The Wasp Factory

OK, don’t get scared but I am sure you can all relate to this horror story. 

I am alone at a three day high school basketball tournament, ready to sit through fifteen games.  Are you with me here?  Fifteen games means fifteen half times, fourteen between game breaks, and about one hundred time outs.

What does that mean to us?  Time to read!

SPOILER ALERT:  I only brought one book to read!!!!!  And I finished it early on the second day!!!!!

Luckily, for this German-librarian-anal retentive boy, I was in Madison, WI.  Able to run downtown between games on the second day, I found a book co-op near the basketball arena where I could make a purchase that was going to save me from having to read the program or the wrappers on my food for the next day and one half. 

Here is the dilemma.  I never do this.  I always know what I am going to read next.  My TBR pile is higher than most people’s spouses.  Now I am faced with the infinite possibilities of a campus co-op and I have no guideposts to follow.  So, I make the ultimate reader’s advisory choice and decide to read outside my box.

I marched to the science fiction section and begin to scan for books.  Because I am a German-librarian-anal retentive boy, I start at “A” and do not get too far before I find a name I recognize as someone I have always wished to read: Iain Banks.

Here is where irony steps in.  The book I have selected out of the science fiction section is called The Wasp Factory, Banks’ first novel.  It is not a science fiction book at all but rather a book of social commentary that borders on crime fiction.  Is this serendipity for a crime fiction reader or should I put it back and select something really out of my box?

Hours later, at the games, I find myself almost unwilling to put this book down.  It is eerily similar to a book I have just read for a discussion with my staff (see my post on January 31st about Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess). 

In The Wasp Factory, we get the story of teenager Frank Cauldhame who confesses that he has murdered three people but also tells us not to worry as it was just phase he was going through and he is over it.  While it is partially a confession of sorts, Frank is really going to tells us about how his insane brother is returning to the island on which Frank and his father live to seek revenge for being sent away for setting dogs on fire.  As Frank narrates the developing incidents, he also relates to us his thoughts on guilt, responsibility, child rearing, and sibling rivalry. 

This type of book is the ultimate train wreck and may not be for every book discussion group.  Certainly if you group responded well to Burgess, or enjoyed other similar titles like Lord of the Flies by William Golding or The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson, they might like spending some time with Frank.

I did, but of course I was trapped in a basketball arena without anything else to read.



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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