how to make your own secret history playset.
you will need:
one big house where a gaggle of college-aged and -attending young adults can gather unsupervised to drink and discuss Big Ideas and show off their highly specific knowledge in relatively obscure intellectual subjects
at least five of these should be very wealthy, having been protected by their wealth and their intellects their whole lives, giving them a false sense of immortality and infallibility; a confidence beyond their years that makes them seem larger than life. points if some are related to each other, points if some are sleeping with each other. points if they evince a disdain for their wealth and a casual, sloppy treatment of the things money provides.
one of them has to be incredibly charismatic, but also enigmatic, unpredictable, with some sociopathic tendencies
you will also need one “outsider” drawn into the circle, seemingly accepted as an equal, but who feels the class-disparity deeply and hungers for what the glittering people take for granted.
by the end of the game, there should be at least one dead body.
sound good?? i thought so!
i am on board with anything that does the secret history revamp thing. and although it is completely unfair, it is hard not to make comparisons in your head as you are reading them, holding them up against the gold standard. most are flimsy and bad, some are very good, and this one was right in the middle. i would give it a 3.5
star cat rating, if such a thing existed on the goodreads.
i am going to start with the things that didn’t really work for me so that i can leave the review on a happy note, because this is a very solid debut and my feelings about it shouldn’t deter anyone from reading it.
so, characters. you have oscar, the eldercare worker who gets sucked into this privileged circle when he hears an organ playing one night while walking by a church and is drawn in despite having no particular religious affiliation. once inside, he is enchanted by a beautiful, bored-looking girl and runs into her outside after the service where she is, naturally, reading a book by descartes. it turns out that it was her brother eden who was playing the organ and suddenly he finds himself in a cab with the girl, named iris, and eden himself, and on his way to a loud drunken party at their house, where he meets jane, who is eden’s girlfriend, yin, and marcus; the remaining members of “the flock.”
and i hate to make the comparison, because it’s not really fair, but in the secret history, every single character was interesting, complex, shining. here, no one really has any specific personality. yin is chinese, marcus is german, and those are their defining characteristics. eden is by far the most defined character, but the problem is, he is all bombast and tics, without anything particularly original about him to make the reader understand why he so dominates the others.
an example, from when oscar meets iris:
When he asked for her name, she replied: “It’s Iris. Like the genus.” And he laughed – just a short vent of air from his nose, but enough for her to step back and say, “What’s so funny?”
“Most people would say ‘like the flower’, that’s all.”
“Well, I’m not most people. I’m not going to say it’s like the flower when I know perfectly well that it’s a genus. And I’ll tell you something else.” She broke for a gulp of breath. “I know exactly which variety I am. Iris milifolia. The hardest one to look after.”
which of course is studiously flirtatious and arch, but it shows a degree of self-confidence which is completely deflated when they all get in the cab together and she wilts under eden’s condescension and bullying of her, while oscar says nothing.
and the point is that eden sucks the life out of everyone; brilliant and abusive as he is, and that scene shows the tendency he has to overpower people who are under his spell, but he just isn’t interesting enough to be the only person in the room talking. yin and marcus are mostly unaffected by him; they are allowed to be goofy sidekicks, while jane shuts down, pretending to be dumber than she is and cracking self-deprecating jokes, and iris turns timid and careful, sparkless. so, not a great novel to find yourself in if you are a woman.
my other problem is with the ending. not the big, climactic scene; that was actually a spectacular episode with great tension and well-timed action, but the part of the ending that spotlights the foundation for this whole situation – the reveal in eden’s bedroom. i think it is supposed to be a moment of dawning realization, but i just didn’t get it. i didn’t get the “how” of it. it relies on an astute judgment of character that i don’t think eden has, and expectations that cannot be guaranteed; it relies too much on variables that are uncertain, and the timing of it – the fact that the View Spoiler »sales receipt « Hide Spoiler predates the action here raises more questions than i think it answers.
but overall, it was a story that kept me interested and i never once wanted to stop reading it – it is the kind of book that carries you along, so when you are reading it, you don’t feel the shortcomings; you are too wrapped up in the story. i just realized i haven’t talked about the plot yet, because that is what publisher-supplied book synopses are for, but briefly, it is about someone so coddled and protected from the realities of life that he has developed a narcissistic personality that gets out of hand when he believes he has the power to heal people through music-based-hypnosis.
which makes for a pretty awesome story, and my quibbles should not be taken as a sign that i didn’t like the book, because it was very enjoyable.
some of the best decisions were about what to exclude. as frustrating as it is, for a reader, to not be privy to the conversations between crest and eden, and to not get to see crest’s manuscript in the form he had intended, i think it was a really smart move on the part of the author. i like the not-knowing, i like the lingering mystery and the wanting to so badly eavesdrop but being DENIED.
also, both crest and dr paulsen were incredibly intriguing characters . i would have liked to have learned more about them and their relationship, because their characters were by far the most interesting, but – again – i appreciate the understated mystique..
overall, a very solid and better-than-most addition to the books claiming to be just like secret history shelf
as a fun drinking game, do a shot every time the word “wisteria” is used.