A young man tries to deal with conspiracy theories and the reality of how politics and governance work, having been brought up in a very sheltered, uninformed, but ‘healthy’ home. Written as a sort of retelling of Hamlet, but set in a small town in Massachusetts, Hamlet and his mother Gertrude create a new life for themselves after Gertrude’s husband is killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack. 8 years later Hamlet is unwilling to let his mom move on and remarry, and his dislike for Claudius, her new husband, becomes vicious once Hamlet runs into his old science teacher, Horatio, who has become an embittered conspiracy theorist.
There is plenty to discuss and to think about in this short novel, and it actually does sort of work as a modern take on Hamlet, though it brings out Hamlet’s irrational and naive side. Hamlet is woefully ill equipped to deal with the conflicting information offered to him concerning 9/11, having spent all his life not paying attention to the news. He also is no expert in any of what he is trying to understand, but he doesn’t have the maturity to recognize that all his information is equally second hand. Instead of making his family and friends wake up to the truth he thinks he’s discovered, he simply destroys the lives of everyone close to him. There are other ways to read this book, too, of course.
I was a bit distracted from actually getting into the story by the heavy-handed application of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the story the author is telling. Even keeping in mind that this book is satire and a dark comedy of sorts, the Hamlet layer to this story got in the way of the storytelling more than I would have wished. There aren’t really any great female roles in Hamlet that aren’t walked all over by the men in the story, so while I wasn’t thrilled with how Gertrude and Ophelia were portrayed in this book, they were reasonable characters given what the author was doing. I wanted Gertrude to put her son in his place a bit more about his assumption that she should stay single for the rest of her life- 8 years seems like quite a long time to wait before marrying and moving on. The way she and Polonius allowed Hamlet to carry on with Ophelia while Ophelia was just an 8yr-old kid was also a bit creepy, though if all the characters are meant to be a bit off, it works. The only spot where I really couldn’t suspend disbelief was where Hamlet is being searched before a flight, while disguised as a woman. Surely any woman doing a body-search of a man dressed as a woman would notice that the subject is in fact male.
On the whole, this book was pretty good, but there were too many bits that bugged me to give it a full 5 stars. The way Hamlet is written in this book reminded me very much of typical YA genre storytelling, so perhaps readers who stick to that genre will enjoy it enough not to notice the bits that bugged me.
Four out of Five Stars
Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount)
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