Friday, December 25, 2009

Top 60 Novels of 2000-2009 Countdown, No. 6

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
After I read a positive review of this novel, I bought the audio book at Borders with the idea that my oldest daughter and I would listen to it as we drove from Reno to St. Louis when we were moving to Tuscaloosa. One of my coworkers asked me for a book recommendation, and I gave him this one; lo and behold, I got a hardback copy of the book as a going-away present when I quit the Reno Gazette-Journal. So we ended up with two versions of the novel.

Actually, the audio book was done very well; because the narrative alternates between Dr. Impossible and a novice female superhero, the audio book was divided between two actors, one male and one female. The narrative took up about half the trip; we finished it somewhere in Nebraska, when we switched to Thud. Long drives were meant for listening to audio books, and my daughter and I loved "Invincible." At one point, she called it the best book she's read or heard -- and the fact that we shared it makes the novel stand out all the more in my memory.

For one thing, Grossman drew upon a deep well of superhero and fantasy literature -- there are stand-ins for Superman (a Harvard student exposed to a ray), Wonder Woman (half-alien) and Batman (borderline autistic). Then there's Dr. Impossible (another Harvard student with Malign Hypercognition Disorder), a terrific character: a supervillain given tremendous powers in a lab accident, who narrates half the book (should he rob that bank or not -- settle down, do a little teaching). His tale is quite moving, in fact, particularly his keen inability to kill lots of people (in fact, the inventions of at least two generations of supervillains boomerang). Grossman even alludes to the Chronicles of Narnia. In effect, Grossman rewrites the entire 20th century. Then there's the parallel plot of Fatale, a cyborg with only a foggy memory of her previous life and how she got to be that way; Grossman does a great job imagining the problems one would have with such a body. The whole book brings you into another world, which is what fantasy is supposed to do.

About a month and a half after we moved, I had to go back to the Bay Area for my uncle's memorial service. While I was there, I saw that Grossman was doing and reading and signing in Mountain View. I went, met him, and now the book I received as a gift is autographed.

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