~~Moved from GR (I know I've posted a bit more often lately--I think it's because I'm seeing the finishline on the horizon. If I post 3-4/day, I should be done by about Feb 10 at the latest.)~~
Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2)
by Suzanne Collins
In some ways, I thought that Hunger Games itself had the perfect ending: the beginning of discontent, a breath of hope, and a massive amount of uncertainty. But since a pair of sequels had been written, I felt obliged to read them, even though I was afraid they would damage what I saw as the perfect way the first book had such devastating impact. Although Catching Fire is indeed a compelling story, I found some of its elements distinctly problematic.
One of the aspects I found to be so overwhelming about the Hunger Games was the faceless forces of the antagonists. The pain created was created not through hatred or anger, but through arrogance, through indifference, through a sort of impersonal maliciousness. This message resonated deeply with me because we live in a world where our reality shows have this same faceless audience who derive amusement from the detached observation of the pain and misery of others. The power for me here was the way we must question how the quest for entertainment and novelty dehumanizes the pain of others and how this indifference can, in some ways, be more horrific than actual malevolence.
In Catching Fire, however, the evil is given a face and is, in some sense, limited to a single person: President Snow. He is so pointlessly demonic and so bad at this politics thing that I am at a loss. His method of controlling the populace is precisely the opposite of those recommended by Machiavelli: he makes rewards quick and fleeting and punishments long and agonizing. When faced with defiance, rather than showing force while still mollifying anger, he inflames it farther. Rather than engaging sympathies, he takes direct action to galvanize even those in the Capitol against him. To me, this attribution of all evil to a single individual redacts the message of the last book.
That's not to say the book is not still powerful. I picked up the book even though I knew it would be heartwrenching and might weaken the power of the previous book. I kept listening even though I just wanted to stop. Reading it is sort of like reading one of Shakespeare's tragedies: you know that by the last act, most of the characters will be sprawled around dead on the stage. But even so, I couldn't help becoming attached to them. The book clearly does not glorify violence and makes it plain that any happy ending of the last book was at best superficial. The most agonizing part for me was the way that Katniss has been altered by her participation in the Games. She can immediately and coldheartedly consider murdering the people around her without compunction or remorse. This shift in her character, combined with the description of other previous victors, makes it clear that the greatest losers in the Games are those who emerge victorious to live out their lives with constant reminders of blood and death and children's screams.
I honestly don't understand how people can find these books "cool" or "exciting" or "fun," but I can see how people find them enthralling and excruciating. Although I feel that this book weakened the impact of the previous one, I still think its message of hope and the need for rebellion, even if only in tiny ways, is a powerful one.