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JWR 3.34 - 1st to Barf
You know, I donít often gush about a book Iíve read because, letís face it: nobody reads the books other people suggest, except for Oprah...who recommends SHIT. I mean, Iíve tried it and it seldom is worth it. The last book I read suggested by someone that was good was Atlas Shrugged.
So, since nobody reads what I like, let me tell you about a book I read that I thought was the biggest piece of shit since that time I couldnít take a dump for a couple days and then, finally I decided to shit and it took a while, but I did and it hurt coming out and when all was said and done, it felt like I gave birth. I walked funny for a couple days and I was fearful that the toilet wouldnít flush properly or that I wouldnít properly crap from that day forward. Thatís how big of a piece of shit this book was.
I am referring to 1st to Die by James Patterson. You may know the name and if not you will most likely know a couple of his books that have been turned into movies: Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider.
Normally I donít tear through books. If a book is three hundred pages, I often struggle with the first half, reading them slowly either actually taking a long time or seemingly taking a long time. Then the second half goes quickly. When I recently read Lolita that was the way it went. I actually took a break and then hammered out the second half. Of course, I bought the annotated version with a hundred pages of notes, and Iíd stop three times every page and flip to the back and read about a particular allusion. The second half of that book going so quickly was a little strange since the first half is the part everyone talks about: his affair with his step daughter, the manic trip across country.
I read 1st to Die over four nights: 130 pages each day. Whatís it about? Four successful women (a detective, a reporter, a medical examiner and an assistant DA) who are each involved in solving a series of viscous murders of a bride and groom on their wedding night. How horrible.
A majority of the novels I read contain chapters ten to thirty pages long. Not this book. I think the longest chapter was five pages, the shortest half a page. 120 chapters, no wonder these books are such a quick read. There were snippets of critical acclaim on the back cover and inside the front cover some saying how this book grabbed you and kept you reading with itís fast pacing. The only reason I bothered finishing it was because I knew it would be over soon.
Two things dawned on me early on while reading:
1) No description. When your book is as ďfast pacedĒ as 1st to Die, when your chapters are an average of three full pages, there is not a lot of room for description. If you like Stephen King, you may recognize that he can take a few hundred pages to get a story going full tilt, but his writing is such a way that he brings you there with interesting characters and settings (usually).
James Pattersonís book read like a screenplay: dialogue and the barest of descriptive paragraphing, almost solely devoted to the actions of the characters. And the characters: not very well developed at all.
There was the lady detective who was the main character who suddenly was diagnosed with a potentially deadly disease for some reason. The only reason to do that (because this is a work of fiction) is to produce a sense of sentimentality with the reader because everyone knows someone who is or has fought a disease. You relate to her plight in the cheapest and most artificial way.
There was the medical examiner, a black woman who was heavy, but not too heavy, you know. Just heavy enough for our main character to notice the ease with which her friend moved around her heft.
There was the green reporter who stumbled onto the story and developed a friendship with the detective.
There was the hard ass ADA who had a, thankfully, minimal role.
There was the male detective assigned from outside the jurisdiction to assist in the case who fell into a relationship with our heroine, but ended up dying at the end. Oh, did I spoil it for you? Tough shit, you should thank me for saving your time.
There was the male writer main suspect who was an allusion to James Patterson. There were references to this characterís lack of talent and criticism that his books were tripe, which was no doubt referencing negative reviews of Pattersonís own work. Fans will this how cute Patterson included that particular homage, a bit of poking fun. I think itís sad people will think that.
Long story short, the writer was framed by his second wife for whatever reason. She put on makeup and dressed like him, fooled everyone she came into contact with, did these killings, etc. The eventually found out it was a woman because the killer pissed herself at the scene of the crime and there was yeast in the urine. They thought it was the ex-wife first, but came to realize it was the second wife. Of course, the author showed up at the detectiveís apartment after the murder was dispatched and tried to rape her, but she kicked his ass or something, I think. Which kind of brings up the second realization I had:
2) The writing sucked. Sorry, but it did. You can admire the ability to bring a story to itís conclusion, but if it sucks, it sucks.
There were parts where I became embarrassed to read they were so poorly written. I was in a few short story classes in college and we read each othersí stories. I put a lot into my stories and I think it showed. I also grew as time progressed. There were stories that were pretty shitty. A lot of the dialogue was forced, awkward, silly, lame. If honestly felt like I was sitting in a class reading a nineteen-year-oldís first attempt at writing fiction at times.
When I think of men writing women, all I can think of is Jack Nicholsonís line from As Good As it Gets when he was asked how he writes convincing female characters: ďI think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.Ē Funny? Yes. True? Sort of.
Honestly, I think to write as a woman all you have to do is be honest to the character and make sure the reader knows itís a woman, their sensibilities will fill in how the character sounds in their head and youíll have a convincing woman.
Pattersonís sappy, ultra-ĒfeministĒ yet silly female characters were childishly written, unless his intent was to create pathetic characters who run the emotional spectrum from content to fragile and who speak like unrealistic dorks who are trying to be slightly hip. I say ďfeministĒ because they werenít burn-your-bra feminists, but they sure did form a girls club to withhold evidence in order to solve this murder mystery themselves. The inner thoughts randomly and clumsily strewn throughout the novel were the most bewilderingly stock feminine mystique utterances to be printed.
At there was a the prologue that had the main character on her balcony ready to kill herself, but he never got around to explaining that. I thumbed through a couple other Patterson books just looking at the chapters and they are all the same: 100-plus chapters, three pages long each. This guy obviously found his niche and is exploiting it for all itís worth.
You take a fantastic crime (and I mean that word as a derivation of ďfantasyĒ because if I get lambasted for writing a story where a character you never met was decapitated, then I can call a story about a cross dressing woman who kills newlyweds on their wedding night unrealistic) and underdeveloped characters and a few plot twists like killing the nice guy detective who can give our main character a happy life, and shave off any originality and you got yourself a James Patterson best seller.
Have any of you read a Patterson book? If you have and liked it, please tell me why because Iím really interested. You know, I didnít like Analyze This, and I feel alone there so maybe Iím in the minority on Patterson, too. But I want to know.
I thought Kiss the Girls was a pretty decent flick. I though the Along Came a Spider movie was more disappointing, but fair. I wonít be reading the novels from which those movies came. I will assume they sucked as much as 1st to Die. And I will be convinced of this assumption. Donít judge a book by its cover, but judge it by the piece of shit sister book by the same jackoff writer.
I just feel like, why is this guy so popular? Why is he a best selling author? Why is Britney Spears a platinum ďartistĒ while Sevendust doesnít crack the top 20? I donít understand.
Copyright © 2003 John Lemut