A few weeks ago I made a commitment to write a book review or two. Since then, I've read four or five books of various genres - the memoir of Christopher Hitchens (Hitch-22), the infamous fatwa-inducing volume of Salman Rushdie (Satanic Verses), a scholarly monograph on the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and Europe (The Muslim Discovery of Europe), and another work of non-fiction about a new obsession that I see as related to my family tree (Celtic Myths and Legends, Charles Squire). All of these, as well as an unexpected but delightful translated work of fiction by Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog), have occupied my mind and my time a great deal since the beginning of the new year.
I loved all these books for one reason or another, and I'll probably spend a great deal of time - if not here, then at the very least to anyone who will listen - rhapsodizing on their beauty and eloquence, or perhaps their ideas and the method in which they disseminate knowledge to any who are interested in gaining it. But that's not what I wanted to do here today.
No, I wanted to trash the trashy novel -- or to be more precise, novels -- that I also indulged in over the last bit. Now I don't even want to waste my time doing that because I saw so many well-written reviews at amazon.com that I fear I can't compete. In fact, most of the reviews, despite their typos and grammatical errors, were better written and more plot-driven than the books themselves. Despite that little caveat, I'm going to indulge in a little trash-talk about an author who has broken the cardinal rule of fiction and non-fiction alike: you must deliver what you promise from the start, or your reader will suffer disappointment and dissatisfaction.
What books am I talking about? Laurell K. Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series.
I suppose I should give a little background into how I came across these books, and why I kept reading them after they got so ho-hum. First, I do not listen to the radio in the car anymore. NPR bores the hell out of me, always focusing on the next election. Is this just me? I remember how much I loved listening to Nina Totenberg discuss the Supreme Court and the decisions they made when they were in session. Now all I hear is blah blah blah, election, blah blah blah, votes, blah blah blah, primaries, blah blah blah . . . You get the picture.
A few years ago, I took on a job requiring daily road travel, and to help alleviate the tedium of commuting two hours a day, I checked out some audio books from the local library. I was hooked, but I soon ran through the majority of the selections they had on CD. Seemed like everything they had came on cassette tape. But they add new selections each month, and just recently, they added the first of LKH's Merry Gentry books. It's title, A Kiss of Shadows, definitely gave off a certain vibe, if you know what I mean. But I've made assumptions based on titles in the past, and been dead wrong, so I always try to keep an open mind.
The picture on the front cover, however, only amplified the vibe. The vibe that I call chick-lit. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just mean the target audience is of a certain age and gender, and the publisher does everything in his (her?) power to persuade people within that group to choose this book over another.
The vibe didn't lie.
This is not a book I would recommend to any of my guy friends or my husband. Or to anyone that I don't know well enough to be sure they get into . . . this sort of book. To give you some idea of what I mean, one of amazon.com's reviewers stated this about Divine Misdemeanors (the last in the series): "I'm sorry that [these books] are such porno's, but I still think they are well written in between the porn." I, for one, do not think they are well-written, but they are definitely "porno's". And if I say that about the first one, I mean it ten times more about the others. While listening to the last one, I kept thinking that it reminded me of old-school porn, where the movie-makers used to pretend there was a plot, but it was really only about moving the characters from one room to the next so that the settings for the sex was always changing. How dull, since there really could have been a story tying all that (repetitive and gratuitous) sex to the plot.
Keep in mind, I listen to these books VIA THE CAR STEREO. The last thing I want blaring out of my speakers as I'm parking on campus is a graphic sex scene, let alone one that seems contrived to the point of the absurd.
Seriously, sex with Meredith Gentry is so magical, that all the men, even those that just watch while "guarding" the copulating couple, stain their pants. And then they all stand around and compare which colors hide the evidence of their "oopsie" better, so they know who should go and change first. Do people really act like that in sex? I don't want to really know, so please save your comments. All I know is that I'm pretty sure they picked some woman from a nursing home to read most of these books. I felt like my grandmother's buddy was reading these scenarios to me, and all those extra little noises and breathless sighs she added in made me very uncomfortable. Talk about gross. Ugh.
I could also mention numerous phrases that Hamilton uses over and over again. Maybe she writes other stuff that's really good, but her work in this series strikes me as that of someone who is lazy and cares only about contracts and $$$$. The plots hardly move forward, with the repetitive descriptions over and over again. I cut her some slack on this at first because I saw it as a nod to the type of work she was trying to create - an epic based on fairy mythology. I've read my share of the Greek chorus stuff, and a huge part of that genre revolves around the constant referrals back to the hero or heroes and their accomplishments. I get that.
Nonetheless, Hamilton seems decidedly uncreative and apathetic about good writing because she just repeats the same crap over and over again, such as with the phrase, "blood and thicker things." I could practically tell you when she was going to insert that old stand-by because it became so predictable. I'd regale you with others, but many of her worn-out phrases have been mentioned by the other reviewers that I referred to earlier.
Ditto for the sex scenes. The guys were constantly changing, or should I say, the combination of guys was constantly changing, but Hamilton seems to think that if you don't have a plot for anything more than a short story, all you need to do is add in about ten sex scenes and hey, presto, you've got yourself a full-fledged novel.
If these books are so terrible, why did I listen to them?
I have to hand it to Hamilton. My expectation that this series would develop into a story left me only after I listened to the post-denoument installment. At the beginning, I thought she owned her characters, despite the Fabio-like descriptions of all the men; she obviously did some serious fairy-tale research which showed in the various magical abilities she assigned to her characters, and I thought that was a good sign. The first book was compelling, and I enjoyed her story-telling. A real live fairy princess on American soil? Not a terrible concept. Magic plus mayhem? Definitely different than what I usually read. I have listened to many worse books, but the true sin is that Hamilton's work actually held promise, which she chose not to fulfill.
Maybe she should have just stopped after the first novel and gone back to her other favorite super-heroine. But then, from what I saw in the reviews at amazon.com, that particular character degenerated as well.
If you are looking for the titillation of one woman having a bevy of hot, sex-deprived, immortal men at her beck and call, and you care not for plot, these books may satisfy you. If, however, you are interested in reading witty and/or entertaining prose, let me offer you an alternate to Laurell K. Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series: read the amazon.com reviews by all the other readers. I promise you, you won't be disappointed. These fine folk grasp that rule about delivering what is expected. If you see a one-star rating, you get an opinion to match. Add to that the hilarious and inventive descriptions offered up by mere readers, and you might begin to wonder why Hamilton makes the big bucks as an author.