Monday, June 27, 2016

Mini-Reviews: Cranky Wendy Being Cranky

This latest round of mini-reviews is where Wendy is going to show her figurative underpants.  I'll be honest - there's a certain segment of "literary fiction" I just don't get.  The You're Nothing Without an MFA and Let Me Write In Circles To Show You How Smart I Am segment of "literary fiction."
Which brings us to The Girls by Emma Cline.  This is debut novel by a young author who got some crazy-stupid advance ($2 million dollars. For a debut novel.)  It's getting glowing reviews all over the place.  Seriously, just Google it - I'm not linking to them all.  Everybody and their Dead Grandmother thinks this is the bestest book in the whole world and OMG IT'S MAGIC! 

The plot, in a nutshell, would be like if Charles Manson and Jim Jones had an illegitimate love child.  It follows a 14-year-old girl in Northern California who falls in with a cult.  I'm not sure how you make that boring enough to make me want to drive bamboo shoots underneath my fingernails, but there you go.  I got through over 3 hours of a 9 hour audiobook and was so bored out of my mind that the thought of getting in my car and listening to it during my commute had me thinking affectionately about inane DJ chatter.

Endless musings about complete nothingness, and dialogue?  Who needs dialogue?  (By far my biggest gripe with the literary fiction world is that dialogue is seen as some odious four-letter word.  You know how fun it is to read a NOVEL with close to zero dialogue?  Yeah, it blows.)

Since I slogged through the audio, I'm cribbing some examples of the writing from a GoodReads reviewer.  I did get to this part of the "story" and the only thing keeping my eyes from crossing was that I was driving. I can't cross my eyes and drive at the same time:
I ate in the blunt way I had as a child—a glut of spaghetti, mossed with cheese. The nothing jump of soda in my throat.

I tended to the in-between spaces of other people’s existences, working as a live-in aide. Cultivating a genteel invisibility in sexless clothes, my face blurred with the pleasant, ambiguous expression of a lawn ornament.
Now imagine page after endless page of that with close to zero dialogue to break it up.  And THIS is the latest "it" book everyone is raving about. 

The older I get the more I realize that I want a storyteller.  Give me a good story.  Engage me with interesting characters and dialogue.  Have a bloody point to what you're writing.  I was essentially 1/3 of the way through the book and I wanted to bang my head repeatedly against my car's steering wheel to JUST. MAKE. IT. STOP. ALREADY.

Philistine, thy name is Wendy - but I'll be over here reading a romance novel thankyouverymuch.

Final Grade = DNF
Kinsey and Me: Stories by Sue Grafton is a short story (duh) collection.  The first half of the book is a collection of stories featuring Grafton's female private detective character, Kinsey Milhone.  Like all short story collections, some of the stories are better than others.  If you're already a fan of Grafton's character and series - these stories will be marginally interesting.  It's like visiting an old friend.  That said, there's nothing terribly earth-shattering here.  Even as a Kinsey fan, I feel like had I never gotten around to this collection?  That would have been OK.  So basically....meh.

The second half of the collection are stories featuring "Kit Blue" and they're semi-autobiographical stories Grafton wrote after her mother died.  I know this is going to come out sounding cruel, your mother dying is no joke, but I feel like Grafton should have left the therapy writing in her desk drawer.  Again, it's endless pages of zero dialogue, musings about whatever, and the stories fail to hang together in any cohesive way (they jump around in time and space).  Frankly the whole thing came off as self-indulgent to me - which I know makes me sound like a horrible person - but whatever.  I'm sure a writer is going to write to cope with emotions, times of grief - I get that.  Doesn't mean they all have to be published.

Final Grade = C-


azteclady said...

Oh the self indulgence of the successful writer!

Let me show you...

Allegiance of Honor

Yeah. My reading life sucks right at the moment.

PK the Bookeemonster said...

Wendy! Go read something meaningless and fun RIGHT NOW!

nath said...

and that's why I avoid "It" book... because yeah, the people who gives those glowing review, I don't trust. yours though, i do! So I'll be staying away from this one.

Jazz Let said...

What PK said. I decided literary fiction wasn't for me when I realised that it could all be described as 'not fun'. If you want to make yourself feel intellectually superior to me by reading miserable boring fiction, go right ahead; I'll be over here being excited, intrigued and moved by fiction with the power of good story tellers.

Bona Caballero said...

I liked this post, because it touches some points I've been worried about for many many years.
The problem with a lot of literary fiction nowadays is that some writers want to make a literary novel and forget everything about what a novel is and how it was born.
That thing about avoiding dialogues? Yes, I've also seen that in Spanish literary fiction and I just don't get it.
I mean, read Cervantes or Henry Fielding or Tolstoy - dialogues and more dialogues. I'm looking to my shelves at home just now - Joseph Roth, Heinrich Böll, Thomas Hardy, Gore Vidal, Stefan Zweig - plot, characters, dialogue, some books are depressing, some of them funny, but they have literary quality and they are -yes, entertaining.
So literary fiction from 19th century backwards was not boring. What happened? I don't know. Maybe it's Proust's syndrome or James Joyce is the one we have to blame. I don't know.
But there are many books like the one you mention. They seem to forget that novels are a narrative genre: something has to happen.
If you want to do something purely literary, write Poetry.
If you want to tell a story... Well, then You. Have. To. Tell. A. Story.
But even in poetry - You read epic poems from the past, from Homer's Illyad or Odyssey to Beowulf and what do we find? Yes, dialogues, monologues, speeches, moving moments, drama, action. That's why they are not boring and keep the interest of people even today, and you can enjoy them thousands of years after they have been created.

azteclady said...

I love you deeply, Bona, you lovely woman you.

In a very non-creepy way.

Laura K. Curtis said...

This is why I like stuff that's on the literary side of genre. Books that have a distinctive style and lovely language, but plenty of plot and dialogue as well.

Wendy said...

Very late in responding to comments - but yeah, what Bona said. I'm fine with literary fiction. I'm fine with depressing and dark and stuff that is "not happy." I don't read a ton of it - but I'm fine with it. But dang it - I NEED SOMETHING TO HAPPEN. That's kind of the whole point of reading a novel. And characters talking to each other - that's sexy. The Girls was just endless page after page of a 14-year-old girl musing about...spaghetti and her mother's make-up mirror (among other things). So. Bored.

But it's getting heaps of praise so what does Wendy know :P