I read a Bad Book yesterday, and it was good. Or rather, the book wasn’t, but the experience of reading it was. Sort of.
I had a very long day yesterday, one spent entirely on buses, flitting back and forth all the way from Milwaukie to out past Oregon City to Clackamas Community College, back to Sellwood and then back to my new house, in my new neighborhood, in the area of Portland I’ve always wanted to live in (close to Belmont and Hawthorne). Because I’d unexpectedly spent last night (my little brother’s birthday!) at my parents’ house in Milwaukie, I’d brought absolutely nothing with me to occupy myself on my journeys : no journal to scribble in, no ipod to idlely listen to, no book (I’m currently reading William T. Vollman’s Imperial right now, which has a War & Peace-like 900-something pages–I’m excited to read it, but it’s just not that kind of book you can carry around with you in your backpack, you know?). So rather than be trapped inside the crevices of my own head all day, I grabbed the first book I saw as I was leaving the house, one of my mother’s Jodi Picoult novels, and then I sprinted off in a mad dash to catch the ever elusive #29 bus.
I read the entire thing that day, sitting on bus seats. I skimmed quite a bit of it, but I still count it as having been “read”, because it’s just not that kind of book where you feel bad about not reading Every Single Word. I dunno–I’m heisitant now to write anything uber-critical and bitchy and super put downish about it, just because that seems kind of petty and cruel. I’ll always remember when I wrote this major diss of this critic in one of the rough drafts for my undergraduate thesis, fancying myself soooo clever and witty for doing so, and my advisor looked at me over his black-framed glasses and said calmly that he’d met this dude at Princeton, he was super nice, and that he didn’t really deserve that kind of treatment in the pages of my pitiful draft. How embarassing! But anyway, I’ll always remember that moment, because it was an important lesson: you really don’t need to be mean.
And plus, this being the public space of the internets and all, who knows who’s going to read this. Maybe Jodi Picoult fans will be really pissed and upset if I say that I did not think that A Perfect Match was a very good book at all, that I actually think it’s quite a bad one. Maybe Jodi Picoult herself, however unlikely, will one day stumble upon this review and be hurt and offended and feel like the self-righteous lyrics of a mid-90’s Ani DiFranco song. If that ever happens (Ha, Ha, Ha), then I hope Ms. Picoult will find relief in the fact that she is a lot more Successful and Rich and Renown than I am likely ever to be, and that my words and opinions really shouldn’t mean that much to anyone, other than myself.
That being said–I did not like this book. I did not think it was well written. The plot twists and turns were simply ludricous and unbelievable, one more over the top than the next. The courtroom drama at the end, when the main character stands up and starts defending herself, was ridiculous. This book would make a very, very, very bad big-budget Hollywood movie, starring a saucy attractive actress.
My biggest problem with the book was the following: I HATE it when a female protagonist’s motivations and justifications for her actions are nothing more than “I love my kid and I’m trying to protect him.” I mean, really? Really, really, really? (The next part I’m going to write is full of spoilers, but I don’t think it really matters, because I don’t think you should ever read this book.) Why, main female character, did you think it was “good” of you to murder the guy you thought molested your child? HOW on earth did you that was in your kid’s best interest, to get sent to jail and potentially get a life-sentence? When I read the part where she shoots him, I burst out laughing, because I couldn’t believe it was true. I kept turning the pages, expecting to read the words “And then she woke up shaking and sweating in her bed, realizing that it was all a dream, only a horrible dream!” but alas, no such luck: It Really Happenned. And then she gets off completely scot free because of some lame loophole in Maine law, where apparently if you’re pissed off enough to kill someone with good justification, then it’s Hunky Dory A-OK. Disgusting.
I did not like this book. If I had not been sitting on the bus all day with absolutely nothing else to read, then I would have never bothered. I would have found solace in crumpled up dirty pages of the Oregonian, copies of the Willamete Week with muddy bootprints on the cover.
One thing that is kind of weird to think about is that the stuff in this books, the melodrama, the plot twists, the characterization–this is the stuff that sells. This is the stuff that’s popular, what’s making money, what makes you BIG in the publishing world. If that’s what it takes–I dunno. I kind of want to say, “no thanks.” Maybe my writing will only ever appear in a public forum when I read it aloud at the small women-only creative expressions workshop that meets on Wednesday night. Maybe I will join the IPRC and make my own zine or book. Maybe one day I’ll have a table set up at the Stumptown comics fest or PDX zine fest, alongside the librarian who wrote the only zine I”ve read so far, about buying a house in Sellwood and freaking out about it (I got to meet him at the Stumptown fest and he left a little doodle in my journal–one of the best moments of my year so far!).
It is really interesting to think about this urge that so many people have to write, to create, to make art. To make their little photocopied zines with their recipes for carrot soup and cartoons of them almost running over a possum with their bicycles. Think of all those people who struggle valiantly through NanoWrimo each year, working on their ghost-vampire-science fiction-con artist-alien invasion-fantasy love stories, thinking that yes, this is it, this will really be my year this year, I am really going to finish it this time. I think that urge to create is really beautiful and amazing–who am I to judge the werewolf-vampire love story wannabes, you know? The Amherst Writer’s and Artist’s method is totally against that kind of criticism, of judging or criticizing folks for the kind of story they want to tell. People should write what they want to write, what they need to write (as opposed to what they feel like they ought to write, in order to sell copies or make money–hmm, maybe this is the source of what I see as the book’s flaws…). But in general, I am a fan of people telling the story they want to tell. Go ahead and write your melodramatic courtroom dramas, write over-the-top mother and child reunion scenes, write dramatic plot twists on the very last page! Let it loose in the world, set the writing free–in the end, it’s only the act of writing, of glorious, liberating creation that matters, right?
But all the same–I really did not like this book. Nevertheless, I am still kind of glad I read it, because there is something liberating in the act of nodding solemnly to yourself, of handing the book back to your mother and saying “Yeah… not really for me.”