Unplugging from the Culture
I haven’t written in the last few days because this is where I was. Went away for a little R & R in Desert Hot Springs where there’s no phone, TV or Internet, just lots of sun, soaking in hot tubs of mineral spring water and catching up on reading. Ahhhh.
Read a couple books, Jane Hamilton’s (A Map of the World, The Book of Ruth) new one, Laura Rider’s Masterpiece, and the first mystery novel by Lis Wiehl (with April Henry) called Face of Betrayal. Masterpiece started out with a funny first sentence: “Just because Laura Rider had no children didn’t mean her husband was a homosexual, but the people of Hartley, Wisconsin believed he was, and no babies seemed to them proof.” But then it lost me.
None of the lead characters are likable. Laura, who was never a big reader until adulthood, wants to write a romance novel and about all the prep she does is watching Pride & Prejudice, the Keira Knightley version, and buying an ergonomic chair. Oh, and she manipulates her husband in an implausible plot to do “research” for her book. Her husband Charlie is infantile, eating corndogs on a stick and tater tots for dinner and Froot Loops for breakfast, slurping the pink milk. He also believes he was once abducted by aliens. The third person in the triangle is Jenna, a local radio personality who can talk to anyone on her show but can’t seem to communicate with her husband and daughter. I might be a little more sympathetic towards her if she wasn’t such a big hypocrite when it comes to adultery.
I don’t think protagonists have to be perfect; the most interesting characters aren’t. But we must care for them in some way and I didn’t want to root for anyone in this story. The story is supposed to be funny but I was too annoyed by the characters to laugh. They were either clueless or self-obsessed or pretentious and deserved whatever they got.
The other book I finished, Face of Betrayal, also revolved around three lead characters who call themselves the Triple Threat Club. It’s very much like James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club. Three women—an FBI agent, a federal prosecutor, a TV news reporter—meet regularly to dine and trade information to solve murders. The plot, about a young Senate page who goes missing, borrows heavily from the Chandra Levy and Mark Foley cases but adds a twist when it comes to the killer’s identity.
You can argue whether writing a ripped-from-the-headlines story is less creative or more relevant but the end result here is very readable. It may not break new ground in the genre but Wiehl really knows her territories and kept me flipping those pages. She’s a former federal prosecutor who now works as a legal analyst and commentator for Fox News and on The O’Reilly Factor with Bill O’Reilly. Her father was an FBI agent so Wiehl accomplishes the neat trick of writing with authority about each of the three women’s line of work and making them three distinct personalities. (I used to be a TV reporter and her newsroom details really took me back there.) This is the first in a promised series and the book ends with a gripping excerpt of two chapters from the next installment.
Nerd Verdicts: Jane Hamilton’s latest is not a Masterpiece but Lis Wiehl’s Face is compelling