Saturday, January 28, 2006
A Rant on Recent Reading...
I feel a little like a snob. A book snob, I suppose. Much in the same way that studying film and theater in college made it impossible for me to sit through a production without noticing each flaw, no matter how small - books are ruined for me now too, thanks to this MFA program.

What began as an interesting idea, written in an interesting way (Piccoult's My Sister's Keeper) became predictable and annoying, for me, as I kept turning the pages. Sure, every so often, she'd romance me back with a beautiful turn of phrase - the world between dream and wake being described as clouds caught in the hem's of nightgowns, for example. Every few pages there was another stunning and eloquent twist of words that kept me hooked, leaving me hopeful that things weren't as predictable as I'd thought. Perhaps this will be worth my squandering away naptime's to read.

No such luck. The entire book is about a thirteen-year-old girl's lawsuit to achieve medical emancipation from her parents - so that she won't be required to donate anything more to her sister who is dying of both cancer and kidney failure. (This girl was created, in a petri dish, so to speak, to be a perfect match for her sister.)

So, it raises interesting questions, how far should parents go to save a child? Was it really ok for them to harvest lymphocytes from their five-year-old in order to save their eight-year-old? Should the girl be required to give up a kidney because her parents want her to?

All interesting, thought provoking questions. (Spoiler warning, if you ever plan to read this book, stop reading) She wins the trial. Yay? I guess that's supposed to be the reaction. But for me, this was really where the book started - I felt like great, now we get to see the complicated emotional decision that she'll be forced to make. Save her sister or not? This is vastly more interesting to me than courtrooms and lawyers falling (both in love, and in epileptic fits...but that's a whole other predictable side story I'm not going to talk about.)

Unfortunately, we go directly from the courtroom verdict - to a devastating car accident, that surprise-surprise - leaves the freshly-medically-emancipated thirteen-year-old brain dead! Oh My! What a remarkable twist!


I felt so incredibly cheated. I read this entire book, waiting for someone to make a gut wrenching, life altering decision - only to have a BMW arrive at an intersection at just the right moment to splatter the protagonist's brains against a window (thus making the decision of organ donation FOR her.)

Come on!

I'm not saying that this book is poorly written - just that the ending wasn't written at all. Not a real ending, anyway. Not the ending that I needed to feel some sort of closure with the experience. Go ahead and kill the girl after she makes the decision, if you really want to have someone die - that would've been fine with me. Or maybe have her donate a kidney, and both sisters survive - only to have the girl who fought with cancer her whole life step out in front of a bus. I wouldn't have cared. I just wanted to see the decision made...and not by a speeding car at an intersection, but by one of the character's I'd been reading about for the first two hundred pages.

Of course, this isn't the first time I've come to the end of a book and felt cheated - as though the author has copped out of actually finishing their book. Writing the conclusion to the story without taking a sucker punch and going down to appease an editor or to meet a deadline - or simply for fear of writing the wrong ending. See, no one's guilty of making a bad decision - she was killed, her organ harvested to save her sister, all neat and tidy! Ta-Dah!

Ok. If that's the way you want to end it. Fine.

The unpublished grad student will now step down from her soapbox and admit that this is only her opinion. And that perhaps the person who is actually making a living from their writing might know better how to write a novel.

I just know what I like to read. Book snob or not.

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Blogger Real-E said...

Nothing wrong with being a book snob. I often "pooh-pooh" some folks selections, mainly because there is so much to read and so little time.

The book you are talking about sounds interesting. We had a case here in Canada where a father killed his severely handicapped and suffering daughter (type Robert Latimer in Google). The question was then raised, is this murder or an act of compassion? Was he morally wrong to have killed his daughter or was science morally wrong to have kept the girl alive? Latimer is presently in prison for murder, but should he be? The Canadian system is rehabilatative in it's focus, so should Latimer do time as his isn't a threat and most unlikely to harm another. Some pretty tough questions.

Anyway, I've digressed, but your blog made me think about this....

Blogger windowtomymind said...

You are correct about the ending of the story being a cop-out. And, you are a book snob. You have to do selective reading beacuse of the time factor. Will I read My sister's Keeper? No. I am not my brother's keeper.

Blogger ISF said...

Critique is not snobbery. You are entitled to dislike a book. It's not a reflection on either the book, or your ability as a writer or a reader.

Blogger TravelingMermaid said...

Your analysis of the book is well spoken and makes sense to me. Doncha just hate when you think is that all there is? when you finish a book!

Blogger reader_iam said...

I, too, thought the end a complete cop-out. I had first read it last year and then was asked to lead the discussion for a book group meeting earlier this month.

There were so many interesting, and topical, issues raised in the book, but that cheat of a denouement really left a sour taste. Also, I think she was a little heavy-handed in various others places in the book (I don't like it much when fiction authors, metaphorically speaking, keep whacking us on the head and saying, "See? See? Get it? Get it?).

There were some very nice touches and interesting choices about the characters, though.

Anyway, what's next on your reading list?

Blogger reader_iam said...

Also, some of what passed as legal reasoning on the part of the judge seemed a tad laughable. And what was with him bringing in the picture of his daughter? Judges don't really DO that, do they?

Blogger Mella said...

Whew, so glad it isn't just me. reader_iam I couldn't agree more on the notes you pointed out. Especially the laughable moments in the courtroom. And the whole issue of the father/son connection with fire. I understand why she did it - but it felt a little forced, to me. (Not nearly as much as the romantic sidestory though - which was annoying, at best, by the end.)

It's a shame too, I felt that at the very beginning she had such a grasp of this emotionally charged issue (particularly in Sara's first entry.)

But by the end I felt as though it was repetitive and that I was almost being coerced into having an emotional response.

Blogger Susanna Rose said...

I know where you're coming from Mella! I recently read a book called "Brick Lane" which was supposedly supposed to give all these insights into the plight of a native Pakistani woman in England. All it did though was go on and on with out a clear plot and the main character became too predictable. There really is an art to writing something that just swallows the reader up...I love it when a book does that for me but it rarely happens unfortunately!

P.S. Power to the pregnant ladies! How far along are you now?

Blogger Chris said...


Anyway, I've read a number of books which I like to call 'endless'....

The worst offender I can think of, though, is not a book at all, but rather a movie. Does anyone remember the film "AI"?? Why...oh why...did this movie have to have aliens in it????

I harp on this writer quite a bit, but if you are into "modern American fables" at all, then you really should check out James P. Blaylock. Witty, well written, and totally engrossing. If you can choose only one of his books to read, make sure it is "The Last Coin". Gods my life!!! I haven't read it in probably 5 years, and I STILL laugh out loud when I think of certain parts of it.


Blogger zhoen said...

So many books have hit the wall, with force, because of that kind of stupidity. Fine, I hurled them. Prurient side trips, flat characters, simplistic moralizing, and the worst of all, the tease of poetic phrases leading to utter wrongness of ending.
I shall refrain from a list, largely because I have forgotten titles, but book clubs and one famous TV one in particular, seems to love novels with all of these faults.

Blogger zhoen said...

Seem, sorry, can't type.

Blogger Mella said...

zhoen So true, and frustrating. And yet, as an intelligent reader, I am to blame for not putting the book back on the shelf (or out the window) when I realized that it wasn't going to be satisfying in the first place.

It may have been hurled, had I not been reading it in the same room my son was quietly sleeping in.

Blogger Victoria said...

My goodness, what an absolutely crap story. Im shocked this mess gets published, just as I am shocked that most movies get made. As a fellow grad student, MA though, in Literature, I have stood upon your same soapbox and yelled. The best book I have read recently is by far, The Time Traveler's Wife. Not only is it beautifully written, but it is also completely original, unlike anything else, thought provoking and best of all, fairly unpredictable.

Blogger Mella said...

Victoria: I recently read The Time Traveler's Wife as well and enjoyed it. I loved her use of the two different voices throughout the book - which is what I enjoyed about this book (initially...)

I'm interested in exploring using several different characters to tell the same story from different angles.

This is part of what's led me to pause my writing of The Stealing Season - as I'm mulling over how to continue, using the mother's voice for the first time.

Blogger Lauri said...

Reading as a reader and reading as a writer are so different. I used to devour books as a reader, and now I find myself studying them for point of view switches, how the author handled transistions, how they introduced subplots and new characters. As a writer, it's a great way to learn, but I miss the magic of reading, of jumping into someone elses world completely. It's a rare book now that I don't think - I wonder why the author did that? and not this? If a book totally absorbs me and I forget to analyze it, I feel like it's a gift, and I joyfully swim in that magic of reading.

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