I dunno, man, maybe it was the buildup: the last time I cracked a brand-spankin’-new William Gibson hardcover I was still living in Ebisu, and that feels like a long way back down the road now. (Come to think of it, I read that one in a single first-day sitting too.) But I’ll confess to feeling a little let down by Spook Country.
It’s not just the melancholy of knowing that most likely another five years (and a similarly dramatic interval of life circumstances?) will elapse before I do it again, which is a tristesse little short of post-coital. It likely has more to do with the fact that Spook Country‘s Hollis Henry and Bobby Chombo never really resolve as characters for me – utterly unlike Pattern Recognition‘s Cayce Pollard, a brilliant creation who leapt into highest definition in just a few deft strokes. (I continue to maintain that, with J.G. Ballard, Gibson is the finest crafter of sentences working in the English language.)
And in this, they’re of a mesh with the rest of the book. Four-and-some years it may have taken, but this is the first Gibson I’ve ever read that feels rushed. Not worked out in all its details. Strewn with great ideas that never really turn into anything. The trademark multi-threaded caper plot actually does resolve satisfactorily, even pleasingly, but it feels a little ex machina all the same.
Still worse, the book feels just as rushed on the physical level, sporting entirely too many missteps that should have been caught in the production process; it’s rife with copy-edit blunders, including at least one instance in which “Alejandro” slips past where the author clearly meant “Alberto,” and you do a clumsy little double-take that pulls you up out of the narrative. Too, the paper is insubstantial, the type sits faintly on the page.
None of this is to say that Gibson’s lost his eye for just the right shock-of-recognition detail that brings a passage slamming home – no, those are here in spades, so much so that it occasionally feels like he’s been shoulder-surfing the last few years of my life. The specific material objects – GSG9 boots! – and locations – The Standard, and still more so The New Yorker (!?!) – he chooses to limn his characters are almost uncannily resonant with my own experience, and the same can be said for his ear for subculture-specific and -definitive language.
And this is the real rub. The larger part of my beef with Spook Country is simply that the world he’s writing about has become too close to home for me. If a character in Pattern Recognition seemed modeled, in part, on Chris Cunningham, that’s OK, because I don’t know Chris Cunningham. But when you’re introduced to a character who bears a marked resemblance to Régine Debatty? That’s different. And when you consider it in the context of the flotsam of 100% dead-accurate cultural references that drift through the text, it’s nothing short of unsettling.
But here, of course, we depart from the realm of literary critique entirely. None of this counts against Spook Country as a work of art. If I confine myself to weighing the book solely on its merits: three and a half stars out of five, it’s nice to see Hubertus Bigend again, and too bad about all the oddly discordant VW product-placement.