Author Analysis: Neal Shusterman

I could go on and on and on about Neal Shusterman. About how I vowed never to read another book of his after Unwind (best-written, most-creepy, most-original, most-capturing book ever) settled in my mind and has yet to remove even the tiniest piece of itself. But, alas, I broke my vow last week and picked up Bruiser. After I finished it, I said, "Not half as creepy as Unwind." But after thinking about it, and after expecting a real-life situation to end as if the impossible premise of the book was true, I'm rethinking my analysis. It's just as creepy as Unwind, but in a very different way.

(Admittedly, the plot/premise of both books is a huge factor in their ability to grab you and forbid you to leave...even if you want to. But I want to look at something else that makes them appealing.)

Point of View / Tense

Unwind, to the best of my memory (and what I can find on Amazon's 'Surprise Me'), is written in third-person, present-tense. A very odd combination and one rarely found in books.
"'There are places you can go,' Ariana tells him, 'and a guy as smart as you has a decent chance of surviving to eighteen.'" (first sentence in Unwind)
The rest of the book maintains this form. I'm a huge proponent of present-tense...um...tenses. I think they're what separates The Hunger Games from most other books. (I know they're the reason I "dreamnt" The Hunger Games the night after I devoured it.) Present tense creates the illusion that the reader is the one thinking the thoughts put forward in the book.

In Bruiser, Shusterman uses four different points-of-views...and two different tenses.
First there's Tennyson, protective older brother (and, for all practical purposes, the novel's MC): "If he touches her, I swear I'm going to rip out hsi guts with my bare hands and send them to his next of kin for lunch."
 Then there's Bronte, his sister, who begins her narration in present tense, commenting, "My brother's an idiot." But by the end of her first chapter, she's changed to past tense: "I was spectacularly wrong."
Then there's Brewster, who speaks in present tense poetry: "I saw the weak hearts of my classmates shredded by / conformity, bloated and numb, as they iced the / wounds of acceptance in the primordial gym, hoping / to heal themselves into popularity."
And last, but not least, is Brewster's little brother, Cody. "Brewster said I should always be the rag doll, but I never liked that much." Past tense.
And by the time the book was over, I believed it was real. I can't give away the twist, but let me say the premise is incredible, impossible, and so believable that it scared me.

Neal Shusterman, master of tenses. Need I say more?

Past or present tense? Who's you're favorite 'master/mistress of tenses'? Why? :)


Sara B. Larson said...

Wow, I'd think that would be confusing with all those different tenses, but now I'm excited to read this! I loved Unwind, too. :)

Faith E. Hough said...

I like Neal Shusterman's "The Schwa Was Here" a lot...but I couldn't get into Unwind because the tense use bothered me so much... I guess it is really personal preference, because it felt very artificial to me. (Although I do like present tense a great deal in certain pieces, such as The Hunger Games.)
I'm anxious to read Bruiser, however; the concept seems really--I don't know--wildly creative, crazy, but really interesting!

Anonymous said...

I have never heard of Neal Shusterman before this post, but I think he's definitely worth checking out after hearing what you said about him.

As for tenses, I think past tense and present tense have their pros and cons. I think I might actually try present tense for my next story after hearing some of the pros for it.

Awesome post and write on!