Monday, June 16, 2008

All the same, really. If you squint...

It's never been a habit of mine to read just one book at any given time, just like I'm now incapable of reading only one webpage at a time. I have to switch back and forth between all my reading materials to keep from getting bored, because I have the attention span of a codfish. Right now, as I right this blog, I'm on eBay looking for cheap craft supplies, reading about dumb television plot twists on Television Without Pity and finding out what Z-list celebs did on Digital Spy.

Right now, I'm reading the following books:

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult.
Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
Diary by Chuck Palahniuk. (did I spell that right? I'm too lazy to google it.)
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

I also recently finished the following:

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Plah-something.
Rant, also by Plah.
Child Star by Writer Whose Name I Cannot Remember Now That The Book's Back In The Library.
The Pact by Jodi Picoult.
The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult.
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt.

If I like a writer, or I read a synopsis somehwere and am vaguely impressed, I'll buy or borrow the book and possibly anything else written by that author. Sometimes I'll like a film that was based on a book, so I'll hunt down the book. This was the case with Angels and Insects. The film was mildly intruiging, so I tracked down a copy of the book by A.S. Byatt. It was godawful. Boring, rambling and pointless. Even the incest was dull!

You can always rely on Jodi Picoult, though. There's always at least one book of hers you haven't read and she's such a prolific writer that there's always one on the way. Her work is inescapable, it's everywhere, but she's actually a good storyteller (if not the world's best at prose and very prone to writing middle-aged sex scenes) so I can forgive the fact that she once wrote for Wonder Woman comics. (Ick.) Her books are perfect for sitting on the couch, half-watching TV and eating a sandwich with your hand stuffed down the front of your trousers. (It's the warmest place on the human body!) She's a big fan of the moral quandary, so reading The Tenth Circle or Mercy or The Pact is the equivalent of watching an episode of Law and Order. It's engrossing, but none too challenging.

Chuck Palahniuk is a different story. You should never eat anything while you're reading his work, because chances are you'll lose your appetite. You can't read while watching TV either, because you'll need your wits about you to understand the plot and not feel like an idiot at the end when the twist comes. Don't read in bed either, 'cos you won't sleep. You'll be too busy working out just what the hell happened that your tiny little brain will keep you up until it's time to go to work. You can really only read when you have an hour or two to kill or on a long journey. I keep his work in the bathroom.

On the surface, it seems like the two writers have nothing in common. Picoult is a darling of women's book clubs and is frequently passed around from sisters to friends to sisters again. Palahniuk's readers are rebellious peripherals who hate anything mainstream. Picoult's view on humans, as interpreted by her writings, seem to suggest that everyone is good with the potential for doing evil. Palahniuk's view is that everyone is rotten to the core and some people are just more rotten than others. The characters in the former's books tend to be clean-cut, quietly conflicted and in relatively good social standing; the latter's characters are an assortment of freaks, transvestites and morally reprehensible losers on the fringes of society. But although the writers are very different in tone and manner, they share some remarkable similarities.

In most Picoult books, there are bad parents. While not necessarily abusive, they make shockingly bad decisions. The two sets of parents in The Pact nurture a strange quasi-sibling relationship in their children and practically walk them through a romantic relationship when they're old enough. It all ends in tears when the depressed female half of the pair seeks out her own death and leaves her boyfriend, best friend and brother (all one person) to face trial for her murder. In Perfect Match, the mother of an abused four-year-old shoots the man she thinks is responsible, only to find out she was too hasty and shot the wrong guy. In My Sister's Keeper, a couple breed a child specifically to save the life of their cancer-ridden daughter even though the kinder thing to do would be to let the poor girl die. And in Nineteen Minutes, the mother of a boy responsible for a school shooting is shown in flashback to have mollycoddled him senseless and set him up to be bullied without mercy. As someone who works with children, when this woman handed her twelve-year-old a Superman binder as a 'present', I wanted to leap into the book and smack her upside the head. I know parents are meant to be embarrassing, but WTF?

Palahniuk's posse of parents aren't always mentioned, but when they are they are uniformly rotten. Parents featured in Rant are particularly henious, as are the rest of the adults. When a child gets a windfall of illicit gold coins, he launders them in a peculiar way. He gives them to other children for loose teeth and they in turn spend the money on typical childish things. All of a sudden water pistols are fifty dollars, candy is more expensive than steak and a boy who's in on the deal finds a quarter under his pillow and knows that his parents have taken his gold. In Diary, the husband of a mildly skilled artist attempts suicide and leaves his wife to scrounge for a living amidst a plethora of lawsuits he racked up. His daughter is left in the company of his batty mother and is forced to treat her mother like dirt. In Invisible Monsters, the parents of the heroine kick out their gay son and sever all ties with him, only to become hypocritical experts of homosexual lifestyle when word gets back to them that the son died of AIDS.

Both authors also have a thing for stretching the boundaries of good taste. Picoult does it in a more subtle fashion than Palahniuk, suggesting that a rape victim partially brought it on herself (The Tenth Circle), encouraging disgust at a romance that borders on incest (The Pact) and describing in vivid detail the extended torture of a bullied teen over several years (Nineteen Minutes). Palahniuk ,being a cult author, is free to be less discreet. In Haunted, he weaves several little tales of masturbation accidents, duping do-gooders into sex and life-size, child-shaped sex dolls. In Rant, he details how a woman got sick of watching her husband and son demolish a meal that took hours of preparation in a few moments and filled their food with tacks, plastic ornaments and other hazards to make them eat more slowly. Diary includes the lovely little snippet of info that a man who was sick of the tourists messing up his island home stuck their toothbrushes up his anus as revenge.

More on this subject later, if anyone's actually reading.