First off, a big big thank you to Lex for sending me this book as part of her Mini Book Expo for Bloggers. I had a lot of fun reading and reviewing it.
Now, down to business.
How extraordanary to sit here and see this man suffering like this for a truth he believed in – and to know that he was right, to know it better than he did, and to still lie to him, and curse his innocent soul and condemn it with your lie.
This is a pinnacle quote from the book The Grays by Whitley Strieber. Here, an army captain reflects upon keeping secrets from people who have become broken by their contact with aliens. It’s an autobiographical wish-fufillment moment put in there by Strieber, a fantasy to release himself from the hell he’s cast himself into since that book…
You might recall that back in the late 80s, Strieber was an established writer, giving Stephen King a run for his money after penning The Hunger and The Howling. Then suddenly he released Communion, an account of his alien abduction from his remote cabin in upstate New York. I can imagine the publisher nervously setting up The Hype over that book: horror writer was now writing about aliens! And… He’s serious! No really, he’s serious about being taken aboard a UFO and examined. Expectedly, Strieber sank into near obscurity after being lambasted almost James Frey style. He had a winner with The Coming Global Superstorm, inspiration for The Day After Tomorrow and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, but who can say they’ve read The Key, a self-published account of his 3am conversation with a super intelligent person who wandered into his Delta Chelsea hotel room (yes, here in Toronto) unannounced?
To say that reading The Grays was difficult (on so many levels) would be kind. It’s hard to write about UFOs in a post-X Files culture and keep the content fresh. But Strieber tries by letting us assume his character’s bizzare behavor is all part of abductee fokelore. One character nonchalantly drinks “a couple glasses of water” after his second contact with a UFO and then begins to freak out shortly thereafter, a common post-UFO sighting experience. I had to Google that. Without that knowledge, it just seems like Strieber actually took a moment and wrote what he was doing instead of making the character act appropriately. These kind of gaps are rampant in the narrative. In the last 20 years, Stieber has, with all the hardship he’s endured (real or made up), had his voice waiver and meander from his past solid storytelling to a stuttering mumble. And mutter he does. He tries to cram a vast amount of UFO culture into one story: unmarked helicopters, Roswell aliens working with humans, lost civilizations, super secret US agencies operating in tandem yet for different ends, alien technology leaked into our own, space-based earthquake weaponry, mind control and of course, astral-projecting aliens walking among us in cloned human bodies. Whew! All within 300 pages!
In the book, characters lurch from moment to moment with no real development, playing off each other with awkward dialogue and choppy imagery. It’s as if we are actually reading in a “lost time” kind of style, something abductees experience when taken. Even the Grays themselves seem to defy logic by annoucing their desire to mine human emotions since theirs were breeded out eons ago but yet still show fear and rage (and relate with each other much like The Three Stooges) when they communicate with the hapless experimental humans. While there is a solid 100 pages of really good action (if you suspend a ton of disbelief), there are moments of incoherence where you shake the book to see if pages have fallen out from it.
And while we’re on the topic of physical errors in a book, this is the first “advance copy” book I’ve ever read. The big black “ADVANCE COPY NOT FOR SALE” across the front made me feel all important on the subway and by the pool. It came to me blemishes and all, as illustrated in this “Word didn’t catch this one!” typo:
Dan was still alive and conscious, and as they lifted him Conner took off his own jacket and fucked it around his father.
The Grays ain’t no Da Vinci Code (again, I’m being kind). I bet people who believe they’ve been visited would find this book a bit too far reaching (and if there is someone who finds this book facinating, they will most certainly be hanging out by a 7-11, drinking way too much Slurpee juice and holding a plackard that says THE END IS NIGH). If handled right, it’s going to make a good movie, that is, if they trim some of the fat and get the name back from the 1991 movie nobody saw. I suspect that in this case, the movie will be better than the book. Hopefully.