The Hunger Games
Entry 1: Mockingjay Left Me Sated but Not Satisfied
Mockingjay is not a book that is meant to be read. The final installment in the addictive and deliriously popular "Hunger Games"trilogy will be inhaled, swallowed, snorfled, snozzled, single-gulped, shoved down the gullet, Jonah-to-our-whale'd. It took me all of about two hours to tear through its 390 pages, and I was trying to restrain myself.
Mockingjay sated me, but it didn't satisfy me. The book certainly wraps up every Panem-fanboy loose end: Will Katniss lead the rebellion? What is District 13? What happened to District 12? Will the Capitol fall? And, of course, the question of all questions: Peeta or Gale? Suzanne Collins resolves those mysteries and several more, delivers the creative and sadistic scenes of violence for which she has become justly famous, throws in some new muttations, and calls it a day.
Now that I've come down from my Mockingjay-reading high, I'm a little disappointed. I wonder if Collins, knowing that the book is going to be consumed at berserk speed by hopped-up fans, cut corners. Mockingjay is confusing, repetitive, and not believable. Too many booby traps, too many propaganda films, too many President Snow broadcasts interrupted by the rebels.
In the first book, The Hunger Games, Collins gave us the premise of a lifetime: 24 children, each a randomly chosen "tribute" sent to the hedonistic Capitol by a subjugated province, fighting to the death on a TV show. It was The Most Dangerous Game crossed with The Lottery crossed with Project Runway (a muttation indeed). Those Hunger Games are one of the most vivid creations in modern fiction—adult or young adult or in between—equal to the Battle School of Ender's Game, or the alternative worlds of His Dark Materials. Watching Katniss Everdeen play the Hunger Games was as grueling and satisfying a reading experience as I've had since I finished The Road.
But in Catching Fire and now in Mockingjay, Collins faced an insurmountable structural problem. The Hunger Games were the star of the show, but they were over, and Katniss had won. In Catching Fire, Collins re-stages the games but in a clumsy, hard-to-follow way. And in Mockingjay, she tries to do that trick one more time, turning the final siege of the Capitol into a city-scale Hunger Games, complete with endless booby-trapped "pods" and too frequent double-reverse plot twists involving Gale and President Coin.
Enough complaining. We're supposed to be having a book club, so let me throw out a few questions I've been puzzling over.
First, the Hunger Games, like Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and Twilight, is a series written for young readers but heavily colonized by adults. Why do these books in particular grip adults? What is it about the Hunger Games that allows me to read them without shame on the subway? One reason, I suspect, is that Collins is a genuinely excellent writer, of a certain sort. She brilliantly conveys sensation: the dog-soup smell of the Hob, the slick-blood appearance of a wound, the desperate fear felt by Katniss at crucial moments of the games, the blazing spectacle of her costumes. I hope never to see a movie of The Hunger Games, because it will spoil the perfect word pictures that Collins has painted.
A second reason, I suspect, is the virtuosity of her violence. The Hunger Games is quite possibly the most sadistic set of books ever marketed to children. If violence had a Kama Sutra, it would be The Hunger Games—murder in every position. Murder by children, murder of children, murder of animals, murder by animals, murder with poison, with guns, with knives, with bombs, with nets, with electricity. The flesh of Katniss is mortified in every possible way—roasted, boiled, lashed, cut, scraped, gouged, gnawed.
Incidentally, do you find the contrast between sex and violence in the series as ludicrous as I do? Like Twilight, its in every way inferior cousin, The Hunger Games delights in the chastity of its heroine. Katniss, the most physical of creatures, will kill for Peeta and Gale, will trap squirrels for them, will take Romeo and Juliet suicide pills with them, but, please, no touching below the neck. Why?
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.