Content warning: violence
My fifth book in the 2022 challenge is Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi. The book satisfies Category 1 of the challenge, a book published in 2022. This also means we’re already one-fifth of the way through the challenge! Can you believe it?
The main story takes place in the 2050s, where the planet is an irradiated and otherwise polluted shell of its former self. The wealthy and privileged have left to live in space colonies, while everyone left behind is trying to eke out an existence however they can.
Wrecking crews demolish abandoned houses and salvage as much of the materials as they can for homes in the space colonies. Some people from the colonies choose to return to Earth, but their experiences aren’t the same as those of people who’ve been there the whole time, i.e., gentrification.
The timelines jump back and forth, as do the locations. The book makes the curious choice not to reveal the main incident that led to a lot of the disasters underpinning the story until about three-quarters of the way in.
What I liked
The premise of the story is fascinating, and Onyebuchi does a great job of worldbuilding. The things happening in this future world are plausible, in large part because similar things have already happened in this world, minus the space travel element. Since time immemorial, the haves have found ways to separate themselves from the have-nots, and there’s no reason to suspect that will change in the future.
Also, the book deals with a lot of extremely relevant issues, including racism, classism, gentrification, and climate change. In some instances these issues are dealt with in ways that stick with the reader.
What I didn’t like
Wow, is there a lot going on in this book. With all the different characters, plotlines, and timelines, it’s hard to keep track of everything.
A side effect of this is that we don’t really get to know any of the characters in any meaningful depth. You might remember in my discussion of Beloved that I praised Morrison for creating fleshed-out characters that enhanced the book as a story. This was significantly less true of Goliath, where several characters felt more like stand-ins for principles that the author wanted to portray than actual people.
I wanted so badly to like this book more than I do. Perhaps even more importantly, I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t like a current book from a respected author who writes about issues that are critical in our time. But for me, the book is less than the sum of its parts. There’s so much jumping around and so many things to jump between that I never felt like I got to know any of the characters in any depth.
Also throughout much of the first half, I didn’t understand the author’s choices for who to follow and to what extent. The reader gets a lot of backstory for some characters who just kind of end up as footnotes by the end. The book might have been stronger if it had centered more on the demolition crew and less on other characters.
I’m dipping into something more commercial with the next book, which is My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. This satisfies Category 16, a popular novel published after 2010.
Have you ever found a book simultaneously brilliant and frustrating? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
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