Friday, October 26, 2012

the longest post I have written to date, I think

Several of these are novellas and there were two books I flat-out discarded after a bit. But it does seem like I'm getting my pacing back!

Since last posting I read Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table, by Ruth Riechl. It's a memoir ostensibly about her trajectory as a food critic, but mostly about the disintegration of her first marriage due to her numerous infidelities. There is some food involved, but very little of it is eaten when anyone's even close to sober, which has always bothered me about food writing. Riechl drops a lot of Famous Chef names, which meant almost nothing to me, and even more Fancy Wine names, which meant zero to me. And she trots out the trope that True Love means, "I can't stand this person, we hate each other, we're making every social event awkward by snapping at each other, let's make out in an elevator, because sexual chemistry only manifests itself as hatred at first". GOOD BASIS FOR A RELATIONSHIP THERE. The last quarter of the book doesn't even mention food; it's all just a failed adoption attempt and Riechl behaving inappropriately with her first husband after moving in with the second. Why would you write about doing such things? Makes me get my prude face on.

I cleansed my palate with a C.J Box mystery, Winterkill. Solid and engrossing and reliable, as his books almost always are. Enjoyed this much more than Riechl.

And then two failures:

I tried to read Bleeding Hearts, by Ian Rankin, because when I discovered Rankin has written another series I was very excited. I haven't read all the Inspector Rebus books but I do know he's apparently written the last, so there is a finite number. But what the heck this was I don't even know, other than some sort of generic "thriller" (I put it in quotations because it was completely un-thrilling) narrated by a stone-cold killer-for-hire who likes to talk at great length about his preferred brand of guns. There is a private detective who does lots of cocaine, and an obvious love interest who appears in doorways wearing only a T-shirt and with a gun that she, silly little lady, didn't even load. (It's worth mentioning said doorway is to a room that contains her father, which you'd think would induce even the silliest of little ladies to put on some pants.) I actually thought the whole thing had to be a joke which was going to go somewhere unexpected, but eventually realized it wasn't, and put it away.

Also a failure was The Book of Air and Shadows, by Michael Gruber. What IS this nonsense, I muttered through the first 70 pages, while our various heroes rant objectifyingly about women, one female character who bears no resemblance to an actual human passes through, and not one but two dudes potentially on their deathbeds, five hundred years apart, decide to write down Everything (as opposed to Everything Important), which in the case of the first means providing exposition by the bucketload for the one person (his wife) who presumably already knows all this, and in the latter case means talking about the numberless affairs he's had because all women love giant thick-necked bodybuilders (I'm not making that up; apparently we do). There are whispers of a newly discovered Shakespeare play floating around, which appears to be the eventual plot, but Gruber's writing and characters were so offensive to me that I couldn't even make it to my requisite 100 pages, the usual point at which I allow myself to discard a book. I was going to try for the hundred, but then I flipped ahead a bit and read a part where our thick-necked Casanova is talking about his affair with a woman who, as he says disdainfully, "turned out to be one of those women who like to" [perform a perfectly normal sex act which could only be considered problematic by a man very insecure in his masculinity]. "Gruber, you're a dick," I said out loud. Back to the used bookstore it goes.

So many parentheses! I feel comfortable leaving them in because that is actually how I talk.

Then I read Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn, which turned out to be one of the most frightening books I've encountered. The first night I started it, I woke in the middle of the night needing to go to the bathroom and thought, Nope, not going downstairs, you can't make me. Eventually biology did make me, but I was not happy about it. I then considered bringing the dogs in the bed, but the only thing worse than waking from a nightmare and being alone in bed is waking from a nightmare to find there's something beside you in the bed that you can't immediately identify. This book was sort of a combination of Ruth Rendell and In Cold Blood. Terrifying. Very, very hard to put down.

And then Unlocked, by Courtney Milan, a romance novella. It was fine. Not particularly remarkable or memorable, but sweet.

Followed that up with another novella, Denis Johnson's Train Dreams. I do like Johnson's short stories and cannot read his novels; more than a hundred pages of his broken characters and I start whimpering a little. So this was a good length. There were a couple supernatural bits which genuinely made the hair rise on the back of my neck, and which I did not like reading alone in the house at night. Very strongly written overall.

And then this text conversation happened:

Me: Heh, my Kindle is recommending to me a trashy romance entitled "The Boat Builder's Bed".

Berowne, who is a boat builder: You might consider it.

Me: Fantasy couldn't possibly compare to reality. On the other hand, it is free.

Berowne: Free and you most certainly can relate to the protagonist.

Me: Downloaded. You will suffer through the prose with me if it is awful.

Berowne: I don't want to fall short of the fantasy.

Me: So far this boat builder is named "Rafe Severino" and drives a Jaguar.

Berowne: Damn it!

Me: And our heroine is trying to move furniture in a miniskirt and high heels. I do not relate.

Me: He's part Maori! OF COURSE he is. Gotta fetishize the natives! [He later turns out to be part Cherokee as well. SURE HE IS.]

Me: She's "unnerved by the waves of undiluted masculine power rolling off him". Just like I was when I met you.

Berowne: Now you can relate.

Me: He's "hurling sex all around" the room! It's like the author spied on my life.

Berowne: The funniest thing is I'm not sure you're joking.

Me: Our hero has a 10,000 square foot house. Have you been misleading me about the kind of money there is in boat-building? [It turns out that by "boat builder" the author means "owner of multimillion-dollar yacht company". No boats are built or sailed in the course of this book.]

Me: "Paddling her pert curvy butt was some consolation, but not enough."

Berowne: Paddling? Around in a big canoe?

Me: Yes, interesting verb choice. Ugh, our hero is dismayed because our heroine is a career woman and no career woman could ever want kids. He doesn't know about her Secret Child!

Me: "She admired his beautiful moonlit thighs."

Berowne: Don't we all?

Me: Not as much as we admire "the two tight creamy cheeks of his butt".

Berowne: My god, your clothes should be in a heap on the floor by now.

Me: Our hero has just announced that "keeping a woman safe is always a man's business". Infantilize me, baby. Oh lord, she's 25 and he just berated her about "ever getting around" to becoming a mother.

Berowne: Nice.

Me: But there's a Secret Child! Which she conceived despite condom use because she is so Perfectly Fertile!

Berowne: Oh my, that's arousing!

What this book mostly was, though, was money porn. Page after page of how rich the hero is, all his material stuff, all the material stuff he buys her; and she gets maybe two lines about how she wants to Make Her Own Way in life before deciding that living off him and popping out his babies (a relationship without children doesn't count, we are pretty emphatically told) is really the best thing in the world, because she can do it in a 10,000 square foot oceanfront house (he mocks her quite cruelly about the size of her apartment). The final scene is not about how much these two characters love each other, but about the size and ostentation of the bathroom in which they're having a conversation. Also there was no boat building whatsoever.

This is why I rarely read romance novels set in the modern day. Yes, this was a particularly bad one, but even the decent ones I've encountered (Nora Roberts comes to mind) are all about money. Of course period ones are all populated by nobility and our heroes are fearfully wealthy dukes and earls, but there is far less emphasis on Stuff. Every modern one I've read has lists of the Stuff the hero buys the heroine, which she is never in a position to buy for herself, and lists of his multiple cars and $500 ties, and that just makes my skin crawl because if you're pressing that money-consciousness so hard on the reader, you're making it a huge part of your heroine's decision to be with this guy. It's supposed to be part of the attraction for both reader and heroine, as if the amount of money someone has is just as important as whether he makes you laugh or whether you go slightly weak when you think about his hands which are scarred and callused from ACTUAL boat building whoa, sorry, got a little carried away there.

I know it's a fantasy. That's what makes me sad: this fixation on obscene wealth doled out by a man to a dependent woman as part of a supposedly woman-oriented fantasy. Of course there is nothing fun or romantic about struggling to get by, but no one should buy into this nonsense that the Ultimate Fantasy Date requires a private jet, the opera, and a designer gown he purchased for you without asking your opinion, and that the Ultimate Fantasy Happy Ending means that you have been swept away from your terrible plebeian working life and can now live among eternal cocktail parties and the constant nightmarish pressure to stay beautiful and thin, and never accomplish anything but being his woman! Isn't that what we all want?

If when I die I go to Hell, it will be an eternal cocktail party at which I have to be conscious of my laugh lines and have no life of my own to talk about.  

I don't deny it would be nice to not have to worry about money. But that still doesn't mean I'd want a guy to present me with diamond jewelry on the second date and take it for granted that I want to quit my job and move out of my little cottage the second I can, because ladies only work until they can catch a rich man, and how can an actual human being live in 850 square feet? The only wealth-fantasy I've ever bought into was the Beast's library in Robin McKinley's Beauty.

In conclusion: this week has contained lots of reading. Lots of laughter. Lots of irritation about books which try to tell me I should want something I don't simply because I am female. Lots of gratitude for all the good in my life. For the most part, I wish but for the thing I have.


  1. Yes! Another great post. I too recently read a fee kindle romance that seemed to follow the same basic framework. The protagonist was purchased a new motorcycle, some diamonds and lots of fancy dinners. Her suitor was a god-like muscle man of course, who was rolling in dough. She lived in a small apartment in a dicey neighborhood. It was terrible...but I finished the book because it was so short and I just wanted the two main characters to get together already. It wasn't worth the wait. Blech. Never again!
    The thought of leaving work for maternity leave makes me cry. What the hell am I going to do? Wait, I know, become a professional human food factory and diaper changer. Sigh.

    1. Ugh, I know. It's so creepy and sad. The real hero of this book was not the dude, but his enormous house. Which he built in the middle of a cliff, totally destroying said cliff (and the view of the harbor for everyone else) in the process. What a catch.

      You'll be fine on maternity leave. Crazed with sleeplessness, but fine. You could always start a mommy blog!

  2. AND the Beast's library has a time-travel dimension, too, so the richest dude in the world still couldn't buy you all those books. Unless he was Doctor Who. Whoa 'scuse me I have a romance to go write.