Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bad Mythology and Tolerance, but not Tolerance of Bad Mythology

All I ask out of books in general is that they fit loosely in the broad genre of “good”. By good, I don’t mean a morality tale, where all the sinners get gored on horns of bulls or anything necessarily—I mean sometimes there are moral people who deserve a good goring (i.e. Elsie Dinsmore). Good doesn’t have to mean you feel smarter after having read it, like it’s Dostoevsky or C.S. Lewis. Good could mean Meg Cabot, which leaves me giddy and loving life—and 10x more likely to jump for joy, hit a chair, and tumble soundly onto my face (true story). Good isn’t even necessarily extraordinarily well-written—not everyone’s Neil Gaiman or Orson Scott Card, where every sentence is amazingly crafted constructions of genius. Heavens, no. I wouldn’t even WANT every author to be like that…I’d feel more than a little inadequate then. I don’t think Stephenie Meyer is an extraordinary writer. As much as I enjoy her stories, I do sometimes find sentences I’m not fond of, and in general her writing is hardly mind-blowing. But she entertains, she is consistent with her own mythology, obviously took time to work on her mythology and writing, and cares about her story.

I feel like I could head into a treatise on The Art of Writing, but I won’t and by this paragraph break am stopping myself. Good writing can be anything from Gaiman to Austen to Cabot to Card to Tolstoy to Rowling to Dickens to Meyer to Lewis to Tezuka (a somewhat biased list, except that I’m not a particularly huge Dickens fan and Gaiman is so good that when he’s bad he’s hellishly bad). My standards are not wildly high. Not at all. But there are things I will not abide, and they are so easily avoidable, I don’t understand why some people fall into them so eagerly.

Remember what I said about Meyer’s mythology? Sure, it’s out there and quite weird. But it’s consistent with itself. You may not like it, but it is. It’s believable in context. Once I suspend my disbelief in vampires, I can accept that these vampires have a bloodlust stronger than carnal lust. From there, I will accept that vampires do not want people to know of their existence, so they prey secretly. Okay, and some groups chose (on various grounds) to resist temptation and only drink the blood of animals, which is less tasty and satisfying. I also accept that a socially weird human girl might admire these vampires and want to be like them. They’re noble in abstaining from the things they desire. Meyer’s mythology plays into the way people really are at times, and the kinds of things people find admirable. It moves slowly, and it wasn’t until the later books that the “world” of vampires comes into play—by the last book it was a majorly complicated mythology, but it wasn’t confusing because it came piece by piece.

But some people don’t get that. They dump the mythology in chunks in the beginning, then figure that the reader gets it now and shove along with the plot. Disaster occurs.

“Tantalize” by Cynthia Leitich Smith

This book first came out in early 2007, which must have been the time I first came upon it in a public library. I always fall for pretty cover art and titles—more-so than synopses sadly—and the pretty redhead paired with a sexy title was a win for me. That and vampires, being that I’d been into vampires since eighth grade (pre-Twilight AND Underworld and without reading Ann Rice). I have only the vaguest memories of the plot. All I recall is a girl, her bff who was a boy and a werewolf or something, and someone being murdered after only a few pages. I remember turning back several times, looking for explanations for scenes that didn’t make sense, and being too disinterested and confused to plow through dull writing.

Apparently this book is about a girl named Quincie Morris (ugh) who is an orphan and lives with her uncle—together Quincie and Uncle Davidson (UGH) remodel the family restaurant and rename it Sanguini’s, then because they needed a gimmick to make up for some indequacy I assume, they give the place a “vampire theme”. Remember, it’s called SANGUINI’S. If you don’t see the stupid logic, just move on and be happy. The vampire theme is not gross or weird though, because, and I quote from an Amazon review quoting from the novel, “vampires are a fringe population, and Austin [in Texas] is a tolerant place.” Ok first of all, let’s accept this premise as difficult as it may be to do so. Vampires exist. People tolerate that. Got it. So they make a vampire-themed restaurant? What? This is like making a “black person”-themed restaurant because you live in a town with a decent black population and people are tolerant. What does vampire-themed mean? Not like Mexican-themed, where you eat tacos, hang sombreros, and listen to Spanish music? Do they drink blood, wear fangs, and listen to Evanescence? Or is it more of a general theme, with horrible dish titles that I don’t feel corny enough to imagine? (Feel free to suggest a few of your own.)

Moving on—the chef of Sanguini’s is murdered. My initial guess is an offended vampire, who maybe should’ve lynched Uncle Davidson or Quincie instead for CONCIEVING this idea. But NO. The manner of death implies that a WEREWOLF did it. Oh no and guess what? Quincie’s bff, Kieren, is a “hybrid werewolf who traces his lupine heritage to the wolves that roamed Ireland with St. Patrick.” The police look with suspicion upon Kieren’s noble heritage, which makes Quincie sad because she has a crush on Kieren. But Quincie and Uncle D move on from that, hiring a new chef named…Henry Johnson. Yes. Henry Johnson. Not Edin or Aidan or Jace or something COOL. His laast name isn’t even cool, like Kieren’s (which is Morales). His name isn’t totally random like Uncle Davidson’s. I’m going to just ASSUME he is really a VAMPIRE and that is why his name is Henry, because so many vampires are named Henry, and he’s maybe immortal so he’s old, and has a classic name (like Edward). But Henry is WEIRD. One reviewer describes him as “spooky, with red contact lenses, pale hair, and a menu featuring sweetbreads, blood sausage and baby squirrels in honey cream sauce,” while another sums him up as “quirky.” Well if that’s quirky, please don’t even tell me what’s plain old weird.

That about sums up the premise, but apparently there are conflicts, like Kieren’s choice to leave Austin and join up with a pack of werewolves, a lá Call of the Wild. This also makes Quincie sad I presume, and probably makes the police even more suspicious (understandably). BUT Quincie is distracted by Henry, who “prods Quincie into drinking wine, skipping school, and discovering her sensuality.” I don’t know which is funnier, wine-drinking as the height of naughty-ness or the fact that a teenager needs someone to tell them about their sensual side. Apparently there are more murders and everyone acts crazy and Quincie fears for her life. One Amazon reviewer closes with this bit: “Quincie's story hews closer to the campy Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes (e.g., " 'You ate the police?!' I exclaimed") than to the elegant romanticism of Stephenie Meyer's books, but horror fans will be hooked by Kieren's quiet, hirsute hunkiness, and Texans by the premise that nearly everybody in their capitol is a shapeshifter.

Kieren probably looks a little bit like this.

BUT THIS BOOK WAS DULL. And the Amazon customer reviews call it a “pile of bile” and a waste of time and money. None of the reviewer’s give complete spoilers, but I hear evil wins out. (Also people alternate between calling Henry “Brad/Bradley,” so I’m REALLY confused.) I think I get why I couldn’t bear this book and blocked most of it. One reviewer says it felt like the book was missing pages—which was exactly how I felt. You can’t just dump the premise HEY VAMPIRES ARE NORMAL and roll with it. A lot of books try that--dumping a complicated premise on the reader and then forcing onward with their plot. The book I’m reading now, “Fairy Godmother” by Mercedes Lackey does the same thing. Original mythologies are beautiful things, but if handled wrong, they are HORRIBLE. They have to be believable! I don’t believe for one second that if vampires existed, they’d be “tolerated” like they were of a different skin color. If they are tolerated, you have to explain that. Start WITH that. Don’t assume because you say it is so in your novel, readers will believe you. THEY WON’T. In the real world, people don’t tolerate different skin color so easily. It wasn’t easy for the U.S to reach the place it is now, and acting like blood-drinking cold immortals would be accepted enough to have restaurants based on them like they’re a cute joke is just too ridiculous.

I'm not really sure what this means, but it looks like it belongs in this post.


  1. ilu, HJ. <3

    And I definitely agree with you. I can't stand when stories dump something on you and just expect you to accept it and move on. Maybe I can forgive it if they leak in tid-bits here and there along the way that let you know what happened and give you background, but completely ignoring the elephant in the room is unacceptable. It's like the author conjured up this other world, but didn't want to take the time to think about how it got that way. And because of that lack of commitment to their world and their story, it makes for a bad read. Shame on them.

    Though I might have to read Tantalize, if not just for the hirsute Wookie characters.

  2. Oh my gosh. LOVE THIS. I don't know where to begin --- let me start with the fact that your own voice here sounds rather different than the things you submit to the writer's blog. This is snarky. Awesome-ness abounds. And I applaud you on your choice of graphics. : ) And the insight you present on "dumping unbelievable premises" is astute. Two other things - we both love OSC! The final book in the Ender series is finally out, in case you didn't know. (You probably did, being in a far more social point in life than I, lol) But anyway. The other thing - you have read Neil Gaiman, have you read Terry Pratchett? (I may have spelled that wrong.) They actually wrote a book together called "Good Omens"- which I bet you would thoroughly enjoy- about the apocalypse and a very weird demon who's tapes stayed in his car too long and all eventually turned into the Best of Queen. Anyway. That and Pratchett's Disc World series are "the bomb diggity" in my opinion. Very dry humor. If you read Pratchett start with "The Color of Magic." Good summer read.

  3. ~ilu 2 G. Read Tantalize. Tell me if it as bad through to the end as it seems.

    ~Shannon, thank you!! I am often scolded for my snark in general, so blogging is a good release. ;) On Ink Spots, I guess since Lauren is not hugely snarky, just sort of a b*tch, my snark is still undercover. In other things I write, I like using snarky characters though. It's fun. Aghhh the only Ender books I've read so far are Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead--I got started on OSC only this year! I once got "Good Omens" from the library, but didn't have the time to actually read it...I think I will this summer. I'll try to get some Pratchett from somewhere. I need to buy some new reading materials soon.

  4. Britt, if you get Pratchett, or find him in a library, please let me know.

    And good post! This is a good reminder for my own writing--especially Fairy Tale. I think it's going to be much longer than I'd originally thought.

    Keep the blog posts coming--like Shannon, I think the snark is great! <3