P.S. All the spoilers ahead!
Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us." - Penguin Random House
Sounds like it could be interesting, right? So every time something weird happened I just figured I'd keep going because I wanted to know how the story ended. Things are weird from the get-go, bringing us to my first question.
1. So Peter's going on this trip to space to teach the natives (aliens, who are called Oasans in this book) about Christianity. He's hired and sent there by a corporation called USIC. Except Peter knows nothing about USIC. He doesn't know their main purpose, why they're in space, or even what USIC stands for. He DOES know that it's "urgent" for him to start right away. Can you think of a single adult that would think this was ok and still go?! This doesn't sound the least bit sketchy? Leading right into question two...
2. What is USIC doing?! We never found out, not exactly. Unless I missed it. Let me know if you have any theories.
|PLEASE USIC I NEED TO KNOW.|
What often made this book hard to read it that Peter is kind of an asshole. In chapter 4 we learn how much Peter likes to judge people based on their appearance, and how he really thinks he's better than everyone. First it's with some of the men in the spacecraft thing as it's arriving to the USIC base. He describes their behavior and appearances as crude (he compares them to construction workers) and is constantly surprised whenever they say something intellectual. Apparently there's a very specific look to being smart, and if you don't have it then you must be dumb. In Peter's younger days before he became a pastor, he was an alcoholic and drug addict. Then through Bea he finds God and turns his life around. So you'd think he'd be a little less judgmental.
This attitude of his is even worse regarding women. More times than I can count, Peter meets various women working for USIC and describes her appearance. If she's conventionally good looking he'll describe her as attractive. If she's not attractive then she's described as butch. Because if you weren't born with supermodel genes or if you don't feel like getting dolled up everyday then you're a butch lesbian! Although there's a nurse up there that's lucky enough to not be in either category, because more than once she's compared to an ape instead! Example: "Nurse Flores spoke up again, her simian face unexpectedly illuminated with sharp intelligence." He also references her "simian fingers" and "monkey face." This makes my head hurt.
Or how about this one, where he feels the need to criticize her appearance WHILE SHE'S CRYING:"A glance confirmed that the weeping hadn't done her any good -- her face was blotched, puffy and unfeminine, and she knew it. He looked gallantly askance while she dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve, pecked at her hair with her fingers, and generally tried to compose herself."
So gallant. Taking me to question three...
3. Is Michel Faber the stupid asshole, or is Peter? I haven't read any other books by Mitchel Faber, so I can't compare this to his past stuff. I don't feel like Peter was supposed to be a particularly unlikable character, but maybe he was? I don't know.
4. WHAT HAPPENED TO KURTZBERG?! After all the buildup, we never find out. We do learn that he's dead, but we don't know why he left in the first place, or how he died. It's barely talked about, but there's one more person from USIC who also went native - a translator named Tartaglione. So when the book's almost over and Peter's traipsing (AKA getting lost) across the space desert, he finds an abandoned Oasan settlement and finds Tartaglione hiding there! But why?! Why does Mitchel Faber decide to (kind of) reveal what happened to Tartaglione, who I had literally forgotten about until that moment, rather than Kurtzberg? NO ONE CARES ABOUT TARTAGLIONE. Are you trolling me right now?
5. Why didn't he just write to Bea more often? Most of the times he didn't write to her it sounded like he just didn't feel like dealing with her drama. But if you're going to keep brooding about it then just write to her. I'm not married, but I'm pretty sure that in any serious relationship good communication's important and you just have to suck it up and do it. Especially if you're in space. Be a good husband and write to your wife, Peter! This whole book might have had a different ending if Peter just wrote to his wife more.
Now, since the reason Peter's in space is about God and teaching the Oasans about God, let's talk about that. I found Peter's ideas about Christianity and the bible unbearable. I later found out that Michel Faber is atheist, so maybe he just doesn't know a lot about it and that's why I often felt like he was making fun of religion without even meaning to. It doesn't bother me if people are atheist or whatever else they want to be, but if you're going to talk about these things then you need to know what you're talking about. Every time Peter has a problem, he prays about it. Which is fine, except that's ALL he does to try and fix the problem. He doesn't put in any more effort than that, because he expects God to just take care of things. "Hi God, my wife's really mad at me because I haven't acknowledged the fact that she's having my child and I don't want to hear about earth crumbling to pieces, but I don't feel like writing to her right now, so just make things better, ok?" That's also not an actual quote from the book, but it gets my point across.
7. How did the Oasans know about religion and God? They didn't pick it up from USIC, because they don't really converse with them unless they have to. They like their privacy. Kurtzberg probably taught them about the bible, but Kurtzberg was only there in the first place because the Oasans told USIC to find them a pastor.
Instead of their actual names, they tell Peter to Call them Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Two, and on and on. It sounds hokey but I also found it a little endearing somehow. He gets along pretty well with them. They all work together and build a church and Peter teaches them about the bible and things. Oh, and the Oasans call the bible "The Book of Strange New Things." So there's where the book title comes from. They actually get along so well that it got a little boring. Peter becomes especially close to Jesus Lover Five. Towards the end of the book Peter is hanging out at USIC and learns that Jesus Lover Five is injured and asks to be taken to USIC for medical assistance. Like I mentioned before, the Oasans try to keep away from USIC, so the fact the she asked for their help is surprising. Since Oasans don't heal the same way humans do, they're all pretty sure she's going to die. It's sad.
Around the same time (either before or after, honestly I'm getting the ending a little jumbled up), Peter finally decides to be a good husband and go back to Earth for his wife. He says goodbye to Jesus Lover Five, still in the USIC hospital. He says goodbye to the rest of the Oasans, who are pretty upset about it but decide to forgive him anyway.
Unfortunately, his actions are again, too late. When he writes to Bea to tell her he's coming home, she tells him to stay there. She says that by the time he gets back to earth she won't be in their home anymore, and that this is the last night she'll be able to stay in their house. This is the last time she'll be able to write to him, because she's leaving and will be traveling with a group of strangers to who knows where (and again, we don't know why). Things on Earth just got that bad, so that's what it came down to. Of course, Peter decides to go back to Earth anyway.
That's pretty much how the book ends.
I received a paperback of The Book of Strange New Things courtesy of Blogging for Books. All thoughts and opinions are unfortunately my own.