Well Isn’t That Clever: I Am Providence

I’m done with my entire MLIS course about reviewing terrible books so that I can actually review fun books again, and I’m cleansing my palette with I Am Providence, by Nick Mamatas.

This book is doin’ 85 on the Pike.

Author imitations are easy, especially for idiosyncratic authors like H.P. Lovecraft. Say “rugose” and “inveterate,” throw in a monster with a face made of La Blue Girl, and ta-daaah! But that’s not what I Am Providence does.

What’s harder is to get at the underlying features of an author’s work, the subtleties that actually grab people once you get past their superficial tics. That’s how Thomas Ligotti gets to be a Lovecraftian author without anything squiddy appearing in his stories. Below the surface, I Am Providence is a Lovecraftian novel because it’s a very New England novel, and Lovecraft was a very New England writer. I don’t mean that he paid particular detail to hills and trees or really liked colleges; that would mean he wrote New England imitations. I mean that he hated people.

It might only be apparent if you’ve lived in Massachusetts for a few years (or know a Masshole who now lives in a friendlier climate… ahem…) but we aren’t exactly warm and welcoming. Even with friends and family, the more we know about someone is the more we have to talk about them behind their backs. Baseball’s nice and all, but our actual favorite sport is backbiting.

I Am Providence has drawn some criticism because its characters aren’t sympathetic enough. However, since the narrator is from Massachusetts, sympathy shouldn’t be a big priority for him. Were Panossian able to see a heart of gold beneath the misogynistic con-goers’ gruff exteriors, I’d maybe believe he was from Pennsylvania and took a low-residency course at Emerson or something. But to read like he’s from Mass, he has to cast shade like that centuries-old oak tree in the park.

She figured leaving her boyfriend, a generic greetings-and-salutations type with long hair tied into a braid, was a good start.

And does he! The book is full of cutting observations about geek culture and the recent unfortunate tendencies within it, to say nothing of Mamatas’ inventive similes and the absurd situations he devises for the characters.

So owing to his regional handicap, Panossian doesn’t have much sympathy for the rest of the cast. But keep in mind at least one of them did kill him — some general animosity should be understandable there.

I Am Providence  is a rowdy Sox fan after a game, and the horror scene is a BMW with New York plates. Just watch from a safe distance and let it do what it’s gonna. It’ll be a frickin’ trip.

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