Book Club Revisited Pick #3: Prepare to Die! by Paul Tobin
I got to choose our book club pick this time around, and I chose Paul Tobin's new, pulpy superhero novel, Prepare to Die! Luckily for me, the book turned out to be incredibly popular among my fellow Book Club Revisitors. Prepare to Die! is the story of a superhero, Reaver (who is so strong that when he punches someone, it actually ages them a year), who receives an ultimatum from the supervillain Octagon. When Octagon gives Reaver the requisite "prepare to die" sentence, Reaver asks for an extension. Octagon agrees to give Reaver two weeks to tie up loose ends, then Reaver must come meet his actual death. Reaver, still heartsick over the loss of his closest superhero friends as well as still dealing with the teenhood accident that gave him his powers, decides to make amends back in his hometown of Greenway, Oregon. There, he plans to reclaim an old relationship with Adele, the love of his life, who last saw him when they were teenagers.
Prepare to Die! hits a lot of the things I love in both literary fiction and superhero stories: the doomed protagonist, the allure of lost opportunities, grief over major losses. Best of all, it's a story about a superbeing who becomes a person again. After a decade spent fighting crime, he finds there are other parts of himself that are equally important to who he is, or as Tobin puts it when describing Reaver's past as a boyhood camper, "to keep a sense of the self even though the woods are very large and very lurking and he is very small and very unable to see himself or anything at all." It's a book about keeping one's sense of self, a concept that has led to tragedy for some of Reaver's friends but which might just hold the key to his redemption.
Tobin's book is not perfect. Adele's an underdeveloped character, and the writing isn't particularly pretty. But the story is funny, propulsive, and really entertaining. Occasionally, the book becomes incredibly moving. There's a revelation involving Reaver's brother that comes toward the end of the book that really startled and gutted all four of us BCR members. Our conversation about the book was very fruitful. At one point, we even got existential, trying to decide if people needed godlike figures (particularly represented by Reaver's best friend, the good and tragic Paladin) because facing one's own capacity for kindness or humanity or heroism is too frightening. Overall, it was another successful chapter in the story of our book club.
Up next for Book Club Revisited: Amy chose Howl's Moving Castle, a children's classic, for August's discussion. Should be fun!