Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Book Review: "Pines" by Blake Crouch
From watching the show I expected a lot of the confusion, the dark tone, the mysterious and inescapable setting of Wayward Pines, Idaho. What I didn't expect from the book was the depth of character development and the relentless pacing of a well configured thriller that makes the reader as mentally exhausted as the protagonist. The plot is intriguing, and though there is a big spoiler at the end of the first book - I'm not entirely sure it's the truth. I guess I have to keep reading to find out.
Ethan Burke is an ex-military, secret service agent working a missing persons case for two fellow agents that disappeared. On his way to track them down at their last known location, Ethan is in a terrible car crash that leaves him with some amnesia and physical injuries. However, Ethan doesn't wake up in a hospital; he wakes up beside a creek in a town that is absolutely foreign to him. As Ethan roams through town trying to track down his cell phone and his wallet, the strangeness of Wayward Pines, Idaho becomes apparent.
The reader follows Ethan on his journey to find out what happened to him, where he is, and why nobody seems willing to help him connect to the outside world. It becomes apparent very quickly that something much bigger is happening in Wayward Pines, especially when Ethan tries to escape and finds that he winds up in a loop that keeps him inside the town limits. Ethan is quick to make enemies with his relentless questioning and his urgency to get out of the town and back to his family and his life. The number one rule in Wayward Pines is not to speak about the past. Ethan doesn't want to forget his past, he wants to get back to it, because his wife and son are waiting for him. Ethan's sense of imprisonment triggers his PTSD from the Gulf War where he was held captive, beaten and tortured. What plays out in Wayward Pines at the hands of the sadistic Sheriff Pope is no different than what happened to him as a prisoner of war, and the parallel is well handled by Crouch.
The action is non-stop and incredibly well written. The picturesque town of Wayward Pines contorts into something much darker and primal when Ethan's only ally, a woman named Beverly, is beaten and ripped apart by costumed residents in some sort of twisted ceremony performed when an individual doesn't assimilate into the town's culture. Ethan is also being hunted, however, his will to survive is a force to be reckoned with and he manages to escape the confines of the town.
At this point Ethan is exhausted, in terrible physical condition, hungry, and utterly alone, but he relies on his adrenaline to get him over the cliff that surrounds the town. What he encounters on the other side is something completely foreign; mutated humanoids that want to hunt him down and eat him. I don't want to give too much away about the end of the book, but I will say that Ethan uncovers the truth about Wayward Pines. There are sequels to this book, so I'm not entirely sure that I trust the "truth" that Ethan is told. I don't know that Ethan believes it either, but by the end he has acquiesced and assumed the role of town Sheriff.
I listened to this story on Audible during my daily commute and it definitely kept me interested and my mind was constantly trying to make sense of everything Ethan was experiencing. Ethan's observations and thought processes were completely relatable, and I liked him as a character. His flashbacks to his experience as a POW were the most powerfully written scenes of the story. I don't know if it was the narrative delivery or the writing, but these scenes informed the reader of Ethan's indestructible will to survive. It is perhaps because of these experiences of his past that Ethan decides to play nice and become a fixture in Wayward Pines while still trying to figure out if what he has been told is the absolute truth.