Cheese Puffs, Part 5

(Parts One, Two, Three & Four)

Impressions of TOFGB:

The first sentence reads awkwardly. It tries to cram too much information in. The bit about being an account executive, etc. should have been a separate sentence. “The court date fell on the Friday of what had been a very bad week for me.” was enough information for the first sentence, though, even at that the construction seems off.

Paragraph 1 establishes that the protagonist has a regular guy, oops, chick job, that she hates because (a) she thinks selling airtime is bad and (b) because she sells airtime people treat her like crap. I’m really not sure why asking people if they’d like to advertise on TV would inspire such venom. Because we’re told that the job is bad, rather than shown why it’s bad, I can’t sympathize with the narrator. I have no context to do so.

With its references to pantyhose and a skirt, paragraph 2 lets us know that the narrator is a woman. (In the part I snipped out, there was also a reference to having cramps, which… yeah. Woman’s in a bad mood; she must have cramps. Sigh.) I guess the reference to putting runs in not one, but two pairs of pantyhose, and the spilling of coffee on the favorite (not just any) skirt, is supposed to endear the reader to the narrator by imbuing her with a lovable klutziness. Me: *groan* I suppose every woman has, at some point in her life, put a run in a pair of pantyhose, so the reader is supposed to identify with this detail, but honestly, without something more (how the run got there, for example), it’s just not all that interesting.

She drives a car she self-describes as “crappy” even though it’s her own damn fault that it’s crappy because she doesn’t maintain it. (She doesn’t seem surprised by the fact the car needs a jump, so this probably isn’t the first time it hasn’t started. It probably needs a new battery, which is not a major fix, nor a major expense.) Then she needed to get male assistance to start her car—implying stereotypical female helplessness with things mechanical. Yes, to jumpstart a car, you need a second car and a set of jumper cables. But why did it have to be a nephew who helped out? Why not a niece? Why not the landlady herself?

After all this, she tells us that she’s in a bad mood. Yes, we got that.

The Mother Teresa reference seems a tad cliched, too easy. Like something you’d put in the first draft as a placeholder. Or in a blog entry. In a novel, I want to read something more original.

Now that we’ve established that grrrl power doesn’t extend to car maintenance, we get into the lawyers are evil rant. Full disclosure, I read this right after I graduated from law school, but at the same time, all-lawyers-are-evil is trite, trite, trite. Please. Some lawyers are evil, some are Mother Teresas (heh), and the vast majority lie somewhere in between. Just like any. other. profession.

Then readers are told that the HG&E executives are “sleazeballs”. Why are they sleazeballs? (And no, just the fact that there was an accident doesn’t automatically make them sleazeballs.) We’re told that the defense lawyer is evil by extension, because if you’re representing “sleazeballs” then you must be one yourself. Never mind the fact that everyone is entitled to representation.

The protagonist nicknames the defense lawyer “Pencil Face”, because why should he get a real name? He’s a weasel. He’s cross-examining her, the evil, evil, man. Doing his job? Bah. Craziness. He should just agree with her, say “no further questions” and sit down. Right.

When that doesn’t happen, our narrator gets so mad at being cross-examined, at the defense lawyer having the temerity to try to discredit her, that she attempts to punch him.

Okay. So there’s a certain amount of humor in this scenario. Who hasn’t been in a situation where they wanted to punch someone, but didn’t? What would happen if you did? That’s the premise of this book. And it isn’t a bad one.

But here’s the thing: after she attempts to punch the defense lawyer, she hits her head, and ends up in a coma. When she wakes up, she decides to change her life, since it’s clearly out of control. Great. So what do you think would be first on this list? How about clearing up the assault charges she’s facing after attacking the defense lawyer? Well, that would be a fine idea–if there were any! She’s not charged with assaulting the defense lawyer, which I mean, come on! She tried to punch a lawyer in a courtroom in front of a judge! Honestly, I just couldn’t get past this. I know it’s supposed to be a light romantic comedy and all, but you don’t go around punching officers of the court and then just walk away tra-la-la. This needed a resolution. How about some community service?

Overall impression: I found the protagonist irritating and the plot development is unrealistic. It’s not just that it verges on the absurd. A comedy of the absurd can work. It’s the giant plotholes. It also relies too heavily on stereotypes and clichés as shortcuts. I’m as fond of a cliché as the next person, but in a novel I want to see fresh writing.

Thinking: the old “show” vs. “tell” axiom was really apparent here.

Which brings me back to where I started: fluffy books are about turning off your brain and being taken for a ride. As long as you don’t think about them too much, they’re fun. Sure, they fall apart the minute you start thinking, but the point is: most readers aren’t thinking. They’re in it for a good time.

The problem is that when you write, you read as a writer. Before I wrote in a serious way, I could (and did) read anything. And now, I simply can’t. The minute I get that “I. am. reading. a. book.” feeling, I’m done. On the other hand, I’ve quite enjoyed several movies/TV shows based on books that I just know that I could not get through (Sex and the City, for example). And I think partly it’s that the acting/directing adds nuances to the characters and plot, but also that because it’s a different medium, I’m able to sit back and be entertained in a way that I can’t with a book.

So two points to conclude. There’s nothing wrong with creating and consuming pure entertainment. Not everything has to have a deeper meaning or greater purpose. But the fact remains that not all books are of equal merit, and fluffy book writers, being writers, have to know that.