Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sound and Fury Signifying DUMBNESS: Dominance by Will Lavender

I recently came across a member on Goodreads who is kind of pissing me off. She writes these sprawling, grandiloquent, scathing reviews in which she assumes and attributes wildly speculative motives and qualities to authors, indicates that anyone who likes a book she doesn't is a brainless sheep-like patsy, and generally tries to be as unpleasant as possible. And god help anyone who has the temerity to disagree with her. I haven't engaged her, because I'm pretty sure it's what she wants, and I try to stop going back, but the sweet rotting lure of such flagrant bitchiness is strong.

I try to be balanced in my reviews. I tend to review books that I like, while just giving low ratings to books I don't and then moving along. I know what it takes for me to put my writing out there, and how fragile a writer's self-esteem can be.

But sometimes I feel like I've been duped by a book. Like it reeled me in on a false promise of depth and wonder and played me for a fool ON PURPOSE. And that, friends, pisses. me. off.

I don't usually reprint the synopsis, but in this case I need to be really sure you see it:

THE PROCEDURE HAS BEGUN . . .

Fifteen years earlier. Jasper College is buzzing with the news that famed literature professor Richard Aldiss will be teaching a special night class called Unraveling a Literary Mystery—from a video feed in his prison cell. In 1982, Aldiss was convicted of the murders of two female grad students; the women were killed with axe blows and their bodies decorated with the novels of notoriously reclusive author Paul Fallows. Even the most obsessive Fallows scholars have never seen him. He is like a ghost. Aldiss entreats the students of his night class to solve the Fallows riddle once and for all. The author’s two published novels, The Coil and The Golden Silence, are considered maps to finding Fallows’s true identity. And the only way in is to master them through a game called the Procedure. You may not know when the game has begun, but when you receive an invitation to play, it is an invitation to join the elite ranks of Fallows scholars. Failure, in these circles, is a fate worse than death. Soon, members of the night class will be invited to play along . . .

Present day. Harvard professor Alex Shipley made her name as a member of Aldiss’s night class. She not only exposed the truth of Paul Fallows’s identity, but in the process uncovered information that acquitted Aldiss of the heinous 1982 crimes. But when one of her fellow night class alums is murdered— the body chopped up with an axe and surrounded by Fallows novels—can she use what she knows about Fallows and the Procedure to stop a killer before each of her former classmates is picked off, one by one?


Elite scholars. A mysterious, J.D. Salinger-like author. A literary game played by geniuses. Hell yeah, sign me up.

When you read a book and start realizing it's so much less than it was promised to be, do you find that small, unremarkable details start to drive you batshit? Or is it just me? Because once I figured out that this book was a whole lot of telling rather than showing, every second description and adjective choice seemed monumentally mediocre and grating. Even the heroine's name - Alexandra Shipley, but everyone calls her Alex. Alex Shipley - try saying it aloud or even just in your mind. You either have to pronounce both names distinctly - Alex. Shipley - which trips you up every time you read it, or you read/say it as Alec Shipley. I would never have named a child this, and I would never use it for a literary character either. At one point, Alex Shipley (agh) visits Richard Aldiss, the tortured genius, so we're told but never really shown:

"He had wine ready, an immaculate dinner of stewed hare and exotic vegetables on china that spread across a stark white tablecloth." An immaculate dinner? Immaculate? Immaculate is clean white linen or a room with nothing out of place. A dinner involves sauce and juice and piles of things. A dinner can be extravagant or luscious or meticulously-prepared, but not immaculate. And stewed hare? Am I wrong, or is 'stewed' just not a glamorous image? I would have gone with braised veal shanks or maybe a crown roast of something. Stewed hare just makes me think of a wet rabbit.

At another point, Alex is questioning one of the other characters: "The man tumbled away again, followed the air with his eyes." WTF?????? Presumably we're meant to understand that the person's attention was wandering - instead I have an image of someone suddenly performing a somersault in the middle of a conversation. Don't even get me started on "followed the air with his eyes." Followed.... the AIR? The air is EVERYWHERE!!!!! This is pure slapstick, folks.

Yes, this is nitpicking. I wouldn't have started doing it if everything else wasn't so lamentably lacking. The 'Procedure', which is supposed to be some grand, eloquent game, merely consists of students acting out scenes from a book, and in THIS book they only do it once or twice, and most of them seem to suck at it. The night class consists of Aldiss uttering a couple of inscrutable sentences, having a few neurological fits which cut the sessions short or cancel them entirely, and then suddenly Alex and another student from the class are in Iowa following a lead found in the margin of some library book and we're told the class is about to end after the next session.

It's hollow. It's a hollow chocolate bunny. No, it's worse than a hollow chocolate bunny -- at least then the thin shell is made of CHOCOLATE.

Then there's the problem that I sometimes encounter that results from the fact that I read books quite quickly. I'm willing to make certain allowances based on the fact that not everyone reads this quickly, but a lot of people do, and if you're an editor I kind of think you should catch this sort of thing:

page 11 - "His mouth was frozen in a cruel smile."

page 19 - "Alex froze."

page 43 - "She froze."

page 66 - "no other students walked across the frozen quads." (dispensation here for the fact that it's winter, so the literal use of the word applies)

page 75 - "Alex froze."

page 262 - "Alex tried to scream. Tried to stand up, to do something -- but her body was frozen."

page 297 - "Alex froze."

page 303 - "Everything froze."

page 346 - "He froze."

page 353 - "Her blood ran cold." Well it would have to, wouldn't it?

At the risk of assuming too much about the author (because you know I hate when people do that), I'm going to venture a guess that, while writing this book, he should have worn thicker socks.

10 comments:

Nicole said...

The "sweet rotting lure of such flagrant bitchiness is strong."

Hee.

Mary Lynn said...

Next time someone bugs me for zoning out and daydreaming, I'll be all like, "Hey! I was following the air with my eyes! It takes a lot of concentration to do that, if you must know."

moosilaneous.wordpress.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
moosilaneous said...

I fully agree with both Nicole and Mary Lynn.
Thing of beauty!!

Lynn said...

I did somersaults with giggling reading this post. Then I froze.

I know you read it through to the end, didn't you? I always do. No matter how bad the book, I cannot walk away. I might skim, but I have to get to the end. It's an illness.

Right now I am reading one of the most terrible books I have ever read. It's almost hilarious in its badness except it's too boring for that. Yet I cannot return it to the library unfinished. SIGH.

Julie said...

that last line slayed me!

i used to not be able to put a book down until it was done. now i walk away knowing there are a million other books that i could be reading and enjoying. unless i have nothing to read, which unfortunately happens more than i would like to admit.

now, did the author mention that the serial killer had a nice chianti with the stewed rabbit?

Megan said...

Well, last winter was quite a chilly one! And hat's so sad about the book being crappy - the description sounds amazing!

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

Aw. I thought you were going to link to the GoodReads user you don't like. I NEED to know!

Also, the repetition of words 1000x in one book seems to be quite common nowadays. I notice it a lot. It pains me.

Kelly Quinones Miller said...

I could listen to/read you talking about books all day long!

Trisha Causley said...

Oh, the betrayal of the hollow chocolate bunny! All that promise in elaborate packaging. And then, you find out there's only 1 candy eye! Would it really kill them to shell out for a second candy on the other side?
I share your rage for the over-hyped book descriptions that don't deliver. The worse it is, the more compelled you are to finish just so you can fully defend your assessment.