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August 11, 2004

Toothless Tiger

I finished Tom Clancy's The Teeth of the Tiger yesterday and feel a bit cheated. No, that's unfair. Clancy is a very good writer and tells good stories. He's just spoiled me with Red Storm Rising, Without Remorse, and others that rise above the level of this last one significantly. In other words, he didn't meet my expectations, expectations set by some of his earlier works.

The characters are mostly new to me, though I did miss Red Rabbit (soon to be rectified) and he may have introduced them there. Jack Jr, of course, I knew from other books, by name, that is, but he hadn't really been developed enough so that he was familiar. He was contrasted with his Dad a lot, which is fair, and was useful, but he still seemed an awful lot like his Dad. His cousins, the twins, somehow remained two-dimensional (and not because they're twins!) That's probably part of why I didn't feel as engaged as I have in the past.

The plot itself did not feel as multi-threaded as have Clancy's plots in the past. The antagonists were mostly undeveloped. While we did some bouncing back and forth from protagonist to antagonist points of view, often the antagonists were cardboard cutouts. Again, this criticism should be taken as comparative to his other books, or at least his better books.

There also were few surprises. Aside from the very opening, when there is a surprise, everytime I cringed, expecting a negative outcome to throw a wrench into the plotline, I was relieved none came... and unltimately disappointed because the plot ended up very flat.

When the terrorists were undetected and approaching their targets for the initial attacks, there was little or no potential for adverse outcomes. Even in that situation all of the casualties were faceless and mostly unknown. The one boy who died in the arms of one of the twins (Enzo? Aldo?) was as close as the reader comes to identifying with a victim in those attacks.

Deus ex machina was everpresent. The twins just happened to be in the right place at the right time in that first major battle. That ignores the apparent chance that put together first the two twins as the team, then added Jack Jr on top of that. The sense of inevitability I felt was not one of the hand of fate, but the hand of a lazy author playing god of convenience to create his team of protagonists from a set of related (by blood) young men. That dangled my suspension of disbelief by a very fine thread.

To compound that, adding further to the pattern, all of the intelligence of significance was spotted and devloped by Jr. The pretext to get him into the field was flimsier than his cover (and that was nonexistant). The conclusion fit this pattern so well I actually set the book down and went to sleep with five pages left. That is not normal behavior for this reader.

That said, it was not a bad read. It just wasn't all that good. It was well written enough that the narrative pulled me along, even though there was no huge feeling of suspense, or constant wondering if Clancy would kill off one or more of his protagonists.

After my reading lately in current fantasy I have come to realize just how important the pain of the protagonists is to creating powerful identification with them in the reader. There was next to none of that here. It has never been a major part of Clancy's plots, but in many or most of his best plots it is present. Someone to whom the reader is attached either dies or experiences extreme pain. The protagonists need to feel the teeth. This tale lacked teeth.

If you want a tiger of a tale, you have to give it teeth.

Posted by dan at August 11, 2004 08:51 PM | TrackBack
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