Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark

Sweetness #9Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Sweetness #9 should have been a book that I loved. For one thing, I’m a huge fan of Food Inc and I can’t get enough of food documentaries in general. I’ve also read books about this topic too, including Fast Food Nation which is mentioned in the synopsis for Sweetness #9. However, it wasn’t until it was mentioned on the Colbert Report that I really wanted to read this novel.

After reading the synopsis and some of the reviews for it, I assumed that this would be my kind of book. I was expecting a Fast Food Nation – Douglas Coupland hybrid type novel, where the lead character, David Leveraux, finds out what’s really going in our food and has to deal with that knowledge and his dysfunctional family.

And in a sense, I did get that, but I feel like this was more about David’s struggle with being normal and living the American Dream. Hmmm, when I think of it like that, then it is a bit smart how Sweetness #9’s takeover of the food market mirrors David’s lack of action to do anything in his life. The moment he takes control and stops trying to do what is normal, then he feels great, but things have already changed and the consequences of his neglect are irreversible. Likewise, once you stop the synthetic sweetener you may feel better, but you’re health may still have some side effects, like diabetes or something.

Now that I think about it, it is a smart novel and it does make sense in the grand scheme of things, but that’s only because I’m looking at everything as a whole as I’m write this review. While reading it, I was bored. I loved the beginning of the novel when we are first introduced to David and find out the shocking truth behind Sweetness #9. There was tons of humour in the first part, along with the Fast Food Nation aspect of it as well.

Then, we go into Part Two, which takes place many years into the future. David now has a family, except it isn’t anything like he thought they would be like. His wife keeps gaining weight, his daughter is a vegan rebel, and his son has stopped using verbs. David knows why his wife is having a hard time and why his son forgoes verbs, but he doesn’t anything to rectify the situation.

And this is why I didn’t like the second part of this novel. We get to see some of the harmful effects of this sweetener, but David has never said anything despite what he knows about it. He watches his family eat the stuff, while he refuses to touch it. I kept wondering why he would allow his family to slowly kill themselves when he could be more proactive in helping them.

It was really frustrating to read as he knew why his family was falling apart, but refused to do anything about it. I would have overlooked this glaring problem more if we got to see more about Sweetness #9, but sadly this novel became only a family drama. There’s this Hitler subplot too which just seemed long winded and unnecessary.

By the end of the novel, when David finally does do something, it almost seems too little too late for me. I just stopped caring.

Overall: Looking back, I can appreciate what Clark was doing in his debut novel, but I feel like some of the pieces here didn’t come together as well as they should. I think this is the problem when other books are mentioned in the synopsis, because then the reader goes in expecting one thing and getting something completely different after. Because I saw Fast Food Nation and humour, I thought we’d get a funny fictitious novel about the food industry and how it messed up one man’s life. Instead, I got a novel that is smart (once you think about it), but not as funny and not as food orientated as I thought.

I feel like if the plot lines were a bit tighter and the length of the novel was shorter, I might have liked this more. Unfortunately, Sweetness #9 didn’t really do anything for me. Which I suppose is a good thing, because I’ve heard some really shocking stuff about it.

I do think that Clark has a bright future though. The way he mirrored Sweetness #9’s harmful properties and David’s life choices was really clever and made me appreciate the novel a smidge more than I originally did. So, kudos to that!

Sweetness #9 was provided by netgalley

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California by Edan Lepucki

CaliforniaCalifornia by Edan Lepucki
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first time I heard about California by Edan Lepucki was when she visited the Colbert Report. She was being interviewed about her sales since the plug Colbert made in a previous episode that I never got to watch. So as I sat there watching the video on the computer, I decided that I should check out the book. The thing that made me want to read this the most was that Lepucki mentioned that it has dystopian elements in it. Even though I’ve been a bit burned by this genre before, I do still like it so I really wanted to read California.

Now that I did, I feel like it is an okay book. Not good, not bad, just okay. I don’t think this will be a book that everyone will like and judging by the rating and reviews I’ve read, it truly seems like this is the case. There are some interesting elements at play here and I did like some of the plot lines, it’s just that everything seemed a bit bland. No, not bland. I don’t think that’s the right word to use here. It’s just…not what I expected.

California starts off with Frida and Cal living in the great outdoors. The couple moved out here after a flu outbreak and other things (that were never fully explained) left the world in chaos. The internet is only used by the rich few. Schools are hard to come by, since there’s no money for anyone, so girls like Frida are forced to not go and have her education limited while the boys still get to play. It sucks, but I can definitely see it happening.

In any case, the two leave the city and head out in the wilderness where they farm, hunt, go at it like rabbits, and enjoy life like the no one else is around. Because, there is no one else around. There was one couple, along with their two kids, but they soon passed away. Their only other human contact that they have is a travelling salesperson who provides them with goods for a cost.

One Frida becomes pregnant all that changes. Her need to be with others drives her and Cal to some spikes, where they finally meet someone who introduces them to their community. The more the young couple stays with them, the more they start to realize that something dark is amiss. For one thing, where are all the kids? And if Frida is pregnant and expecting, what will happen to her child?

Now, this does sound pretty awesome, and I definitely felt like some moments were. It’s just that, the characters of Frida and Cal were stupid. Neither of them grows as people and they constantly make the same mistakes. Cal had a hero complex, while Frida never thinks about what she wants to do. She has tunnel vision. Once she wants something, she’ll set out to do it even if she shouldn’t. Like at all. At all.

The thing is, can I really dislike Frida as a person if her character remains consistent to how she was written? Granted, I did like her chapters more than Cal’s, but she is stupid. There were times when I thought, why? Why would you say this when you know that bad things will happen to her and Cal…I mean, I just don’t understand her thought process. But she is consistent, which makes me wonder if I should fault the character when this was how she was always written.

I mean, we’re told that when she was younger she’d know her period was in when there was blood on her underwear. This would cause her to constantly buy new panties, because her period was that irregular. Only, once she starts keeping track of it she realizes that her period is actually on a pretty tight schedule and it never deviants from it. Most people, at least I’d hope most people, would have realized that after the first few times you start bleeding from the crotch, but not our Frida. She simply goes with the flow and when she realizes things are different, she just goes with that one too.

I could talk about Cal, but I mostly found him boring so….

I did like some of the plot. Even though it was slow, I liked the air of mystery and loneliness of the first half of the novel when it was mostly Frida and Cal alone in the woods. I know others didn’t, but I quite liked it.

I also liked the community and the leader. He wasn’t charismatic, but I did understand why everyone made him their leader and why he did what he did for them. The residents were afraid and he took it and made it into a town where people could actually function and not let the past take over.

What I didn’t like was the dystopian/post-apocalyptic aspect, only because I never really felt it or understood it. I don’t know why the world was destroyed or why resources and money was limited. There was a thing about a terrorist group, but even that wasn’t explained all that well.

Overall: I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. I mean it has a lot of things that I like in novels, but some of the plot lines never really took off and I couldn’t stand Frida and Cal. By the end of the novel I was wondering how it was possible for them to survive in the wilderness for two years when it seemed like all they could do was grow beets.

But then again, Frida may be TSTL and Cal may be a boring person with a hero complex, but they were consistent with their characterizations. I dunno, I’m on the fence with this. It didn’t live up to my expectations, but it also isn’t the worse book I’ve ever read. I did manage to get to the end and even though I hated Frida, I did enjoy reading her chapters so I guess that says something.

California was provided by netgalley

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