Monday, June 25, 2012

I am the Messenger

By Markus Zusak
 ★ ★ ★ ☆

Four Things I Liked About I Am The Messenger:
1. “I am not the messenger. I am the message.”
2. “Sometimes people are beautiful. Not in looks. Not in what they say. Just in what they are.”
3. How touching ordinary lives can be, and how ordinary people can touch lives
4. Close-knit friends

Markus Zusak is most well known for being the genius behind The Book Thief. Which is why I was curious to read some of his earlier and modern work. I don’t remember The Book Thief terribly well, having read it right after it came out several years ago now, but based on my vague recollections + the out-and-out ardor the literary community harbors for it, I would venture to say that had I read I am the Messenger when it was first released, I would never have expected that the same writer would go on to produce an opus like The Book Thief. That’s not to say that I am the Messenger was bad, just that it doesn’t have that special quality that has made The Book Thief such a well-loved and critically acclaimed work.

Ed Kennedy leads an unambitious, unremarkably ordinary existence. He drives a cab. He lives in a cheap shack with his smelly, old dog the Doorman as his only companion. On his nights off, he plays cards with his friends and wallows in his unrequited love for his best friend, Audrey. But after Ed accidentally without-really-meaning-to thwarts a bank robbery, things change. He receives a playing card inscribed with three addresses. No names, no dates, just locations. And thus begins Ed’s mission: to visit these addresses and deliver messages to them. Ed is no longer Ed the Ordinary. He is the Messenger. But who is behind his mission? And how will it end?

I am the Messenger is divided into five parts. Through the third part, I had decided to give the book only 3 stars. I wasn’t super impressed. The premise behind the playing card missions seemed contrived and thin, and the overall message of the story (which was clear from like chapter five) a bit too heavy-handed. But the culmination first three parts turned out to be more than they seemed at the time, having set the stage for the much more affective final two parts of the novel. And by the time I reached the end, Zusak had built the story's affectivity such that the final two lines were real zingers, and I am the Messenger had earned that extra fourth star. I’m still not convinced by the premise and think maybe another round of editing – such as tweaking the backstory behind where his missions came from – but the last couple parts of the book had real power to them, enough for me to see why it might’ve earned the Printz Award that figures so prominently on this otherwise pretty lame cover. The Book Thief certainly marks significant growth of Zusak as a writer; it will be interesting to see what he comes out with in the future, whether it lives up to The Book Thief or falls more on level with I am the Messenger.

Books Read This Year: 50
Top 100 Progress: 48/100

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