Ah ha, I'm not a Bad Blogger after all -- I just decided to blog on Tuesday instead of Monday. Or so I tell myself. I got back to work from a small break that was not a vacation and had a lot to do. And I was exhausted, because my break was not a vacation and I did a lot of work (some of it fun, yes) and no writing and I have a big deadline this Friday and I did NOTHING to prepare for it...etc. But it's Tuesday, and here we are!
So I'm going to follow up a little on what I wrote last week. After finishing the spectacular book, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, I was on a high. And I was terribly excited because I had brought three, count 'em, three other books with me on my break that was not a vacation and even though I was not on vacation I did get to read. And two of the books were very small and by noted author Ian McEwen and I was psyched. Psyched, I tell you, dear Reader.
Reader, I was disappointed. Oh, so disappointed. The first one, The Comfort of Strangers, had these great blurbs on the back. I quote: From The NY Times Book Review, "Convincing and clinging as a nightmare...[McEwan is] an alluringly gifted writer." From the Chicago Tribune, "An exquisite miniature gothic." This sounded good.
Plot: Mary and Colin are on vacation. They've grown tired of each other. They go out wandering (they may be in Venice, but McEwan never says) and meet a man named Robert, who takes them to his house. He's creepy, as is his wife, Caroline--so creepy that (a) colin and Mary wake up naked, and Caroline says, 'oh, I'm just washing your clothes, and no, you can't have them back until I say' and (b) they realize Robert has a FRAMED PHOTO OF COLIN on the balcony of the hotel and (c) at one point, unprovoked, Robert PUNCHES COLIN IN THE STOMACH and levels him. Colin and Mary leave, have a lot of sex at their hotel, go swimming, and then GO BACK TO ROBERT'S HOUSE where Caroline drugs Mary and Robert kills Colin. The end.
Okay, now really: you didn't see that coming, Colin and Mary? Really?
Here's my beef. Well, there are many. Here's my first: The NY Times Book Review called it CONVINCING. Really? On what planet does someone return to that house? What, did Colin leave his wallet? Some lifesaving medication? No. Even then, if he had, wouldn't he say, "I'll cancel the credit cards and figure out the ID later" or "I'll phone my doctor and get a new prescription"--either way, "No way am I going back there" ??? Please. Second, people, this is Ian McEwen! The writing was fluid and smooth, and maybe I'd even go with the back jacket copy that calls it "masterly precision," but...this is the man who wrote Atonement! Yikes. Did not like the plot, did not believe the plot, did not feel anything in this story was "inevitable" or a tale of "erotic menace"...hmph. Having just finished The Book Thief, when I finished The Comfort of Strangers I threw it on the floor. Bleah.
and then I went to another Ian McEwan book, Enduring Love. Plot (with spoilers, yes): a man named Joe and his wife Clarissa are on a picnic and see a child about to be carried away in a hot air balloon, so he runs to save the kid. He arrives at the same time as several others and they all jump onto the basket, but a gust of wind takes it up and everybody drops off safely to the ground to save himself--all except one man, who holds on way past the time of safety and then falls to his death. Joe rushes to the body and arrives at the same time as Jed Parry, who instantly and insanely falls in love with him. Jed begins harassing Joe with letters and phone calls. Joe erases the messages and the handwriting looks like his, so no one believes him. His wife Clarissa instantly decides he's nuts and she is going to take some time away from him. They go to a restaurant and an anonymous man walks to another table and shoots a second anonymous man; Jed rushes to Assassin Anonymous Man and knocks the gun from his hand and runs away. Joe knows the assassin was meant to shoot him. Police and Clarissa don't believe him. Joe buys a gun (apparently a terribly illicit thing in refined England) and on his way back Clarissa phones and says Jed is holding her hostage. He returns to his flat and shoots Jed with his new gun. Jed is institutionalized and Clarisas leaves Joe. The end.
Again, this damn thing just doesn't make sense. Why is Clarissa so eager not to believe her husband? This is never explored. Nor is it explained why the police just don't care. At a certain point I really wanted this all to be in Joe's head; I wanted the unreliable narrator and a surprise at the end where we find out that he really does protest too much. I was excited that this might happen, especially since Publisher's Weekly called this story "Stunning..." and said it is "Graced with intelligent speculation and dramatic momentum." Sigh.
Now, please know that I am not saying I am superior or I write better stories or there's so much crap out there and I would do x, y, and z somuchbetterandwhyamInotpublished and blah blah blah. I'm not putting myself into a comparison at all. So what am I saying?
Am I saying that sometimes certain authors might get more favorable reviews based on their past work?
Am I saying that writers might become complacent based on their past work and not look too closely at their stories?
Am I saying that even masterful writers (and I do agree that I. McE is) need a writer's group?
I don't know. But I know that I read one tremendous book and followed it with two books for which I had high, high expectations...and I was disappointed. Sigh.