Several people who weren’t Andy walked by as I waited for him. Manhattan is less legit than it once was, for sure, but this is still the city that never sleeps. It is also the city of ‘Behold the field in which I grow my fucks. Lay thine eyes upon it and see that it is barren.’ People gave the sculpture a quick glance and kept on walking, just as I had very nearly done. I tried to look busy. Manhattan’s a safe place, but that doesn’t mean a twenty-three-year-old woman by herself on the street at 3 A.M. isn’t going to get randomly harassed.
I first heard of Hank Green’s debut story An Absolutely Remarkable Thing in November 2018’s Book of the Month (not sponsored), and I was skeptical even then. I was instantly minded of 2016’s Sleeping Giants, but other than that it was hard for me to get an impression of what I was supposed to expect from this book.
Now that I’ve read Green’s book, I’m still not entirely sure whether what I got from it is what they’d intended (or what they’d advertised). It’s been a really interesting reading experience. I hope these insights prove helpful for prospective readers!
What stood out to me most from page 1 all the way through to the end was the narrative voice, which is unusually conversational and intentionally youthful. Green’s narrator is a 20-something art school graduate living in Manhattan, and the voice he chose for her (which he maintains evenly throughout the book) clearly represents a specific and fully-realized personality.
While it’s an excellent display of skill in authorship and editing, that narrative voice was VERY hard to read – particularly in the beginning. Were I not reading this book with a friend, I would have abandoned it before I got 10 pages in.
I’m awfully glad I didn’t.
Honestly, given Hank Green’s profound internet presence and the savvy awareness it’s granted him, I can see why he was able to create (and maintain) such a convincing “young millennial woman” voice. It was hard for me to accept, in large part, because the assumption that because young women speak a certain way they must write that way hits me in a personal place. I’ve fought against that assumption and that accusation not just my entire career but my entire life – at least as far back as 3rd grade.
That aside, this story hinges very directly on internet things; from core social media intrusion into daily life, to the ins and outs of specific technologies, to the cultural and psychological considerations content creators must weigh, Green had to get it all right. For the most part, he did.
Again, I have to credit (at least in my own assessment) his long exposure to and deep involvement with the internet. It’s certain that the accuracy (or at least believability) of these aspects was a make-or-break quality for the book. He knocked it out of the park, without ever falling into the “too much explanation” trap that authors who do exhaustive research but have no direct experience so often fall into.
Green’s portrayal of the narrator as a young person living not only as an online content creator but in the art (or art school) scene in Manhattan also read remarkably true to me. This time, however, I was an outsider looking into a world I was not familiar with. His world building and scene setting are hardly without par, but they more than did the job, and I was most pleased by these artistic moments in the book.
I started to think that this was part of the artist’s intentions … that the goal was for the people of New York to interact with this object … to discover its properties. When you’re in art school, you do a lot of thinking about objectives and intent. That was the default state: SEE ART -> CRITIQUE ART.
While I certainly had my favorite characters, this book will stand out on my shelf as being rare for its full cast of believable, well-rounded, fully realized characters.
And the scifi ain’t bad, either.