the fiction/expose genre that has nearly always been the favored medium of preeminent political theorists. The thriller dramatizes the mature recognition (from Plato to Nietzsche) that every society is controlled by elites, and that there is a creeping degeneration in societies that can no longer maintain quality in that class -- when no longer vulnerable to genuine opposition by other elites. But we can be grateful that the novel does not preach about it, most of the time. Rather, the rollicking story is what puts on exhibit how the production and consumption of public rationalizations can enervate any real challenge to entrenched parasitism from above. If the various characters are variously pawns, how much of that position has been willingly embraced? What I especially like is its dramatization of the tension between two kinds of "realism," rather than the usual, moralistic fluff about either a bad realism or an ineffectual idealism (the sham choice propped up on each side by Machiavelli and Rousseau). Instead, we get the feel for the actual tension, an existential cutting point that daily confronts each person but that is usually blunted and diverted -- between the rewards and costs of either a cynical complicity in self-deceived opportunism or the very concrete dangers of integrity in action. (Plato's realism got this right in his fiction but, of course, you will never learn anything about that from the ritual performances of our academic elites -- or its required mimicry if you want credit to "project" your way into the elite yourself.)
I'm baffled about this one, both the book and the positive responses to it, since my own experience was so different. I generally like JR well enough and I love tough Sci-Fi, but I could find no engaging story line and nothing like a cast of developed and differentiated characters, simply nothing much to connect with here and yet it keeps on going on. My experience of the book and its reception, so far out of synche with the aggregate, like running in a marathon with no course, no finish line, and 10,000 other runners who all look the same.
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