Thursday, February 21, 2013

Perry Moore's Hero

I should stop basing my expectations on endorsements. I recently bought Jane Yolen’s The Last Dragon because it came with Ursula K. Leguin’s stamp of approval; I was hoping it would turn out to be a graphic novel successor to the Earthsea series. The Last Dragon was certainly an elegant, non-standard fantasy, featuring empowered women and a different kind of problem-solving than is typically found in the mythopoetic genre. Unfortunately, I cannot honestly say that it was erudite, nor very psychoanalytical – in other words: not nearly as deep as Leguin’s work.

I have had similar experiences with Perry Moore’s debut novel Hero. This superhero bildungsroman constructed around the character of a gay metahuman was endorsed by Stan Lee and Maurice Sendak (amongst others). I suppose I was expecting something of Lee’s punchy narrative genius, or else a dose of Sendak’s introspective surrealism; I got neither.

My reading was haunted by vague intimations of what an excellent novel Hero could have been if it had fallen into the hands of a more capable editor. The writer conjures endearing characters, but these are mostly shown at their worst, as though they need to break down before they can open up. Moore’s style gets very awkward at times; it alternates between character development (nearly always in the form of personal crises or confessions) and a rather convoluted plot. Being extremely personal, the themes of identity and orientation would be best presented in a more allusive style. Instead of placing the inner struggles at the forefront of the narrative by making them terribly explicit, I feel as though hinting at the characters’ emotional tensions/ambivalence could have helped me sympathetize with them. It is preferable to risk giving readers too much interpretational freedom rather than force them into identifying with characters whose struggles and foibles are very much exclusively their own.

Hero’s flow is hindered by Proustian flashbacks and imprecise descriptions which make action sequences very difficult to understand; this is particularly regrettable considering the lengths to which the author goes in order to establish the novel in the superhero genre.

Despite Moore’s shortcomings as a storyteller – which we might have expected him to transcend had his life not come to a tragic end in 2011 – Hero constitutes a bold and laudable attempt at lending a legitimately gay voice to the superhero genre.

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