Out of the Gray Zone

August 7, 2005 at 5:35 pm Leave a comment

Out of the Gray Zone – RebelFire 1.0
by Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman

(Edited on August 9 at 1:07 PM: My sincere apologies to Aaron Zelman, co-author of this book. In writing the entry below, I failed to mention his name or to appreciate the strong influence his collaboration had on the book. I unfairly assumed – because I knew something of Claire Wolfe’s triumphs and challenges with the writing as it progressed – that she had been the prime mover on the project.

However, Mr. Zelman, the executive director of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, is an outstanding friend of liberty and a powerful writer in his own right. So please, as you peruse this review, read “and Aaron” after each “Claire.”)

This isn’t going to be the normal review – just a haphazard flood of personal response to reading the book. Oh, and I purposely haven’t read anyone else’s reviews yet – first because I didn’t want to spoil the surprise of the plot, and since reading, because I wanted to be as authentic as possible. So I’m not going to say much about the events of the story. You’ll have to read the book to get the full experience. And, fellow Outlaws, you’ve just GOT to read it – and get all your young and not-so-young friends to do the same!

By the time I finished this book – all in a day of air travel – I knew my life was going to be different from now on. Yes, it’s a book directed to young people – as are some of my other all-time favorites. But its story and its themes are very mature: integrity, loyalty, decency, courage, striving. And it brings them to life in astonishing and moving ways.

When, for instance, Jeremy made excuses to himself about why he didn’t have to bother burying the dead man at the cabin (whose food and clothing Jeremy had appropriated), the shameful and lazy and avoidance-loving part of myself was revealed in a horrifying light. It’s so easy to make up reasons why not – but so wasteful – when that time and energy spent in self-justification could be put to so much better use in just DOING the thing. Especially when I know it’s right and needed.

The several scenes in which Jeremy sells out were so well orchestrated that they left me very wary of my own tendencies to take the easy path. And I began to wonder if the “Gray Zone” is more than simply the Godforsaken geographical location from which Jeremy hails.

The slang Claire has developed for the story – “sexy big,” “crazydictions,” “HaPiGoons” – is utterly believable, right on the mark, and also fun and sassy. And the book is so well written, so true and expressive, that it has that ability to change a worldview. It has something that opens your eyes and draws you into its world.

Action moves fast, and Claire isn’t squeamish about including gory, meaningful scenes that paint quite accurately the kinds of dangers (and unexpected help) that Outlaws can face. Jeremy comes from an environment where guns are not only illegal, they’re considered obsolete. So he’s got the same kind of unreasoning fear of them that so many Americans have nowadays. But then he’s plunged into many situations in which he has to become willing to rethink his fear.

One thing I’ve learned from Thunder, and now from Claire in a new way, is that music is so often about the need for freedom. In my younger days, mom made sure I avoided metal music, because it was bad (although acceptable for my younger brothers), so I falsely thought that metalheads at school were losers. Their t-shirts and hair frightened me. It was just a few years ago that I began to realize what good stuff I’d missed – Quiet Riot and Van Halen, to start with, for an utter fraidycat like me.

Then Thunder came along and began teaching me to listen to his own kind of thunder – Dream Theater and Rush and others. I began to understand something of the brash, fierce young spirits of musicians on the edge, pushing the edge, daring to rebel. Their melodies weren’t very pretty, their sound not serene. But their fire was evident, as was their urge to freedom, and I hadn’t appreciated that before.

Claire builds on that sense with her lyrics, and her treatment of Jeremy’s feeling for the music he loves. What Claire has done, with her lush, chewy writing, is to morph you back into the young adult you were, how it felt to feel all those yearnings you could never explain to others. Not just the desires to inhabit the mysteries of sex and drugs and romance, but the dark urge to break out into the bright space of freedom from others’ rule.

In another vein, though, I feel strongly that Rey is an unfinished symphony. It’s likely that his failure to reappear before the end of the book was a planned suspense item, so the reader will want to delve into RebelFire 2.0 when the time comes. But the theme of integrity is a strong one in the book, so to my mind, Rey should have delivered on his promise to see Jeremy again. Plus, he was far and away the most intriguing character in the book. I was quite disappointed not to meet him again.

There’s been some talk on The Claire Files about Cedra and Jeremy getting together romantically in a future volume. I personally don’t think the time is right for that. Cedra didn’t develop into enough of a believably human being in this first book. She’s too tough, too angry about past abuses, and too focused on survival, to have room for a guy in her life. As it stands, she’s more of a stereotype of balls-to-the-wall underground activism than an attractive young woman.

And Jeremy, although his progress is impressive, still seems to be the kind of late bloomer who’s got far to go in learning to care for another, or even to see why he should want to. He’s still the geek who entertains a few fantasies about sexy girls, but his own passion isn’t kindled yet. Perhaps a romantic tension could develop here slowly, as the two characters evolve – but for now, both of them remain unprepared to love, or even to want to be intimate in any sense.

But overall, I was left with an odd and unexpected feeling of haunting after I finished the book. I can’t even say why exactly. It was a journey, not just for Jeremy but for me the reader. It left me appreciating in a whole new and deeper way the gifts Claire has for making big issues personal and real. It was, too, a rare and energizing experience to see the nonfiction ideas Claire writes about, made real in a fast-moving and very believable story. Her gifts as a writer are not limited to nonfiction. With this, her first novel, she’s built something as utterly special as her wonderfully individual take on living free.

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