I love museums. As a child my favorite thing in the whole world was a trip to the Buffalo Museum of Science, especially the huge hall where the dinosaur skeletons towered over us. Before wanting to be an artist or writer, I wanted to be a paleontologist. I still nerd out over science, and seeing as how NYC is just a short train ride away, I will be getting myself to the Museum of Natural History ASAP. I’ve already threatened my boyfriend with this trip.
Douglas Preston worked at said museum for a number of years, so there is a very authentic feel to Relic. That, and the mythology behind Mbwun, was the most enjoyable aspect of a book peopled with stock characters (the sleazy journalist, the hard-edged NYPD cop, the frazzled grad student–ok, that one is true) who tend to talk a lot. A LOT. Vast amounts of pages go by in which literally nothing happens due to often needless exposition. Because Preston worked at the Museum for a number of years, I have no doubt that all of the random information about its inner workings is fascinating to him. For the average reader, not so much. Relic becomes so bogged down in ultimately meaningless details that halfway through the book, the actual plot has all but ground to a halt.
That’s not to say that Relic isn’t well-written; despite some head-hopping, it’s certainly better than some other books I’ve read this term. But there is one word, repeated over and over as a description for Mbwun’s odor, that managed to drive me nearly to insanity. That word is “goatish.” I grew up in a rural area, but my experience with goats is limited to the occasional children’s petting zoo. I don’t have the first damned clue as to what a goat smells like. So this descriptor, which was apparently of great importance to Preston and Child given their repeated use of it, does not in fact indicate, to me at least, what Mbwun smells like.
I would have liked the revelation that Whittlesey was Mbwun to have occurred in the actual story, rather than through a tacked-on, expository epilogue that inexplicably casts Kawakita as some kind of mad scientist. As I read the final pages I could almost envision him rubbing his hands together and cackling in his dark, makeshift lab. Very cheesy, but characterization was not one of the book’s strong points. There was a much more interesting story buried within these pages; I feel that Preston and Child got lost in things that didn’t matter and ended up telling the wrong one.
This is my final blog for SHU’s Readings in Genre classes, but fear not, readers–I am nothing if not opinionated, so rest assured that I’ll be back soon!