Sunday, March 30, 2008

Between "Asshole" and "Unaware"

When I first moved out here, my mother spent a weekend with me helping me set up and settle in. There wasn't a huge range of stores to choose from for essentials, so we ended up at a local Target for bed linens and bathroom supplies. We pulled out of the parking spot and drove to the end of the row to turn on to the street and head back. In the process, two people tried to skip the stop sign in the other two directions at the intersection and cut us off entirely--or possibly injure us and spike their car insurance rates. I made an under-the-breath comment about the whole me-me-me attitude that has taken the world by storm and the fact that everywhere you go on the road, someone is trying to jump in front of you just to get wherever they're going two minutes sooner.

My mother's reply--"Well, they don't know they're being jerks."

My response--"That is absolutely ridiculous."

OF COURSE we know when we're being assholes. That's why we sheepishly avoid making eye-contact when we sail by someone we think is traveling at a speed that is just a hair too slow for us.

There are times when people do stupid things they don't know are inconsiderate. Take the guy who rushes to get one step in front of you when you're both walking into a local supermarket (that he knows he did). Then, as soon as he makes it past the threshold of the automatic doors....he stops. He stops to look at his shopping list, he stops to browse through a circular he just picked up. He just stops. A minute ago, he was so aware of you he was trying to beat you out. After his mission was accomplished, he has commenced blocking everyone's ability to enter the store after him.

The worst was the other day in the local fabric store. Since the calendar, at least, says that we are leaving the winter season (although evidence of that is hard to find outside), I decided to look through the sale fabric to see if there was anything interesting. I get to the back wall, and there is a larger woman there talking on her electric-pink Motorola Razor cell phone. She gabbed about soccer practice, meeting for lunch, etc. It appeared that we were just looking for the same thing in the rows of bolts. I followed the perimeter of the rows along the wall and around the corner. Two minutes later, I could hear her again....she was literaly tracing my path through the aisles, mindlessly, and still talking. I looked back at her and said "Please don't follow me if you're going to be talking on that phone." She apparently missed this request. And, to make it worse, it became clear to me that she wasn't looking for anything in particular. She was browsing randomly and tracing my path in the store in the process. I decided to look around on the other side of the store. I went into the least-traversed aisle there on purpose, and lo and behold, two minutes later, Guess-Who was there again, gabbing away with a glint of metallic pink at her ear. I gave her a look--a look that made an impression given the taken-aback expression I saw from her in response. I walked right by her, said "Absolutely ridiculous" loud enough to ensure she could hear it, and returned to the side of the store I was originally intersted in. I was not bothered again.

Good News: The neighbors across the hall are moving out due to a techinicality on their lease (a rather big one). The smell in the 2 by 4 foot space between our doors has exponentially improved.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


My Favorite Geico Commercial: The one with the "true Geico customer story" featuring "The Pips" to help tell that story (other guests include Peter Frampton and Joan Rivers).

Yahoo is featuring a story about the top so-and-so-many billionaires with the tagline "NEW face on the list!!!". Get this, Yahoo: I don't care who it is. All I know is that I'm on a decent salary supporting only myself and I still have to think through a practical budget for the necessities.

There is a virus going around that features a scratchy throat and dizziness as symptoms. How do I know? Answer: Personal experience.

"That's Amore" is the newest dating show on MTV. The only good thing about it is that it's sheer ridiculousness has made even the biggest fan of "I Love New York", "Flavor of Love", and "Rock of Love" realize how stupid it is to get a bunch of people on a show with some kind of theme in order to compete for the affection of some at least semi-well-known individual. The truth of the matter is I have no idea where they picked up the guy for "That's Amore". Does anyone know?

I'm not a Hillary Clinton fan, but I have to hand it to her. She really turned it out last night, regardless of the resulting delegate number (which is still smaller than Obama's). The lack of uncertainty may not be a bad thing for the Democratic party, either. McCain may be the confirmed nominee of the Repulican Party at this point, but most eyes, whether conservative or liberal, seem to be glued to the Democratic race to see what happens there. Sorry, McCain. My recommendation: hair dye is a cheap way to get people to notice you.

Ho-hum, I suppose. More at another time.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

Ok, we all saw the book when it appeared in Barnes and Noble and Borders. Some of us may have even purchased it then, before the hype associated with the New York Times Bestseller list.

Then the commercials and the interviews started. You knew the title, perhaps, but not much more. A recent trip to Borders would have confronted you with racks devoted only to this particular novel, swathed in a new cover to promote the release of the new film upon which it is based. In some places, the bookcase would have been strategically placed next to a high-end TV set, running an endless loop of movie promos.

And yes, admittedly, at one point, I thought "read this book, see what you think" in the vain hope that perhaps one author in the present age "has it" and isn't composing trash like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or The Da Vinci Code on a patronizing 4th grade reading level.

Well, high expectations, or any expectations, are only destined to be disappointed.

The Other Boleyn Girl is not much of a novel, for all 600+ pages of it. The point of the genre of historical novels is to give the reader a more intimate view on a character or an event in the past--a view that the reader can't get, no matter how much history he or she has studied, because that third dimension is rarely plainly there in the documents left behind from that time period. The problem is in this case, Phillipa Gregory tells us a story we already know in a way we already know it, and she isn't even entirely accurate on that point, either. Case in point is the ages of the characters being rather off--Mary Boleyn, the main character and the famous Anne's sister, is hyped up here as the younger sister--younger than Anne by a year, when in reality, she was not only older than Anne, but older, more than likely, than the whole bunch of Boleyns from that generation. If her affair with King Henry VIII, timed in this novel at running from about 1522 to about 1526, would have corresponded to Mary Boleyn's mid-twenties, if not later in her life. Phillipa Gregory, either for dramatic effect or because of bad research, chose to make Mary about 14 when the affair began. It seems to me that she may have done this to further her ends to create the "naieve", young, malleable character in the form of Mary, and perhaps to make what turns out to be a very sad attempt to mould Mary in the form of a literary foil to the quick-witted, strong Anne Boleyn we know from history.

The problem is first, this character does not at all jive with what is known about Mary (who appears quite the opposite, and rather proud of that fact), and second, you can't create a "foil" in the literary world when you are telling a story from one character's perspective. The point is that a balance between the two characters' actions and thoughts and feelings, whether revealed or interpreted by the reader, must be established by the author's treatment of both characters equally. As you can tell, with a title like The Other Boleyn Girl, that balance does not exist.

The biggest problem for me is that I didn't care about the characters--not Anne, not Mary, no one. They were all too two-dimensional for me to care about. It was like I was reading a cartoon strip with pictures and minimal dialogue rather than a book. Gregory may have made her book so long because she filled it with empty words that only seemed to describe short, one-sentence volleys she hopes we consider conversations and events--no character development and no descriptions included.

Unrealistic bits in particular:

I know it offends every female on the planet today to "do the right thing" historically and have women accepting the fact that they are subject to the male authority in their world, but this was indeed the 16th century. Many would retort that "of course Gregory discusses this in the novel", and my point is that she does discuss it. Over and over again. Every other discussion. With something so ingrained in the culture of the world she is attempting to paint, there wouldn't be this much discussion about it by the people who are apart of this world, if any discussion at all. We, as modern readers, would just have to get over it.

Anne's fate gets overshadowed at every point that one could consider "obvious" in the text. We know what happens. Once or twice at powerful moments would be a great literary effect. Five to ten times in the first third of the book passes the "overkill" level on the meter.

The court of Henry VIII was a big place which included lots and lots of people. Gregory gives you the idea that Henry only interacted with the Boleyn family members during diversions. Apparently, this complicated Tudor world only encompasses King Henry, a few nameless ambassadors, a bunch of church people, Cardinal Wosley, Queen Catherine, a group of ladies in waiting--apparently reduced to Anne and Mary Boleyn, their extended family, and a nameless group of other people, and their brother, George Boleyn. Oh, and Mary's husband makes the occasional appearance now and again. Of course, this entirely leaves out the whole group of peers of the realm and their retinues, with the exeption of Henry Percy, who courts Anne briefly, and a random group of "Seymores" we never see a sign of in person (oh, and which serves as yet another reminder of Anne's fate). I cannot imagine that all of these individuals would have been so overlooked and left out in the real court of Henry VIII.

Oh, and I doubt the King of England would have been caught publicly nearly kissing any of his mistresses. Sorry, Phillipa, flirtations abounded at that time, but open affection was rather frowned upon and could have single handedly started a war with Spain while Henry was still married to Catherine in hopes of children. That didn't start, for those of you who are interested, until the court of Charles II when it was clear from the beginning that his wife was barren and he was riding the tide of backlash against the strict Puritans.

What did I realize? Phillipa Gregory's work here will shed a lot of light on why certain authors have been historically classified as "great writers". The answer to that question, nine times out of ten, is good character development, which is something entirely missed in The Other Boleyn Girl. Instead of three-dimensional, real people lost to the past, we watch a fabulous, colorful story fall prey to too much foreshadowing, people characterized by one or two attributes rather than human complexity, and the telling of events, both pivotal and ordinary, in the same, matter-of-fact way, whether it be a day with the children, a birth, a marriage, or a death.

And now for something completely different: