Saturday, May 28, 2016

Book 39: Gillian Flynn's book is the same-old/same-old, which is to say it cynically exploits its readers in more ways than one.

The Grownup, I imagine, is the kind of story Gillian Flynn could write in her sleep, so I'm going to mostly talk about things around the book rather than about it.

The book itself is a thriller marketed as a horror story; a sort-of-prostitute who works a scam as a fortune teller gets a client who lives in a creepy house and thinks the house is haunted, so the fortune-teller decides to scam the rich client by promising to cleanse the house, but then starts to believe the house is really haunted.

It's a short book, and I read it in about an hour, which isn't surprising because it's actually a short story, but more on that below.  About halfway through the book, I got kind of annoyed because it hit on literally every single cliche of haunted house stories, right up to the main character googling some stuff and finding out about a murdered family that lived in the house before.

I stuck it out, though, and there's a reason all that stuff is in there, a reason that is only somewhat satisfying. If you've read (or more likely seen) Gone Girl then you know Flynn can write a story that takes all the trappings of a basic genre story and elevates them to a grand guignol, and she does that here, too. It's not bad; it's not great. It seemed like maybe it could've used a bit more development but then, if it had been longer it probably would have dragged enough to make me give up on it. Read it if you get it free and are on a long bus ride or something. I wouldn't spend money for it. There's nothing new in this book -- and that's part of the problem.

Which brings us to: The Other Stuff I want to say about the book. It's another library find; we went to our regular, nearby library today because it's Mr Bunches second favorite place (if you ask him, he'll tell you that his first is Toys R Us.)  While Mr F was getting a drink from the bubbler, I was looking at the new books and saw The Grownup. I picked it up and on the back cover in big print it said YOU LIKE GHOST STORIES? So I checked it out and because it was a new release read it before the book I'd actually reserved in advance for pickup.  So again, wandering around a library ends up being a pretty interesting thing to do. (Especially this week, as I picked up three other books I wouldn't have otherwise, plus I got to read a kids' book with Mr F about why the Golden Gate Bridge is orange.)

Short version: The parts were painted orange, a guy liked it and got other
people to like it, so now it's orange and it needs constant repainting to keep
it orange. Still a pretty good book for a kid; it's a fun way of teaching
history. Dave Eggers really knows his stuff.
On to the other stuff. The Grownup was originally a short story featured in a different book; a couple years back George R R Martin got 21 writers to contribute short stories, and he released an anthology of them called "Rogues." I only learned that because at the end of the book Flynn thanks Martin, saying he asked her to write a story and she did.  In Rogues the story was called What Do You Do? (a play on the main character and how she's always thinking about how she could explain her job to people).

Rogues sells for $14.99 on Amazon (the Kindle version.)  Flynn's hardcover book of this story only goes for $9.99 (marked down to $6.98 right now.)

WHY WOULD PEOPLE PAY $9.99 FOR A STORY THEY COULD GET FOR APPROXIMATELY 66 CENTS? (Rogues has 21 stories for $14, which is about $0.66 per story). And how can publishers justify rooking people like that? Gillian Flynn is worth $12,000,000 and surely doesn't need more money.  And while publishing her books and selling them would, even if Flynn took no money from the sale, still help a bunch of other people keep their jobs and make a living, it seems like a ripoff to take a story you've already sold and just sell it again for $9.99.  (Keep in mind too that Amazon offers "Kindle Singles," which feature brand-name authors selling short stories for a couple of bucks. That makes charging ten bucks for a short story even more outrageous.)(To be fair, I looked it up and the single goes for $2.99 on a Kindle.)

I posed the question, I'll answer it: to cash in, of course.

Rogues was published on June 17, 2014.

Gone Girl was released to theaters October 3, 2014.

The Grownup was published as its own book a year later, most likely when Flynn got the rights back to it. Flynn hasn't had anything published since Gone Girl, and a TV series she was supposed to write with David Fincher (the Gone Girl director) was canceled by HBO.

It's not entirely clear why she hasn't written anything since Gone Girl (published in 2012). Shortly after Gone Girl (the book) was released she signed a contract to publish two more novels (one a YA book). She was also already under contract to write another one for her publisher (Random House) before that extension.

Of the three full-length books she's published, only Gone Girl appears to have been a hit: it sold over 2,000,000 copies, while an article at the time said all her books combined sold 2,600,000. Her other two books were optioned for films around the same time Gone Girl was.  One, Dark Places was released only about 6 months after Gone Girl.  It made $208,000 in the US. Shortly after that is when Sharp Objects (the other book) was changed from a theatrical film to a TV series on HBO. In February of this year, sites began reporting it was coming soon. But IMDB says it will premiere in 2017, and Wikipedia (as noted above) says the entire project was scrapped.

The bloom seems to be off Flynn's rose, or however that saying goes. 2014 and Gone Girl was a long time ago now, and her last book was four years ago. Flynn's marketing savvy showed in a Mail Online story in 2015 peddling a rags-to-riches story of a reporter laid off from a magazine job who, rather than sink into depression, sat down to write a hit book, a story that ignores the fact that she wrote two earlier books while still working at the magazine. In that story she mentioned working on a remake of an obscure 1980s TV show. That interview appeared to be set up specifically to hype The Grownup, and I was unable to find anything anywhere about an actual new book coming out.

So The Grownup is just back catalog; it's basically the same thing as the B-side albums and obscure recordings that get put out by big bands at the height of their popularity, or the older, cheaper, cruddier movies that get re-released when an actor hits it big. It's a pure cash grab by an author whose peak popularity was a half-decade ago. It doesn't seem to be a release designed to get Flynn back in the news to hype a new novel. It's just taking a short story she wrote a few years back and repackaging it to make even more money off of it. It was released in November 2015, actually, and was described as "stocking filler" in one article about it.

Like I said, the story is fine; it's a bit more clever than many of the type, and moves along. But there's no getting around that it was already released as a book and was simply thrust back out on the market to make a bit more money for an author who appears to have little interest in writing anything new.

The Grownup as a product is, like its heroine and the story itself, a cynical, cheap, con-artist ploy to separate the gullible from their money.  If you're at all interested in reading it, I'd say go buy Rogues and at least get 20 other stories, diluting Flynn's profits from this one.

Not that it matters because yes, of course Flynn has sold The Grownup movie rights for 'six figures'. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

American Driveway

There are many rules for the display of the American flag, none of which have the force of law because: free speech.

Recommendations for displaying the flag include never letting it touch anything beneath it, including specifically the ground; and, never displaying it in a way that will let it become damaged or soiled.

I would assume if you love the flag, you know the guidelines for displaying the flag.

I would assume if you love the flag enough to paint it on your driveway, you love it enough to not paint it on your driveway.

Book 38: There's something really neat about just stumbling across a book. Especially when it's a book that you'll want to remember forever.

A while back -- well years ago, fine -- I wrote a post on another blog about how schools were continuing to have people read the same boring books year after year, and how there wasn't really any need to just keep reading those books. I stand by that opinion, still: I've read a fair number of 'classic' books and found some of them boring and hard to understand (Ulysses, Moby-Dick), and others just uninspired and annoying.

The Catcher In The Rye was in that latter category; I read it years ago and to this day can't understand why it's such a big deal. I didn't think it was particularly well-written, and the themes of teenage angst and alienation, as well as the tension between wanting to grow up and not understanding the world of grown-ups, are common themes that appear in many novels. I don't know why Holden Caulfield is still so celebrated, let alone why a mediocre book lands so far up on most people's lists.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night outdoes Catcher in every respect, capturing a glimpse of a world through the eyes of a girl who, because she is nothing like anyone, serves as a stand-in for everyone.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is narrated by and stars Nouschka Tremblay, a twin child of Etienne Tremblay, who we're told was a famous folk singer-ish celebrity in the 60s and 70s in Quebec, where the story takes place. Nouschka and her brother Nicolas are Etienne's only children, born to a 14-year old girl Etienne got pregnant on a tour (an act which landed Etienne in jail for a while but which seems not to have dimmed his popularity.)  The twins were given to Etienne's father to raise by the mother, and they have grown up on what is essentially the Montreal version of Skid Row.

Nouschka describes a life of panhandling, minor thievery, scams, and barely-scraping by from jobs. At the outset of the story Nouschka goes to enroll in night school so she can finish her high school education, and gets talked into joining a beauty pageant that lands her in a parade; she is picked not just because she's beautiful but because she and Nicolas are frequent tabloid fodder for their lifestyles, as is Etienne, who drifts in and out of the picture as a documentary is filmed about him.

From that beginning the story unfolds in a sprawling kaleidoscope of Quebec's secession movement, marriages, crimes, pregnancies, and discoveries.  Nouschka dates a rich Englishman named Adam but breaks up with him when she finds out that Adam's nanny, when he was young, was Nouschka's mother, who she's never met. She only met Adam because Nicolas found out about the connection and befriended him, without telling Nouschka why. When Nouschka breaks up with Adam, she quickly marries Raphael, the boy across the street who himself was going to be a famous figure skater until something happened that made him quit; now he's a possibly-schizophrenic small time criminal who goes from dog-breeding schemes to haphazard drug-dealing for motorcycle gangs.

The real charm of the book isn't just the amazing characters, who are heartbreaking and fascinating at the same time (Nouschka's grandfather, LouLou, is particularly sad in one scene where he has forgotten the twins are now 20 and talks to them as though they're babies), but the way Nouschka sees everything and relates it; the book is full of similes: everything, practically, that Nouschka looks at is compared to something else, usually something unusual. Her running commentary makes the slum where they live, and the lives they lead, seem both terribly sad and somehow magical at the same time -- but magical in a way that you know isn't going to end well.

Unlike Catcher, Saturday Night pulled me along through the story, as Nouschka and Nicolas try to cope with their lives and their growing up, resenting the way their lives pull them away from each other, resenting the advantages other people have had (at one point, Nouschka gets Adam to tell her one of the stories her mother told Adam when she was a nanny; the story was about two children named, of course, Nouschka and Nicolas), and coping with a life where they have been famous since they were babies, leaving people thinking they know the twins while having no idea what they're relly like.

The strangeness of their lives somehow makes the emotions seem universal. The twins' lives have absolutely zero in common with my own, either now or growing up, but I could feel a connection with how I felt, as a middle-class kid in the suburbs heading out on his own, as a young adult and then an older adult trying to forge a way in the world.  The idea that there is some sort of mysterious force that decrees some people will have it easy while others will struggle, the feeling that nobody really knows us, they just think they do because of our public personae, the small victories that matter only to us, and the larger victories that we want the entire world to celebrate: those all resonated with me and made me feel like someone had found a really perfect way of describing how I think and feel lots of the time, while also being an extremely compelling story.

What makes it really kind of interesting to me is the fact that I found this book completely by accident. It was published nearly 2 years ago, and I'd never heard of the author or the book at all. I just stumbled across it this way: When we were at the Verona library a few weeks ago, Mr F wanted to go get a drink of water. We were wandering through the fiction section trying to find a bubbler, and he stopped to look out a window at the rain.  I let him sit there for a bit and idly looked at the books on the shelf opposite me. I saw the spine of the book, and liked the title The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, so I picked it up and read the cover description, then checked it out and read it.

This was the second of the two books I took out that day; the other was The Mark And The Void, and in each case I don't know that I'd ever have otherwise come across the books. That's part of the reason why I like libraries, and why I think it's good that there are still some bookstores around.  There's an unexpected joy in happening onto a book that is outside of your usual genre, but which when you read it opens up whole new vistas of stories.  (Similarly, I found Billy Lynn, Hansel & Gretel, Of Dice And Men, and some others on this list just by wandering around libraries with the boys. I recommend it, if you like to read: libraries are a cost-free guilt-free way of discovering books by taking a chance on something just because it had a neat cover or cool title.)

And I'm glad I found this one. While the world is cramming Holden Caulfield down kids' throats, here is a book that sees Holden's angst and confusion and raises it with ice skaters, lions, political movements, bank robberies, New Year's Eve parties, and jars full of wishes (really! and it makes sense!), jumbling it all together into a jagged, beautiful portrait of a life that nobody would want, but which everybody kind of has anyway.

I loved this book. It's one I might put on my list to read again in a few years; it's the kind of book that you want to let soak in, that you read through half trying to find out what happens and half just to feel the story flowing over you.

It's a keeper.  And the ending, as endings rarely are, is perfect.

PS: When I went to re-post this interview, I saw that the book had only 41 reviews on Amazon, but nearly 400 on Goodreads. I thought hmmm maybe it was better known than I thought but then I checked and Catcher has nearly 40,000 reviews. *sigh*.

I had this moment