My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As an admitted follower of Lily Hoang’s already admirable body of work, young as it is but growing at an almost obscenely prolific pace, the expectations I approach each new work with have yet to be disappointed.
One of the most intriguing aspects of her work is the way in which her authorial tone from book to book manages to evolve and shift as one might hope it would while retaining similarities in confidence, intelligence and whimsy that never let the reader forget Hoang’s presence behind the scenes. There’s an ever-present slyness and impression of trickery, the execution of which is brilliant in that Hoang manages to walk the line between solely emphasizing the performance itself or that behind-the-scenes finesse; both are important, and the sense of play always gives way to a cohesive focus and momentum that leaves no doubt as to how seriously one should take the themes of the book. The word ‘whimsy’ seems to be one I always cling to when pondering Hoang’s works, but it does feel a bit imprecise as I don’t feel it communicates the proper weight of this book, as well as her others. While Hoang indeed seems to have mastered this kind of playfulness reminiscent of the classic fairy tales, I don’t feel I can emphasize enough how well she pushes this playfulness toward something larger and arguably more lasting; let there be no mistake when questioning how much intellectual stunt work is going on in this novel.
To me, the most enjoyable element in ‘The Evolutionary Revolution’ is the constant, open-ended criticisms of memory and nostalgia, the way we (as a person, as a society, as a culture, as a nation, etc.) look backward and interpret not only the past as it stands objectively, but how we even deal with the act of remembering itself, how we question or do not question ‘facts’ and other types of cultural givens that affect how we interact and behave. There’s quite a bit going on here that makes one think about ‘where we’ve come from’ on so many levels and in so many voices that the reader will no doubt find herself trying to answer them long after the book ends. This doesn’t even scratch the very large surface of Hoang’s delving into the nature of stories and fairly tales in particular–where the monsters come from, who has to fight them and how, and why? What makes a hero, if a ‘hero’ can really exist at all? The power of all of this is the questioning; Hoang seems to stop short of pushing forth too many answers, which to this me allows her to take a place comfortably alongside the reader rather than some place above, a trait I admire quite a bit.
My only qualm with the book is in not feeling certain how to feel about the rather overt, ‘preachy’ messages regarding issues such as global warming. If these are indeed as ‘preachy’ as they seem at times, I think this is a bit disappointing and something I think the book could have / should have been better than putting forth. If they were intended to be more self-conscious, I probably would have liked them to be more clearly so, and to play with that in a larger and more complex way. Overall there were small places I felt the book could have been slimmed a bit, a few sections that wandered perhaps a bit too far into an awkwardness that seemed slightly too aimless, but these were few and far between. The quirks here nearly always create the appropriate space for themselves and never use up any credit they haven’t earned.
This book, like the rest of Hoang’s books is certainly worth your pennies, and more importantly your time.