Friday, January 18, 2008

miniature book reviews

I'm a maw constantly consuming and craving books. Let me continue to winnow the wheat from the chaff for you:

"Shopgirl" by Steve Martin: this bestseller was reviewed as being Jane Austenesque. Let's see: Ms. Austen wrote long, witty books populated by believable characters and featuring a plot. Mr. Martin has given us a novella packaged as a novel, really lacking a plot worthy of a book. It should have been hacked down to a short story and published in a magazine. Finally, the characters were not believable enough, other than the immature 50+ year old who is obviously Mr. Martin himself. Would a highly educated young woman, the holder of a graduate degree, really take large sums of money with no agonizing from a man old enough to be her father who makes it clear he is only casually sleeping with her? My female friends would need to discuss the power dynamics and the worrisome traditional fifties-esque roles inherent in that scenario ad nauseam before accepting or rejecting the payments. Even less believably, can a half-witted slacker boy unable to maintain an erection or take a woman on a date suddenly become well-dressed, thoughtful, generous, and decent in bed after only listening in on some self-help tapes? The self-help industry wishes its products were that powerful.

"When We Were Bad", just out, by Charlotte Mendelson. This is a witty and engaging novel about a famous British feminist rabbi whose eldest son runs away on his wedding day... just weeks before the rabbi's next book about family values is due to be published. Unlike in Mr. Martin's work, Ms. Mendelson's characters are eccentric, interesting, and extremely believable. Their crises, arguments, beliefs, ambitions and conflicting loyalties all ring true. I loved this book and will look for Ms. Mendelson's prior works.

"Terminal" by Andrew Vachss, another recent publication. I hope to hell this is the last Andrew Vachss novel I ever read. I am so over him and his annoying Burke character. He lost me earlier in this series with his extraordinarily annoying distinction between "brats" and "bitches." Vachss and his alter ego, Burke, are proud of hating bitches but loving brats. What is the difference? A bitch is a woman with pride and intellect, who doesn't mind pissing off a man. A brat is a woman who loves to piss off a man in the hopes that he'll pull her panties down and turn her over his knee, spanking her into submission. Me, I'm a bitch who feels nauseated when reading this crap. Thankfully "Terminal" spared me more of Vachss' bitch/brat analyses, but basically it was a rather dull outing in Vachss land, with endless repetitions of tough guy prose and posturing.


Anonymous said...

And Jane Austin books were full of political jabs at the lack of women's economic security. I don't think Steve Martin's book had anything important to say in any regard. :)

hughman said...

is it shopgirl or shopgirls? either way, i'll wait for the movie from netflix.

Anonymous said...

The female character in Shopgirl had a collge degree, but not an advanced one.

hughman said...

not that we're picky or anything...

the Drunken Housewife said...

Au contraire, my darlings, the Drunken Housewife is RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT. "Her drawing hand is sure, trained in the years she spent acquiring a master of fine arts degree at a California college while incurring thirty-nine thousand dollars of debt from student loans." "Shopgirl", p. 5.

hughman said...

well the degree thing i have no idea about since i've never read the book, but it IS "Shopgirl" not :"Shopgirls".

i'm writing a mark on my 'list".

FENICLE said...

Thanks for the reviews. I could use some good reading material right now.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that was a typo, dear Hughman. I fixed it.

Anonymous said...

Your remarks on "Terminal" don't make much sense.

The character Burke made the comments about brats and bitches; what makes you assume that the author *Vachss* is "proud of hating bitches"? Fiction, hello?

The comments by Burke come from "Blue Belle," which came out in 1988. You're just so "nauseated" that you're *still* reading these "annoying" books two decades later? Why "hope to hell this is the last Vachss novel you ever read" ... is some meanie *making* you read them?

the Drunken Housewife said...

Dear Charlene, I started reading Andrew Vachss last year. Here's a fascinating concept: just because something was published in 1988 doesn't mean it ceased to exist. It may still linger on in library form.

I read an article mentioning that Vachss had managed to become a highly financially successful author of dark crime fiction because his books appeal to women, with the leitmotif of fighting child abuse. It seems clear to me that the hero, Burke, is an alter ego of the author, Andrew Vachss. I would not contend that Burke has a mute Asian ninja best friend, but when he goes on and on -- IN MORE THAN ONE BOOK -- about bitches vs. brats and how much he likes brats and hates bitches, it seems a very strong argument may be made that the author shares that sentiment.

Having basically blown through much of the Vachss oeuvre in less than a year, I'm ready to call it quits. "Terminal" feels like an overstylized version of the first Burke book.

I wonder if Vachss himself ever feels done with the Burke series.

Anonymous said...

An acquaintance of mine, close friend of the real-life shopgirl, tells me that much of Martin's book is factual: essentially he did that, then wrote a book about it.

Anonymous said...

"I would not contend that Burke has a mute Asian ninja best friend,"

I think you just proved my point. Burke *does* have a mute friend. Vachss doesn't.

"but when he goes on and on -- IN MORE THAN ONE BOOK -- about bitches vs. brats and how much he likes brats and hates bitches, "

Which ones are those? Since you read "most" of Vachss' 20 books in the past year, I'm sure you can point to another *one* where Burke makes the same remark.

it seems a very strong argument may be made that the author shares that sentiment."

Do you also think Vachss is a murderer and career criminal? The man is a lawyer who works exclusively for abused children who funds his practice completely from the money he makes from his books.

The Burke character is consistent over time in many ways; he likes drag-racing cars, killing enemies, and selling guns. But you haven't focused on those fictional "sentiments" and attributed *them* to Vachss, because doing would immediately make you seem like a nut.

I do agree with you on one point: I likewise hope to hell it's the last Vachss book you ever read. When you signed up on the library waiting list for Terminal, you probably kept someone who enjoys Vachss' work waiting for you to return it (once you got over being nauseous long enough to read it.)

But really, it isn't about Vachss *or* Burke; it is about you.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Incidentally Charlene there was no waiting list for "Terminal." It was just sitting there on the shelf, so don't shed a tear for some fictitious Vachss fan who was somehow traumatized by any delays in getting her hands on these books.

I started reading Vachss because I heard he had so many rabid female fans and I like the occasional dark crime book. Burke is no Parker, though (have you read Stark?). I liked the earlier books, found the later ones feeling more repetitions, and finally I felt with "Terminal" that it was played out. It felt stale. Formulaic. Hence I'm through reading the Burke books.

Instead of just foaming at the mouth and spewing hate at me (and I should remind you that just as I am free to cease reading Vachss, you are free to cease reading this blog), why don't you talk about what is great about Vachss? Make your case.