Review: Yarn by Jon Armstrong

How did I get it: The library.

Why did I get it: I read a plot summary and learned the book was considered both dystopian and “fashionpunk.” I had no idea what fashionpunk was so obviously I needed to learn more.

How I would rate it: 4 out of 5 stars.

My Summary: I can’t even begin to summarize this thing so I’m just going to use the blurb on the back cover:

“From the neo-feudalistic slubs, the corn-filled world of Tane’s youth, to his apprenticeship among the deadly saleswarriors of Seattlehama–the sex-and-shopping capital of the world–to the horrors of a polluted Antarctica, Yarn tells a stylish tale of love, deceit, and memory.

Tane Cedar is the master tailor, the supreme outfitter of the wealthy, the beautiful, and the powerful. When an ex-lover, on the run from the authorities, asks him to create a garment from the dangerous and illegal Xi yarn–a psychedelic opiate–to ease her final hours, Tane’s world is torn apart.

Armed with just his yarn pulls, scissors, Mini-Air-Juki handheld sewing machine, and his wits, Tane journeys through the shadowy underworld where he must untangle the deadly mysteries and machinations of decades of deceit.”

My Review: This book blew my mind, and in a lot of ways I’m still digesting its contents. The world of Yarn is insane and yet it seems so vividly real. Tane Cedar was a perfect main character — sympathetic, sweet, naive, clever and initially overwhelmed by a world that he has no idea how to navigate his way through. I loved how he remained such a really great person no matter what circumstances he found himself in. His back story was also fantastic and messed-up. I liked him learning about the realities of the world he was in and not being a really outstanding hero, but becoming his own person. Sometimes it can be refreshing to read a book where even a good person can’t change a world completely, but can only opt to change his life.

I still don’t know exactly what “fashionpunk” is, but that hardly matters. I found it absolutely fascinating that everyone has fabric or thread in them. Not literal bits of fabric, which would have been very disturbing, but more like DNA strands and parts of who a person is creates a thread or yarn. And Tane was able to pull yarn out of people the same way he could cloth, which was awesome.

The notion of ripping yarn is, however, just the tip of the iceberg. Armstrong has created a stunningly unique world in this book that is a future I hope never comes to pass, but somehow, for all its strangeness, rings true in a lot of ways. But then again, as someone with a ridiculous amount of dietary restrictions, I often do feel that corn syrup along with wheat and yeast is taking over the world and ruining my life. One also can’t argue that fashion holds a certain sway over people. It’s just that in the real world fashion, unlike Xi yarn, fabric isn’t actually capable of causing the same literal and physical reaction as drugs.

I think Armstrong also did a really great job with showing the past and present of Tane’s life too. I was disappointed that this is never discussed in the middle parts of his life are mostly skimmed over, but in the end those aspects weren’t as important so I could see why more of the middle part of Tane’s life didn’t get added to the novel.

There’s so much I want to discuss in this review, but I want to avoid spoiling too much of the book. I will say that I liked that there was no happy ending over all or some really amazing final fight scene showdown between Tane and the person who has made this world what it is, which would have been easy to do. Still, I wonder if a confrontation of some kind of angry interaction would have been good to add to the strange sadness that seemed to follow Tane where ever he went. I never connected to what was at stake for Tane in regards to making a coat for Vada, and none of it seemed to matter anyway thanks to the book’s ending, which I’ll address later on in this review.  As far as minor characters went, I liked Pheff, Pilla and Kira and that was about it. Vada wasn’t the worst thing to happen to a novel as love interests go. I didn’t loathe her or anything like that, but I could have done without the romantic subplot.

Along with character issues, the biggest problems I had that affected my rating this book involved one of the big reveals and the over all ending of the book. Basically one of the first of many important revelations that Tane learns about seemed ludicrious and incredibly unnecessary. I was really bummed by it too.

I was so pleased by the the large somewhat horrifically creepy fashion world that was shown to me, and I liked having to figure things out as I went along, and suddenly this random factoid gets tossed out and suddenly the world began to shrink in ways I didn’t like at all. Now I’ll admit that this irritating reveal was overshadowed by the awesome insanity that was Tane’s origins and the secrets he learns about his father, but that’s because there was actual foreshadowing and details given for that reveal. And it doesn’t change the fact that I was really annoyed to find every major character was connected to every other major character in really tedious ways. I imagine this has something to do with the notion of the yarn or thread that connects everyone to everyone else, but I don’t think making that point meant that half the cast needed to be related to one another in some way by the end.

Speaking of endings, I also felt like the book just sort of ended in regards to Tane’s present. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t need a happy ending and the end to Tane’s past was satisfying. But as a reader, I wanted an epilogue or some indication of what happened next to Tane. I imagine the uncertainty was a conscious choice on Armstrong’s part, but I personally don’t do well with uncertainty.

In conclusion, I couldn’t give the book 5 stars, but this was a very good book. If nothing else, I think Armstrong’s intensely strange dystopian fashionpunk future and fiercely likable main character deserve 4 stars. I also have never read anything like this before and I really, really am thankful that a book like this exists. So while it might not have been perfect, I loved reading Yarn. It was quite a surreal experience albeit a very enjoyable one. I would definitely suggest this to anyone looking for something actually new to read.

About April

I'm a librarian, reader, and writer whose main goal in life is to be able to swim in books the way Scrooge McDuck swims in money. Although my reading choices will always be wildly eclectic and I never plan on leaving any genre unexplored, my favorite reads tend to be Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Gay Romance, or Historical Fiction. You can e-mail me at inspector[dot]librarian[at]gmail[dot]com.
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5 Responses to Review: Yarn by Jon Armstrong

  1. Redhead says:

    Great review! I love the idea of wordplay, and oh what you can do with the word “yarn”, or “pulling yarn”, and it sounds like Armstrong pushed the envelope all over the place.

    I’ve been reading a ton of fantasy lately, and craving some punky SF, I’m thinking Armstrong might be just the thing.

    • Thank you! There’s a lot of wordplay in this book and interesting ways of speaking. There’s a group of people called salewarriors and they all talk like they’re from an epic fantasy novel. And the concept of pulling yarn and the techniques Tane used to do so were the best elements of the book.

      If you’re looking for strange SF, Armstrong is definitely the right guy to check out. I really need to get a hold of his first book, Grey

      • jennifer galiardi says:

        I have YARN but I can’t find GREY at my local libraries. Do you really think that I need to read GREY before I read YARN?

      • I’m not sure. I didn’t read Grey and I don’t think I missed out on anything. But if you’re worried, maybe you could try seeing about placing an inter-library loan request?

  2. Pingback: Vote for the 41st annual Locus Awards: April 4th – April 15th | CSI: Librarian

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