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60 Hours! And Book 10: The Office of Mercy

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I’m way behind right now.

I’m behind both in that I am not nearly on track for the book-a-week thing I was aiming for when I started this project (thanks, 1Q84) and behind in that I finished The Office of Mercy about a month ago. Oops. Sorry. I’ve been busy.

See, the thing is, I work full-time at a candy store. One of those little, local, mom-and-pop everything-is-made-there types of candy stores. And I love it. I absofreakinlutely love my job. People sometimes look at me funny, because I went to college and got a degree and I’m pretty darn smart, so they think I’m crazy and/or lying when I talk about how much I love my job. Like I’m supposed to hate it just because it’s retail and therefore not a “serious grown-up job.” But I really do love it. I love the people I work with. I believe in the product we sell (I mean, who doesn’t believe in amazingly good, locally made, fair trade chocolate?). I love being able to discuss book 5 of the Song of Ice and Fire series with the store manager and the guy who signs my paychecks (though not well, since they both just finished it and it’s been a few years for me). So, if my boss says I can go in early, I do, not because I want a slightly bigger paycheck, but because I really love being there and feel good putting in a little extra to help the company out. And if they need someone to stay late, if I’m available, I’m there.

What I’m trying to say here is, basically, that with Easter being tomorrow and me working the job that I do and loving it as I do, I’ve been working a lot. A whole lot. I’ve had one day off in April so far, and I spent it apartment hunting–not relaxing. Exciting, but not relaxing.

And I just got home from the first 60 hour week I’ve ever worked. And I went a little insane from the sleep deprivation/amount of caffeine I was consuming in order to function fully. Mike went to get food last night and when he got home, he found me curled up on the couch crying over fictional characters because, well, sometimes when you’re really really tired and crashing from the caffeine you had that day and you see a picture of Rose Tyler or Kevin Tran, you just “can’t even.”

I may never work a 60 hour week again. I don’t know exactly where my life is headed from here–Mike and I are moving quite far away for his new job this summer, so I won’t have another holiday season at the candy store. And I’m sad about that, because it really is a lot of fun. We stayed open a little late today to let the stragglers get their last-minute stuff–I mean, if we can stay open, I’d feel bad depriving some kid of his chocolate bunny, you know?– and they absolutely did not believe us that we weren’t itching to get home/did not resent them for coming in so late. We were standing behind the counter like, no, we’re good, really. We love being here. And they said, no, we’re in the business (retail, I guess?), we know how it is. And my boss and I just kind of looked at each other, like, why does no one ever believe us?

Anyway, the point I’m trying to get across here is this: When I’ve been home over the past month or so, I haven’t really had much energy left, so I haven’t been writing. And, sadly, I haven’t been reading much, either. My brain is kind of tired. I have a few days off next week, though! So I can catch up a little.

I picked up The Office of Mercy on an impulse in my local bookstore. There’s this one person who works there whose staff picks are always amazing. “Ryan.” I had been looking over some of Ryan’s recommendations, and I’d followed a few and they had always been great, so when I saw this I grabbed it without a second thought. I had one of those staff-picks-brain-crushes on this Ryan person. So when the cute female cashier told me that she had just finished this book, I said something like, “Oh, yeah, well Ryan’s recommendations are always great so I had to pick it up.” And I’m really glad I didn’t use a gender pronoun, because she then says, “Oh, I’m Ryan!” And I suddenly felt extremely awkward and was glad I hadn’t mentioned my crush.

I’m struggling with how to categorize The Office of Mercy. It’s a dystopia, and I wouldn’t quite call it YA, but it’s definitely bordering on YA. YA-adjacent. Natasha, our protagonist, lives in America-5, one of numerous large underground communities that were built after a devastating apocalyptic event that destroyed most of Earth’s population called The Storm. She has been working at her dream job in the Office of Mercy in her community for a few years now, but she has doubts about the work they do “granting mercy” to surviving tribes of the Storm–and (small spoiler) as you learn very early on in the book, “granting mercy” means “killing with bombs.” She has been taught from a young age that life outside the America-5 is too horrible to be worth living–too filled with disease, hunger, loss, and suffering, and that it is cruel to force them to continue to live in these conditions, but there isn’t any way for their community to sustain potential additions to their population–and besides, the people of the tribes are barely even people compared to them. They’re more like animals. Death is the only way. Natasha’s doubts are understandable, but what will she find when she goes outside?

And I want to say, “holy crap this book was amazing!” Because I liked it. I really did, I enjoyed reading it, and I liked having a 24 year old female protagonist instead of a 16 year old female protagonist, mostly because I can’t quite identify with a 16 year old female protagonist simply because I’d feel really weird saying I identify strongly with a fictional 16 year old. But The Office of Mercy didn’t quite pull me in the way other dystopias have. There were a few spoileriffic things that bugged me, and I’ll get into those spoilers now, so if you don’t like spoilers, stop reading here.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about The Office of Mercy that made it not quite click for me. I’ve read a bunch of YA Dystopian Lit, and I’ve always really liked it, but it’s not like there’s ever a series that doesn’t have at least a couple of things that bother me. I’m not going to get into details because no one deserves to have things spoiled that aren’t even the things they mean to be reading about, but it’s not like I thought the Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, the Matched series, the Uglies series… hot damn, I read a lot of YA Dystopian stuff. Anyway, it’s not like I found them all to be flawless. So I have a few ideas:

1. Maybe I’ve read too much dystopian lit. The current trend is at least somewhat formulaic, so I find most of the book pretty predictable, and then by the time I get to the end, the big twist that makes it different from the rest stops being “Wow, I never saw that coming!” and becomes “Oh, there’s the twist they threw in to make their stand out from the pack.” In The Office of Mercy, I liked the big twist ending/”thing the author did differently” a lot. The society wins. The society’s never won before that I know of–it’s always basically a story about how a teenage girl successfully leads a rebellion. But Natasha isn’t a teenager, and her attempts at rebellion are unsuccessful. And not only does society win, but they win her. By the end, she absolutely believes that she’s doing the right thing when she blows up her erstwhile allies. And I liked that. I thought it was really cool and different. But by the time I got there, I still wasn’t quite hooked enough to… care, I guess.

2. Perhaps it was too short. Everything I listed up there was at least a trilogy, so maybe adding some bits and drawing it out longer would have given me more time to get fully absorbed in the story. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have. Maybe I just would have been annoyed because it’s not like I’m going to leave a series unfinished, but god this one is boring. I don’t know.

3. It might have been entirely that the romance sideplot pissed me off. Natasha’s love interest, Jeffrey Montague (yes, Montague, I rolled my eyes so hard) is two generations older than her. She’s 24, he’s 43. At the beginning, I got the sense that she was reading too much into a relationship that he saw more as a father-daughter type friendship–it was clear that he was a mentor of sorts. But then when he eventually returns her affections, it made me uncomfortable, especially when you find out that he saved her from a sweep and brought her in to the community. And, okay, I didn’t just roll my eyes at the last name. I actually stopped reading and found a pen and wrote down in my reading journal: “I’m really, really mad that Jeffrey’s last name is Montague.”

4. It could have been the numerous things that didn’t quite make sense. They were eventually explained, but I spent too long being bothered by them to have enjoyed the book as much as I could have. For example, no one is born. No one has kids, no one has parents. When the government decides that they’re ready to support it, they artificially create a new generation of babies in a lab. So why do they have last names, and why are their names so race-specific? Like Raj Radhakrish–that is clearly not a name that was randomly selected from the same pool as Jeffrey Montague. And it eventually explains that people are given names that are associated with the primary ethnicity of their genetic makeup in order to keep culture alive or something, but that just seemed kind of flimsy, like someone was reading the book and said “hey why do these people have such racial names or even have last names at all?” and the author made something up and threw in a line to explain it because she liked the names she had come up with.

5. Possibly, the stakes just didn’t seem high enough. Even when Natasha’s personal ties to the tribes were explained, and this is where I think it could have used some expansion, I didn’t feel her personal fire. I felt a general desire to fight for something and not the burning need for revenge. And maybe that’s why she doesn’t win. Maybe she doesn’t get invested enough, doesn’t get a chance to spend any time with her tribe family before they betray her trust, and America-5 just has too easy a time writing over her brief moments of “oh, look, relatives!” because of that.

And I know I sound dumb bitching about all these things and then saying, “No, really, I liked it!” But I did. I just didn’t love it the way that I was hoping to.

END SPOILERS!

So, would I recommend this book? It depends. If you’re fairly new to the dystopian lit genre but liking it a lot so far, then yes, I would, as long as you can let a few minor details wash over you. If you’ve read a lot of dystopian lit and love the formula, then yes absolutely! If you’ve read dystopian lit and are starting to get over it, then this maybe isn’t the book for you–it won’t surprise you until it’s too late for you to care. (Wow, do I sound like an asshole now? I feel like an asshole. Whatever, I’m tired.)

ANYWAY! Onto bigger and better books. Next up will be the review for 1Q84, volume 3, which means my reflections on the book as a whole! And after that, look forward to my post about China Mieville’s Railsea. I know I am.

See you soon!

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About Rachael

Hi. I'm Rachael. I realized one day that, even though I read a lot of books, I often have a hard time remembering them later on. I guess that happens when there's so much to try to remember! So I started The 50 Book Project, with the intention to read and blog about 50 new (to me) books in 2014. I read a lot of fantasy, but I'm trying to branch out and experience new stuff. Any questions? Suggestions? Let me know! Comment, or email me at dearohrachael@gmail.com.

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