Monday, November 23, 2009

Repetitively Redundant

"'...the shooting will happen so fast and be over so quick that you'll wonder what all the planning and palaver was for, when in the end it always comes down to the same five minutes' worth of blood, pain, and stupidity.' He paused, then said: 'I always feel sick afterward.'"

I would say that quote sums up Stephen King's fifth Dark Tower book Wolves of the Calla, but that would be too harsh. I never feel sick after reading his books.

However, I do wonder what all the planning and palaver (important conversation) was for. In my Wizard and Glass review I mentioned that much of the book was flashbacks, and that King is attempting to tie all his works together. Wolves of the Calla is the same way, but I'm afraid that all the flaws of Wizard are more pronounced in Wolves.

Without giving away too much, King brings back Father Callahan, the priest who mysteriously vanishes at the end of 'Salem's Lot. A lot of Wolves is Callahan recounting what happened to him after he left 'Salem's Lot, all the while Roland twirling his fingers in a "hurry up and get to the point" fashion. I found myself twirling my fingers in much the same way.

See, Wolves is set against a town where most of the children are twins, and where monsters known as Wolves show up every so many years and take one child out of every pair of twins. The children are returned later, mentally and physically ruined and doomed to a short life. Roland and his ka-tet are meant to fight the Wolves in a Knights of the Roundtable meets Western sort of way, but this makes up very little of the actual story, and it shows. This part of the tale is filled with undeveloped characters and painfully obvious and simple plots.

But man oh man did I love finding out what happened to Callahan! The only annoying part (besides it having relatively little to do with the book) was Roland's constant finger twirling. Stephen King repeated it so many times. He repeated it so many times. He repeated it so many times.

Added to that, the number 19 or 99 or 1999 gets used to death as well.

A final criticism: tying everything together. King is starting to tie together not only his own works, but Harry Potter, Marvel Comics, and Star Wars. I've often said that King could write about a killer stapler that could talk and it would convince me, but there are moments in Wolves that are stretching it, even for King's great talents. I can cut him a little slack, though, because this idea fit into my own philosophy about writing. In On Writing, King compared writing to digging for fossils. A large part of me has always believed that what is written, by King, or myself, or other writers, is true is some strange sense. An alternate world? I don't know. But there are stories that are always there, waiting for us to find them.

Despite this book's flaw, I want to read the rest of the series. I want to know what happens to Roland and his ka-tet, and I want to see the connections that King will make. He's managed to write a book with a thin plot and a LOT of exposition that kept me interested the whole time.

I don't know how he does it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My prejudice towards Jane Austen

You can't judge a book by its cover, or by the first few hundred pages in the case of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

I had this book sitting out at the studio I work for, and one of our actors stopped by, picked it up, and asked aloud, "All right, which one of you is being forced to read this for school?" I admitted that I was reading the book. Not only that, but I graduated two years ago and decided to read Pride and Prejudice for the fun of it.

Why? he asked. Because, I replied, I wanted to give Jane Austen a chance. I wanted to see what the big deal was, why women love her books so much. So here's the question, did I get lured into her romantic tales of middle class England?

Nope. Reading the first hundred or more pages of Pride and Prejudice left me wondering why women found this romantic? Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth barely play a role in the first two parts of the novel. Instead, we're subjected to a plot revolving around Elizabeth's older sister Jane and a failed marriage proposal. We get glimpses of Darcy and Elizabeth, and they are totally uninteresting as characters. Minor characters like Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, and Lady Catherine are funnier and more interesting. They stand out as characters with personalities, often comical in nature.

And man, I can't believe how boring most of Pride and Prejudice is. Oh, I know, I'm a guy, of course I think love stories are boring. But nothing happens for chapters at a time! I kid you not, I read a whole chapter that involved the characters taking a nap and reading. While I understand this is a representation of life back then, the story could use a little more trimming to get to the point.

Add to that the fact that Jane Austen doesn't write dialog. She'll write the first two lines of dialog exchanged between characters, and then follows it with a summary of what those characters talk about. I don't want to read a summary; I want to read the actual conversation. As Alice says in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?"

All this was true until I came to Part III of the book, and this is where it suddenly picks up with unbelievable speed. Elizabeth's little sister Lydia (another interesting, but minor character) runs off with a hooligan and the father trying to hunt her down and the family is on the brink of embarrassment. Mr. Darcy's feelings for Elizabeth come out, and both of them start having real emotions and turmoil and drama. Added to that, there is a real conversation between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine that is dramatic and well written. It's the only real conversation in the whole book.

In otherwords, Part III almost makes up for the slow and dry Parts I and II. Reading Pride and Prejudice is sort of like Elizabeth meeting Mr. Darcy. At first, you get one impression that isn't terribly flattering: it is uninteresting, incomplete, and more often than not, irritating. Then in the final third you get a revelation that makes you fall in love. Well, I'm exaggerating, but my point is that it took me weeks to read Parts I and II and a day or so to read Part III because I couldn't put it down.

If only Jane Austen had chopped down the first two thirds of the book, or at least given them the same flair as the final chapters.

Maybe the movie is better. I'll have to check it out.