The Far Cry, Emma Smith

Teresa was at sea.  The boat moved – would she ever forget it? – away from the land.  And something was severed; she felt delivered.

“I never want to come back!” she screeched.

The grey land made no effort to hold her, gave no final sign of enticement.  It lay there, apathetic, allowing her to go.  The loud-speaker was playing “Indian Summer”.  Down pouring a huge flood of sound, drowning the salty air, paralyzing thought, emotion, everything, a vast crocodile tear of farewell, loudly lugubrious, and up against it soared Teresa’s voice, like a skylark beating its frail wings.  “I never never want to come back…”   Strands of hair whipped across her blasphemous mouth; the tears in her eyes belonged to the wind, for she was hard with triumph.  “Never, never…”

“Very well, never come back,” the flat grey mud that was England seemed to answer, indifferent to her wild cry of renunciation.  She gripped the rail, passionately free.

Recommended by: I actually don’t remember.  Persephone had it up, but I think I read about it on another book blog before then.

The Far Cry is about an excusably unpleasant girl called Teresa and her unpleasant father who go away to India in order to escape from her (I’m sure equally unpleasant) mother who has expressed interest in young Teresa for the first time in her life and may be contemplating stealing her away from her hapless father and bringing her up to be spoiled and pleasure-seeking.  They go on a boat and meet people, and then they get to India and meet a few more people, and then several very eventful events happen in a cluster and the book closes on a note of hope for Teresa’s future.

It wasn’t bad.  I didn’t love it but it wasn’t bad.  It’s one of those books that makes me bust out the litotes in order to talk about it: I didn’t dislike it.  The characterization wasn’t uninteresting.  There was just never a point at which I wouldn’t have been completely happy to put it down and read something else.  Things got set up that never went anywhere; and even when they did go somewhere, they never went anywhere satisfying.  Ms. Smith talked about feelings so much that I thought some emotional climax would be reached, and I suppose it sort of was, but it didn’t bring everything together, and it wasn’t very satisfying.

The girl, Teresa, reminded me of Frankie from The Member of the Wedding — misplaced and cranky.  I didn’t like The Member of the Wedding.  I support Southern gothic writers and everything but I do not love them in my heart (although that story of Flannery O’Connor’s with the girl called Joy and her wooden leg was a riot), so it wasn’t helping matters that I had Frankie in the front of my mind the entire time Teresa was around.

Two thumbs sideways.  Not in the hitch-hiking sense.  Or, okay, two stars.

The Keep, Jennifer Egan

I have no idea where I read about this book, but I’ve been intending to read it for ages.  I went to the library yesterday, ostensibly just to return Dark Shadows (which I realized once I got there I had left at the apartment), and I got maybe eleven books, which is pretty restrained, and out of all of them, I decided to read The Keep first.

I didn’t like it.

I really thought I must have missed something.

You know how sometimes you’ll watch a commercial, and you just can’t figure it out?  The commercial ends, and you’re staring at the screen wondering what the point of that was, how that could possibly make anyone consider using the advertised product, when it doesn’t even make sense?  And you think and think and think but you can’t figure out what you missed in that commercial that would have made it make sense?  And you start having a hissy, and you’re going on and on about how stupid and pointless that commercial was, and the person next to you is all, Dude, chill out, that’s a totally normal commercial.  And then after you’ve been breathing into a paper bag for a few minutes to help yourself relax, you ask in a quiet but vehement voice WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THAT COMMERCIAL? WHAT DID I MISS? and the person next to you explains it, and no, you were completely right, there wasn’t anything more to that commercial, you weren’t missing anything, it was exactly what it seemed to be.

This is what we call Not aimed at you.  And that was The Keep.  It was just not aimed at me.

It’s about a guy in prison writing about two cousins with a Past working together to restore an old castle with a keep and scary tunnels.  Things are turbulent.  Questions of freedom and imprisonment.  It sounded so good when I read about it, wherever I read about it, and I was very excited that it was in at the library, and all the time it was never aimed at me in the first place.

Thus, no review I give will really be of any value, because the book was just so blatantly not aimed at me.  Everyone else, please feel free to enjoy it.  I was mightily unimpressed by the book generally and by all of the characters particularly, and I didn’t care at all what happened to any of them, and if Danny and Howie and Ray and Holly and Mick and everyone had all just fallen off a cliff, I would not have felt any more fulfilled when I reached the end than I did when I reached the real end with all the stuff that actually happened.

So oh well.

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

God knows I quote:

“Isabella.”  He pronounced my full name carefully, then playfully ruffled my hair with his free hand [when I think vampires, I think of playful hair-ruffling…you?].  A shock ran through my body at his casual touch.  [Of course it did.]  “Bella, I couldn’t live with myself if I ever hurt you.  You don’t know how it’s tortured me.”  He looked down, ashamed again.  “The thought of you, still, white, cold…to never see you blush scarlet again, to never see that flash of intuition in your eyes when you see through my pretenses [I love that he’s so full of shit that after hanging out with her for maybe three weeks tops he’s already fallen in love with the way she looks when she figures out he’s full of shit]…it would be unendurable.”  He lifted his glorious, agonized eyes to mine.  “You are the most important thing to me now.  The most important thing to me ever.”

But don’t worry.  He talks like that because he’s from the Olden Days.  That’s how they talked back then.

I’ve heard about this book from so many different places I can’t even remember them anymore. I knew it was going to be trashy when I checked it out. I could tell. Vampire books are not necessarily trashy, but they often are, and if fangs weren’t so sexy and if vampires weren’t so elegant, the whole vampire books thing would have ended ages ago because they are mostly so extremely trashy.

(Robin McKinley’s Sunshine being an exception. I loved Sunshine. Her best since Beauty, also not trashy.)

Well, anyway, it is very easy to see why Twilight is so popular. Youngish teenage girls love vampires. Fangs are sexy. Vampire dudes are elegant and dangerous. Stephenie Meyer is tapping into this in a big way. Edward Cullen, the vampire dude, is constantly being all “I love you more than my luggage, Bella dearest darling, but if you slip me any tongue while we’re kissing I will have to kill you and suck your blood”. And, you know, who wouldn’t want that?

(Vampires aren’t a very subtle metaphor for sex = death, are they?)

I’m kind of embarrassed by reading this book. When the sequels come in at the library, I’m going to have to check out several other quite-intellectual-looking books to keep the librarians from judging me, especially this one guy who always makes snide comments about everything I’m checking out but he can’t say anything if I have Twilight and then, like, War and Peace and And the Band Played On (not really, I own it) and What Fresh Hell Is This: A Biography of Dorothy Parker and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and…er, some other stuff that clever people might read.

It’s not awfully well-written, or awfully original. It’s just that people cannot resist that whole Will he kiss her or kill her thing. At all. Ever. Even if the guy is sort of creepy. And girls can’t resist vampires. Sexy. Dangerous. Elegant. (Especially elegant, in my case.) Even when they know as I do that these vampire books are silly and trashy, and Bella is ridiculous for being all, “Oh I love you so much and I’m so sure about it that I want to commit to you for all eternity even though I’m only seventeen and I’ve never had a boyfriend before”, and Edward is ridiculous for being all “If I truly loved you I would leave but I can’t because I’m so violently attracted to you and I’m so sexy that I make you faint merely by kissing you”, even then, people – and by people I mean me – cannot resist checking out both sequels as soon as possible.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a good book.

My mum always says this kind of thing – I felt vaguely the same about The Da Vinci Code, which is gripping but not that good a book – begs the question of what a “good book” is. Like, how is it a bad book if it intrigues you so much that you can’t put it down even though you know you want to go to bed early because tomorrow is your only day of the week to sleep late and your roommate is absolutely without question going to wake you up in the morning singing songs and talking on her cell phone? (says my mother) But I don’t think this is right because one only carries on reading out of curiosity about what will happen to the characters, which is the same reason people including her and me get hooked on soap operas, and if there is one thing we can say for sure it is that soap operas are rubbish and not quality television even though they are sometimes addictive.

So.

Edit to add: I just want to be clear here.  I can’t stand these damn books.  When I originally read Twilight, I had no idea of the mad culty Edward-is-perfect business going on across our great nation. The books are enjoyable (for how silly they are!) only insofar as nobody ever takes them seriously or thinks that Edward and Bella have anything approaching a functional relationship.  When people think that Edward and Bella have the perfect relationship, or thinking that Edward is perfect, then I have a problem.  A specific, angry problem with Stephenie Meyer writing a story about an emotionally abusive relationship and portraying it as romantic.  Like girls aren’t receiving that message enough.  He’s not romantic.  He’s a stalker.