BRIEF SYNOPSIS: 334 follows the lives and interactions of a group of people living in a housing project at 334 East 11th Street in a future, dystopian New York City.
PROS: Unique storytelling, using intertwined stories, especially over the last half of the book.
CONS: Unrelentingly grim. Unsympathetic characters. Jumps in story time make this a tough read.
BOTTOM LINE: Another book considered to be a classic that I just don’t like.
I tried to like this book. The setting is a dystopian United States, focusing on a group of people, mostly the Hanson family, living in a welfare housing project in the east side if New York City. Quite a bit could have been done with this setting. However, Disch focuses on the lives of the people in the project and we follow them, from one depressing event to another, over the course of six years, with the future society lurking always in the background, almost controlling the characters’ actions. There was nothing in any of the characters that made me interested in them at all. None of them are particularly sympathetic or likable. This made it terribly difficult to finish and I had to force myself to get to the end. The tone of the novel is very dark. Nothing much good happens to anyone, and they seem to revel in their despair and dysfunction. As a result, this is very depressing and not an enjoyable read. The last stumbling block is that Disch’s story weaves its way back and forth between 2021, 2024, and 2026. This is fine, in and of itself, but it becomes a large hindrance over the last half of the book, where Disch is constantly changing characters, points of view and time periods. See John’s review for what the structure of the last half is supposed to be. Obviously, I didn’t like it as much as John did. Maybe, if I had skimmed it, I might have liked it more. Which pretty much drives the rating down more.
The only intriguing thing for me is the setting. Unfortunately, all we get are hints and not many at that. That’s the reason for the one star rating. I’m thinking that, currently, I’m not reading any book, let alone a SF one, that concentrates on social or political issues. I want something that is going to be an interesting and, above all, enjoyable read. I’d rather leave the social and political stuff at the door. Now, if they are wrapped in an interesting story (IE- Dune) then that’s another story, no pun intended. As it is, 334 barely interested me at all by the end.