Sunday, April 08, 2007

A reviewer's nightmare: the not-quite-bad-enough book

If I could write a one-sentence review of the book I've just finished reading, it would say, "This book is just too bad to review." Instead I'm supposed to produce 800 words of polished prose presenting a balanced evaluation of a book that does not merit 800 words or the time and effort I will have to put into writing 800 words or the time I've already spent reading the book. I'd be happier if the book were bad enough to be amusing, if it were studded with bizarrely inept prose and hilariously mixed metaphors. But no: it's written competently enough to resist jeering. It's not even bad enough to be interesting; it's just bad.

The characters are sketchy; we're told more or less what the main character looks like, but everyone else is just a name on a page. The children talk like adults and the adults act like children, none of them the least bit believably; they converse in stilted speeches, never interrupt, never stumble or stutter. The pages are studded with names of places and streets and buildings, but the places exist merely as points on a map, without weather or color or light or air. The metaphors are overworked; one poor unfortunate dead kitten earns enough Frequent Metaphor Miles to travel first-class through the collected works of Dickens and half of Thackeray.

And what can I say about the plot? There's a mystery at the center of it, a mystery that is supposed to serve as a metaphor for What's Wrong With America Today and provide closure and healing to the open wounds of our post-911 world. Except it doesn't. I figured out the deep dark secret within the first two chapters, but I kept thinking I must be wrong. "It can't be this obvious," I thought. "Surely these clues are just typical red herrings cleverly placed to distract me from the real story." But no: any reasonably sentient reader could figure out the purported mystery so quickly that there would be no reason to keep reading beyond page 20 except to confirm what is already so abundantly clear: that the only healing the book will provide is a nice colorful band-aid and a hearty "Cheer up!"

The only thing in the whole book that made me want to cheer up was finally closing it, but now I have to open it up again and write a review. The whole situation makes me want to kick something. I think I'll drop-kick that dead kitten clear back to Beowulf.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Frequent Metaphor Miles? Brilliant!