The Hater’s Guide to Twilight: A Book Review

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When I first heard the premise for Stephanie Meyer’s book, Twilight, I knew immediately that it wasn’t for me.  Not too surprising since I’m not a teenage girl.  In passing, I’d hear annoying things about the books—vampires that sparkle when exposed to sunlight instead of bursting into flames, Edward the vampire is actually over one hundred years old and that makes his relationship with the seventeen year old protagonist technically pedophilia, the writing is absolutely terrible, and so on—but I left it alone for the most part.

However, one of my FaceBook friends posted a link to a blog stating that the Twilight series encourages young girls to be totally dependent on men. One of my eyebrows rose.  I don’t condone dependency in any fashion for anyone.  I asked one of my seventeen year old sisters who had read the series and wanted to know what she thought about that idea.  I didn’t get answers that satisfied me and my eyebrow rose further.  I wanted to come back with specifics, but I hadn’t read the book.

This left me with no choices.

I had to read it.

All five hundred, god-awful pages of it.

This is my extremely biased review and your guide to hating all things Twilight.

Note

Before I start, please do me the favor of not pulling the “genitalia card.”  I think we all know that I’m not female and that this book was not written with me in mind.  I won’t suggest that this book is bad because I don’t care for the subject matter, so long as you don’t suggest that I don’t understand it because I’m just a dumb ole icky boy and that I have cooties.  Deal?  Deal.

A Biased Summary

Bella (the protagonist and narrator) moves from Phoenix to nowheresville to live with dad while mom and new boyfriend travel about pursuing new boyfriend’s minor league baseball career.  Bella hates it, feels alone and dislikes being the new high school it-girl.  She is pursued romantically by three male students for reasons that are not fully explained, but she shuns them all.  Why they should pursue her at all is a mystery since she doesn’t seem to be good at anything, totally lacking anything close to charm, not particularly attractive and seems to have no positive qualities whatsoever (aside from, interestingly enough, her abilities in the kitchen).

Bella meets Edward Cullen, an antisocial Adonis who is simply and almost exclusively described as “perfect” and they get along poorly.  Bella is nearly killed in a parking lot mishap but is saved by Edward who seems to appear out of nowhere.  Bella is suspicious of how he did it and also suspicious of the hand-sized imprints in the hood of the van that would have killed her.  He refuses to answer her questions and things remain chilly between them.  Bella goes on a beach trip and meets local boy Jacob who clues her in to local tribal folklore about vampires and specifically about the Cullen family.

Edward saves her again, this time from possible rape in a nearby town she is visiting with friends (again, why Bella?).  Edward swoops in to save her so promptly because he has been following her (or stalking her, whichever you prefer).  From here, not surprisingly, their relationship quickly takes off.  Soon enough, he confirms what Jacob told her about his being a vampire, but the good kind that feed on animals instead of humans.  After this point, lots of mushy pillow talk ensues and they are, of course, in love.  Edward admits to watching her as she sleeps, a point that Bella doesn’t mind, supposedly leaving the reader to be creeped out for her.  Edward states that his initial interest spawned from how “irresistible” she smells and from the fact that he can’t read her mind (oh yeah, Edward can read minds).  In other words, he likes her because he finds her smelly and can’t tell what, if anything, she’s thinking.

Bella meets the whole happy Cullen vampire family and they all go play a game of baseball (sounds bizarre, doesn’t it?).  A traveling band of “bad” vampires (you know, the ones that feed on humans) comes upon them and they talk for a bit and wonder why they brought along a “snack,” a reference to Bella.  They get Bella away from them safely but, due to Edward’s telepathy, he knows that the head vamp is a “hunter” and that he is following Bella as they speed away.  A plan is concocted by Bella to elude the hunter, a plan that’s described as “brilliant” in the book but has all the slyness of a seven year old’s battle plan to assault a set of playground equipment that he is currently imagining as an enemy castle.

Her plan leads her and her good vampire entourage back to Phoenix and the hunter followers her there.  The hunter calls her to say that he’s holding her mother hostage and to come alone if she doesn’t want him to yadda yadda yadda.  In an unbelievable show of ineptitude on her part, she opts to run from her vampire protectors and let the hunter kill her to save Edward from harm…despite, you know, the fact that he’s immortal and nearly impossible to kill.

She confronts the hunter to find that the vamp used a home video of her mother saying “Bella! Bella!” to sell the ruse (this is the only remotely clever plot point in the whole damn book).  The vamp gives a prolonged and tiresome speech that would make a Bond villain cringe before he decides to chow down.  And, just when everything is darkest, she’s saved by Edward.  Yet again.  She sustained some serious injuries but will pull through just in time for the second book in the series, much to this blogger’s disappointment.

The Good

The truly surprising thing about this book was that there were actually some parts that I found somewhat entertaining.  Eddie and Bella’s initial awkward banter rang true to me as did some of Bella’s friends.  There were some fine descriptive paragraphs, namely the setup for the beach scene where Jacob is introduced and some of her walks in the forest.  I should note that when I say “fine,” I mean it the same way that restaurant survey cards mean it: Bad—Poor—Fine—Good—Great.  But we’re talking about, what, twenty pages tops that wasn’t filled with garbage?  Now to move on to the rest of it.

Pass the Thesaurus, Please

The language is awkward and inconsistent.  The prose (if you can even call it that) will roll along in a simple, “see dick run” kind of way for a while, until there’s a smattering of larger, “ten dollar” words.  It’s bizarre.  The vocabulary will barely rise above the multisyllabic and then you’re assaulted by the type of words that you’d see in the SAT’s.  Now that’s an interesting thought, isn’t it?  Wouldn’t that be a clever, if not shameless, marketing ploy?  Here’s a book aimed at teenage girls that is not only a romance but is also filled with the kind of words that they’ll see come test time.  “It’s a win-win situation, ladies!  Romance and higher test scores all in one shebang!  Get em while they’re hot!”  I seriously doubt this is what’s going on—a writer would have to have a criminal lack of scruples to engineer a book around this ploy—but it’s just about the only way that I can explain what’s going on.  In any case, I have no doubt that the Thesaurus was wide open on the second draft.

If you want a good idea of what it’s like reading this book, imagine someone with a deeply southern American accent trying to pull off a posh English accent and failing miserably.

“Fancy a spot’a tea, y’all?”

Yeah, that’s what reading this book is like.

Boring Characters

The problem that towers over all other problems that I have with this book is that at no point did I care—not even a bit—about Bella.  Let me say that in a different way, if the protagonist/narrator had been hit by a bus, I would have been happy with this book being a cautionary tale about looking both ways before crossing the street.   Bella is melancholy, depressed and not endearing in the slightest.  She might be intelligent but it’s hard to tell since that never comes up, aside from her asinine plan to elude the hunter.  She is bland and priggish and intolerably boring.  There is no way that a girl with so little going for her would have three boys and a super-hot vampire chasing after her.  Her only redeeming quality is that she cooks.  I’ll say it again.  The only thing that this boring-as-bathwater female protagonist has going for her is her culinary skills.  I found this to be outrageous.

If Bella were real, she’d be the most useless human being on the planet.  There are a grand total of two times that Bella does something completely on her own.  The first time is when she’s trying to get information from Jacob about the Cullens.  She does so by flirting with him, leading him on and making him think that she likes him more than she actually does.  The second time is when she is trying to get away from her father while eluding the hunter.  She shakes her father off by intentionally dredging up painful memories about his ex-wife that is nothing short of cruel and manipulative.  Bravo, Bella.  You are one classy lady.  *slow sarcastic clap*

Edward is a fairly flat character as well mainly because of the way he’s described.  If Meyer described him as any other way than simply “perfect” or “an Adonis” or “beautiful” it might be different.  One could argue that when you’re in love, as the narrator is, then the only thing that comes to your mind are vague thoughts like this.  But that only really works in real life.  It doesn’t work in books, or at least it shouldn’t.  I don’t know how you can make a vampire boring, but Stephanie Meyer has pulled it off in spades.

The Twilight Zone

So here’s the situation: one male vampire that could very easily make a living as an underwear model and has had over a century to develop his own unique personality falls in love with a girl that has all the flavor of filtered water.  The question that should spring to mind is: why?  There were times while reading that looking for the answer to this question was the only thing that kept me going.  Bella actually asks this question a few times, as if she’s somehow dimly aware of the fact that her personality is as featureless as a sheet of drywall.  The answer basically came down to the same each time: because Bella is Bella.

I found the title of the book to be particularly apt.  Why Edward would even be remotely interested in Bella is so strange, that I can see Rod Serling writing a teleplay about it for “The Twilight Zone.”

Submitted for your approval: one vampire Adonis smitten by an ordinary girl.   Or perhaps ordinary is too kind.  Her name is Bella.  She is a girl who’s very being rings with mundanity and resounds in boring tones of the bland and uninteresting.  Why this creature of the night should be so taken with her is a mystery that not even he can sink his teeth into.  All he knows is that he has a thirst, not for blood, but for Bella.  A thirst that can only be quenched here…in the Twilight Zone.

A couple of times when he answered her, I wanted Edward to say it.  Just say it, Eddie.

Say: “I love you, Bella my dear, because you are the main character.  You see, this book is targeted at young women who will imagine themselves as you for a while and the less personality we give you, the easier it is for them to fill in the very obvious gap that you now occupy in the story.  I suppose we could make you more like a real person, giving you at least rudimentary personality traits, but that would be missing the point.  I am here, obviously, to fill the role of the perfect man…or vampire, as it were.  And you, my beloved, are here as these young women’s placeholder.  You are here to take up a space just large enough for them to fit into.  You are here to be a vacuum and, baby, when it comes to vacuity, you take the cake.  That is why I love you.  Now, will you please not ask me for another fifty pages or so?  It’s getting harder for me to just shrug off.”

The story, perhaps a bit like a young lover, climaxes earlier than it should.  The story basically ends a hundred or so pages before the back cover when Bella and Edward find they truly love each other.  It’s as if Meyer typed “THE END” at page 400, then realized that the story as it stood sucked (vampire pun).  The sudden appearance of the hunter seems tacked on and obligatory and serves to show that, yet again, Bella is helpless and doomed without her man to save her.

What The Hell Is This?

When evaluating any piece of writing, you should compare what it is, to what it is trying to do; its execution to its intent.   It wouldn’t make much sense to complain about a forklift’s inability to get to 110 on the freeway, just like it wouldn’t make much sense to criticize a Lamborghini for its inability to effectively move and lift pallets.  So, this leaves me with trying to figure what this book is and it isn’t.

Is it good story?  No.  There are far too many plot holes and far too much sloppy storytelling for it to even be within throwing distance of good.

Is it well written?  Absolutely not.  Meyer relies too heavily on adverbs in her dialog attribution.  By that I mean, she writes:

“I don’t believe you,” she said incredulously.

&

“Please tell me,” I crooned.

Rarely does she let her characters simply “say” something, which is an indication that her character’s intent was not made clear in the prose.  This isn’t a failing fault, Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” is riddled with this and that’s a fine novel.  What’s so damning about this piece is Meyer’s awkward analogies and downright stupid sentences.  For example:

She ends a paragraph that describes how afraid she was to confront Edward about his standoffishness with the following:  “I made the Cowardly Lion look like the terminator.”  I laughed for quite a long time after reading this.

Later on during one of Bella’s many, many bouts of crying (she often cries and most of the time for no apparent reason): “I quickly rubbed my hand across my cheek, and sure enough, traitor tears were there, betraying me.

Traitor tears betraying you?  That’s like saying, “I ate the nourishing food which fueled my body, gave me sustenance and provided the adequate material necessary for metabolic processes to take place within me that would keep me healthy.”

In fact, the writing is so bad that this would almost be genius if it were written tongue-in-cheek.  It’s so bad that it could be sold to aspiring writers as case example of consistently horrible writing.  In “On Writing” by Stephen King, he says that reading a bad novel can act a vaccine against bad writing, preventing you from making similar mistakes yourself.  Well, Twilight is pretty bad and like the aftermath of most vaccines, I’m left feeling a little ill.

So if it’s not a good story and it’s not well written, what is it?  It is a sexual fantasy for young women.  More than that, it’s pornography without the sex aimed at teenage girls.  That’s not a definition of a Romance novel, that’s what this abortion of a novel is and it’s a shame that so many young women are drawn to something so poorly executed.  Here’s what Stephen King had to say about this in an interview:

“…A lot of the physical side of [Twilight] is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet.”

Think for a minute what a male version of Twilight would be—a sexually charged fantasy for teenage boys.  Say, for instance, I wrote about a book about—oh, I don’t know—a superhuman woman that falls in love with a boy that has no personality and she happens to have massive breasts.  I mean bigger than your head.  Instead of drawing powers from the sun like Superman, she draws her power from the male protagonist’s fondling of her jugs.

“Gary…quickly…I’m losing strength…you must…motorboat me…”

“If I must…brrrmrbmbrbrm!

Crude?  Sure, but essentially no different in its goals than Twilight.  If this idea comes across as offensive or base, good.  It should.  This is what Meyer intended this book to be—a base fantasy with almost no artistic merit—and in this respect, she has hit the mark dead center.

Twilight’s Proper Place

When you think about it, it’s not too surprising that people like me are so hostile towards the Twilight fad.  My first experience with teenage vampires was “The Lost Boys.”  At the time I thought it was just about the coolest movie ever (after Star Wars, of course).  Now that I’m older I can see how corny it is, but come on, it’s still pretty badass.  Long before Keifer Southerland was Jack Bauer, he was David the motorcycle riding, surf Nazi killing, all around juvenile delinquent vampire.  That’s what teenage vampires were when I was growing up.  Where are teenage vampires these days?  On posters hanging next to boy bands and looking over Barbie dolls or whatever else little girls play with.

Of course we’re pissed!  Meyer turned vampires into sissies!

But I digress…

I wouldn’t normally criticize a book this harshly, but when a book this poorly executed sells this many copies, I have to.  In fact, when a book is this popular and simultaneously this bad, the author almost deserves ridicule.  Would I want to be criticized this unmercifully if I squeezed out something as putrid as Twilight?  Oh yes.  If I ever drop a deuce on the page that’s as commercially successful as this, I want to know how bad it smells.  This is because I actually care about becoming a better writer.  From the interviews I’ve read, Meyer seems pretty pleased with herself and I can’t imagine why.  Then again, there have been times that I’ve looked down into the toilet bowl and felt a spark of pride, thinking, “I made that. Good for me.”  But then I flush.

Conclusion

Kurt Vonagut said that to hate a book is “preposterous” and one that does so is like one…”who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.”  I agree, as I do with just about everything else the man said, so it goes.  This book should not be hated.  It doesn’t make sense to hate a book.  It deserves to be kept in the bathroom for purposes other than reading (think about it) but it shouldn’t be hated.   Neither should the fans be hated.  They’re just, well, confused.  One day, if they’re interested enough, these young women will read “Pride and Prejudice” or “Wuthering Heights,” find out what a well written Romance novel should be and toss the Twilight series in the recycle bin.  For the time being though, they’re stuck thinking this horrifically told and woefully constructed abomination of a novel is actually good.  I weep for them.

When you see a Twilight fan fiercely defending the series, you have to recognize what they’re actually defending.  They’re not defending the literary merits of these books.  They’re defending their fantasy.  I have no problem with that.  Have your fantasies, I’ll certainly have mine (brrrmrbmbrbrm!), but be honest with yourself.  Call a spade a spade.  Your fantasies may not suck, but Twilight certainly does.

So what are we, those strongly against the Twilight fad, to do?  The same thing we’ve done in the past.  Someday, Twilight will go the way of “The New Kids on the Block.”  Someday, perhaps, it might even be ironic to wear a Twilight t-shirt or to read the book in public.  Someday, you might say to a friend, “Remember Twilight?” and they’ll say, “Yeah!  God, that was awful, wasn’t it?  It’s almost as bad as (insert future brainless fad).”  But until then, we can only hope.

And flame like crazy on forums.

And ridicule people wearing Twilight merchandise.

And post pictures of Edward photoshopped into gay porn.

And hope.

Day One

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Howdy, yall!

Writer’s block is an ugly thing and I’ve been as blocked as a cheese lover at an Imodium A-D convention.  Luckily, I found that writing about things that have actually happened to me was a good way to get the juices flowing again, as it were.  After enough clickety-clacking on my laptop, I found that I had a good 5k or so of not too shabby creative non-fiction.

And so, I started a new blog that’s all about my enlistment in the Army.  I’ve called it Chow Sling so check it out if you’re interested.  I have to warn you that I don’t shy away from the occasional dirty word or risque phrase, so read with caution.

Anyway, here it is, my #fridayflash of the week, “Day One.”

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DAY: ONE

Steve had a brief but vivid memory of the dog he had as a child.  He couldn’t remember the mutt’s name but that didn’t matter.  What mattered was the clear memory of the poor dog pawing the sliding glass door of the back porch, tongue wagging obscenely and looking in longingly.  He had let the dog in but not before thinking about how horrible it would be to be locked outside in the sweltering summer heat.  Steve wasn’t pawing at a door to be let inside, but he was leaning over his bike panting and red-faced.  He thought the dog got off light.

Steve was out of shape, soggy in the middle and as soft feather mattress.  That didn’t matter though, not really.  He didn’t care so much about being fit; he cared about feeling good.  That made all the difference in the world.  There were people in the world that might actually enjoy being fat, but he was not one of them.  He didn’t like constantly pulling his t-shirt away from his midsection to obscure the shape of his flab.  He didn’t like buying pants knowing that there was only so far he could bend over in them without the possibility of ripping.  He didn’t like feeling unattractive even to himself.

He decided it was time for change.  This was what all the panting was about.

“God,” he said to himself in between labored breaths, “Why today?  Why today?  Why did I pick—today? It’s really—really—really fucking hot—today.  Why Steve?  Why?”

This vague buzzing of red thoughts swarmed in his mind for a moment until he became acutely aware of a cluster of sweat forming between his eyebrows.  He let the sweat accumulate without disturbing it, tiny drops rolling down the curvature of his forehead as he continued panting.  Gravity overcame what little friction his slick forehead provided and the sweat finally rolled down the bridge of his nose and seemed to fire itself toward the ground like a skier launching from an Olympic jump.  He wiped his face.  The sweat wasn’t gone for long.

He knew why he had set out today despite what the weather people said about the probable heat.  He knew that if he went out today on his bike and the next day and the day after that, he would have no excuse when fall approached.  If he could tough it out in the worst days of the year, he knew he could do it any other day.  He wasn’t sure if keeled over his bike and panting technically counted as “toughing it out,” but at least he was out here.  That had to count for something.

Cars drove past him at just the right frequency to be surprising.  Two or three would roll past on the baking blacktop at a time and then there would be nothing for a minute or two.  Then would come another group.  Then a single car.  The cars were just random enough, in other words, to be annoying and distracting.  He knew deep down in that place where a twelve year old version of himself still existed that it was only a matter of time before people would start shouting at him again.  The younger version of Steve, who remembered all the taunts and jeers from the more popular and slimmer classmates, knew that at any moment someone would drive by and start up the familiar insults.  The adult Steve had more faith in humanity than this, but it was still there, just below the surface of his mind.

“This is too much,” he thought.  “Yes, you need to get in shape and yes, you need to start it up soon.  You need to get out and get it started, but not today.  What is it?  95?  100 degrees?  Save it for a another day man.  You don’t have to do it all at once.  Take it one day at a—”

“Back on your bike, fatass!”

Steve looked up just in time to see a Mustang convertible drive by with two kids in the front and two in the back seat.  He could hear their outburst of laughing just over the sound of the engine and loud stereo.  One in the backseat turned back to him and yelled something else, but it was drowned out over the Mustang’s eight cylinders.

He stood upright and watched the car drive down the road, taking the soft curve of the street with speed.  His breathing had slowed even if the heartbeat in his head still pounded like the bass speaker in the ever retreating convertible.

That was it.  That was the thing he had been waiting for.  Those were almost exactly the words that the twelve year old Steve told him someone would say eventually.  This was too much.  The best idea would be to walk home.  Why fight it?

“But he’s right,” Steve heard himself say.  “He’s…right.”

Steve brought his teeth together firmly for a moment.  He exhaled like a great steam engine.  He threw one of his legs over the seat of the bike and sat on its uncomfortable narrowness.  He brought the left pedal around in the opposite direction with his foot, bringing it to the position where he got the most leverage.  He exhaled again.

“Back to it, fatass.  Let’s see how far you can go without stopping this time.”

He started pedaling.

Ten months later, feeling better than he ever felt in his whole life, he thought again about those assholes that rolled past him in the Mustang.  He wished he knew where they lived.  He wanted to thank them.

The Problem With Alex

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Hey guys.

I got sick of the depressing, kind of somber stories I had been writing and switched to some lighter stuff.  I hope it makes you laugh.  I very nearly called this one, “A Long Way To a Bad Pun,” which is basically what it is.

Also, I redecorated the place a little.  I think it’s an improvement.

Here it is, (two days late due to flaky internet connections) my #FridayFlash of the week, “The Problem With Alex.”

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THE PROBLEM WITH ALEX

Mr. Johnson was leaning over his desk going through papers and reading various important memoranda when he heard a knock at his office door.  He called for the person to enter as he peered over an order for sixteen tons of raw granite and wondering why his department would need so much stone.  He jotted a note next to the request asking about the shipment and looked up at the man sitting opposite him.  The man’s name was Kingsley, head of the new dragon wrangling project and he looked wide eyed and disheveled.

Mr. Johnson looked up at him and said, “Yes?” in a slow, rising, inquisitive tone.

“We’ve got a problem with Alex,” Kingsley said.  He was wearing a chambray work shirt that was unbuttoned at the neck and singed around the collar.  Black soot covered the man’s bald face and head and he had an odd, exaggerated look of surprise to him.  It took Johnson a moment to attribute the constant look of surprise to the fact that Kingsley was no longer in possession of his eyebrows.

“What’s the, uhh…” Mr. Johnson leaned back in his chair, clicking his pen in one hand, “What seems to be the problem?”

Kingsley threw up his hands and let them hit the armrests of the chair.  “All the bastard wants to do is read!”

Johnson looked about the room for a moment.  “Well, why’s that such a—”

“First of all,” Kingsley said, “he’s allergic to paper and anything else made from wood.  Yeah, the boys in the labs can make him red and scaly and fire-breathing and all the other stuff that makes dragons dragons, but they can’t seem to work out that little kink.  So, he gets to maybe page five into one of those big, oversized  books we bought for him and then starts sneezing like crazy.  Poof!  There goes the book!  Ever seen a dragon sneeze?  It ain’t pretty.”  Kingsley furrowed his brow, looked upwards and brought a hand up to his forehead.  He let out a small yelp of dismay, apparently noticing his lack of eyebrows for the first time.  “And it ain’t safe, neither!”

Johnson frowned.  “Well, isn’t there some other—”

“Oh we tried that,” Kingsley said.  “We thought plastic pages might do the trick, but—well, have you ever been inside his lair?  It’s bloody hot in there and dragons breathe fire, you know.  We tried Teflon pages and that was no good.  Then we just started carving books into stone tablets.  Oh, sure, that worked for a little bit, but all that chiseling takes time and he burns through a book like a…” Kingsley realized what he had just said and decided to leave it at that.

“Then we thought audiobooks might do the trick,” Kingsley said, anticipating Johnson’s reply.  “We thought that maybe we’d come across something that worked finally.  But as soon as it gets to dialog, he loses it.  He kept saying that the reader wasn’t doing it right or that they didn’t put the right inflection in the right spot or that they didn’t “capture the voice of the character” properly.”  Kingsley had put up his fingers at this and made quotation marks in the air, clearly disgusted.  “And don’t get me wrong, we had proper actors—thespians, for the love of God—reading these books but we just can’t seem to please him.”

Kingsley paused and started up again.  “And have you ever seen a dragon angry?  They’re vengeful buggers.  After being irritated by a reading of “The Old Man and the Sea,” he broke free of his restraints and found the actor that read it.  Then he ate him!  I’ve got a theater troupe missing their Hamlet all because he didn’t, “adequately portray Santiago’s simultaneous hope and despair” as the big, fire-breathing asshole put it.  We can make the stone books, but they take time and he demands new reading material and I think he’s about fed up with me–with all of us!  I’m out of ideas here.”

Once Kingsley was finally quiet, Mr. Johnson started thinking.  Kingsley pooched out his lip as he stared longingly at Johnson’s inadvertent eyebrow movements as he thought.  Kingsley sighed.

Finally, he said, “What about film?”

“Movies?”

“Yes.  I mean, he seems like a bit of a snob but maybe he’d be satisfied with some of the classics.  You know, “Citizen Kane,” “The Godfather.”  That sort of stuff.”

“Alex won’t like it.  He said the other day that film is dead…but I don’t think that he’s seen “Citizen Kane.”  He might like it.  Then again, he might kill us all.”

Mr. Johnson nodded and frowned slightly.  He must have caught on to all the eyebrow movement and tried to keep it to a minimum.  He didn’t want to look like a show-off.  “It’s a chance we’ll have to take.  Just explain to him that it takes a while to chisel an entire book into stone and offer the movies as something to tide him over in the mean time.”

“Alright,” Kingsley said and blew a breath through parsed lips.  “I just wish these dragons didn’t have such a need to know everything…pretentious bastards…”

Kingsley was getting up to leave when Mr. Johnson started sniggering.  It was a single laugh at first then more followed.  “What is it?” Kingsley said.

Johnson smiled.  “A dragon that wants to read all the time?”

Kingsley cocked his head and raised a non-existent eyebrow.  “Yes.  What about it?”

Johnson’s smile grew.  “Well, I guess you could call him a…book-wyrm?”

Kingsley looked at him for a moment, not understanding what he was saying.  As comprehension dawned on his sooty, hairless face, he made an expression like he had just walked into a particularly pungent fart.

“Oh God!  What a terrible pun!”  At this Kingsley left the office.

Mr. Johnson looked down at his papers again and put a line through the note asking about the shipment of stone.  Next to it, he wrote: “Never mind.”

Coming Soon

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Hi guys!

Sigh…another pic from a Google image search.  I’ve got to stop doing that.

Anyway, Joe’s back this week and he’s in a bad way.  If you’ve been paying attention (and trust me, I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t been), the Brad and Joe stories have been a little more serious than they once were.  Don’t worry though.  They’ll be back to idiocy in no time, I bet.

Here’s this week’s #FridayFlash, “Coming Soon.”

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COMING SOON

Tommy was looking over his bar one last time, making sure that he hadn’t forgotten anything.  The stools were up on the tables, the floor was swept clean and the “OPEN” neon light had been off for a few hours.  He sighed resolutely and locked up.  He made his way for his car in the now empty parking lot that seemed to drown in the orange sodium light being poured into it.  He fiddled with his keys until he found the right one, opened the car door and started her up.  For no particular reason, he thought of one of his regulars.  “He was in a bad way tonight,” he said to himself.  He shook his head and made his way to the IHOP.

He had forgotten about the guy and would have completely if it weren’t for one of the articles he read in the newspaper over his breakfast.  He had finished his usual meal of pancakes, sausage and hash browns and was scanning the headlines of the local rag as he blew on the steaming cup of coffee he held to his lips.  Near the last page of the “Politics” section, he read, “CITY REP SAYS BUDGET REFORM COMING SOON.”  That made him think of Joe.

There were people you had to worry about in bars and then there was Joe.  At a glance—an unprofessional glance, a glance that hadn’t be honed to a keen edge from decades of running a bar—Joe might seem like one you might have to worry about.  Joe was loud maybe, but it was a good kind of loud.  A happy kind of loud.  A kind of loud that seemed to say, “Well gosh, isn’t this swell!” and not one that said, “In a few more beers time, you’re going to have to do something about me, Tommy, because I’m about to teeter over the edge and no telling who I’ll take with me when I go.”  Joe was a good guy, even if his volume knob and every other knob for that matter had been cranked up to eleven and broken off there.  But tonight, he was just another lonely, sullen drunk bellied up to the bar and nursing his drink.

Tommy was not the kind of bartender to take pity on someone’s plight, usually leaving that to the other girls behind the bar fishing for good tips.  But there was something wrong with Joe.  It wasn’t that there was something bothering him or he had plenty on his mind.  Joe seemed wrong like a four-cornered triangle or a cannibal vegan.

“You alright, Joe?”  Regardless of what he said next, Tommy would have left it at that.  But the way Joe looked up at him, the way his eyes seemed to be somewhere else entirely when he said, “Yeah, I’m fine,” made Tommy keep at him.

Joe looked up and when he saw that Tommy was still there, he realized that he had to say something else.  He brought in a breath and exhaled it deeply.  “It’s just…I got promoted and—”

“That sounds terrible,” Tommy said.  “Some guys have such shitty luck, ya know?”

Joe smiled, but it seemed like a smile that was just there to placate.  “Yeah.  Anyway, I got promoted and I had to…I had to fire a guy today.”

Tommy gave a sigh, one that might have told him that he empathized with him but sometimes things like this have to happen.  To everything: turn, turn, turn and all that.  That sigh came across to Joe as meaning nothing, which it basically did, and he went on.

“He was a shitty employee.  Couldn’t trust him to find his pecker with a flashlight and road map.”  Tommy laughed and Joe did give a reluctant smile.  “He…he started drinking pretty heavily.  He had been talked to in the past about it, but would he listen?  Kept bringing his problems into work with him.  He had skipped out of counseling, came to work hungover, wasn’t doin dick while he was there.  So…I had to shit-can him.”

“Fucka had it comin from the sound of it.”

Joe looked up at his bartender.  “We all got it comin, Tommy.  Some of us sooner than later.”  Joe took another drink.  “The worst part is that he accused me of doin the same thing he did.  He threw it in my face that I drink in my off time and wanted to know how what he did was any different.  That hit me.  That hit me pretty hard, I think.  I mean, I’ve had my days, you know?  I’ve fucked up every now and then, but…”  Joe shook his head.  “It makes me wonder…how much longer before I’m in his seat?  How much longer before I’m no better than him?”

A group of girls came up to the bar next to Joe and ordered a drink.  Tommy smiled and took their order, thinking that they might serve to cheer the morose bastard up.  But by the time Tommy got back, Joe was gone.

Tommy put his paper down and drank the rest of his coffee.  He had never seen Joe so upset, even when Joe had called it quits with what’s-his-name who was apparently his best friend.  Joe never drank because of something work related, which was good, but Tommy thought that might change soon.  Tommy didn’t know what to say then, but he sure as hell knew now.

“Never shit in your own mess kit,” Tommy said looking out the IHOP’s window, glimpsing the first wan trances of a sunrise.  “Nope.  Never do it.  Because when you start doing that, it becomes one hell of a mess.”

At that, Tommy folded his paper, left a tip and made tracks for home, bed and sleep.  Maybe he’d tell Joe what he just thought of if he saw him tomorrow.  “What am I saying?  Of course I’ll see him.  He’s hooked through the bag, ain’t he?”

Everyone’s A Critic

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Hi guys!

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  What’s all this noise about copyrights?  “Ulysses” is public domain now, sweetheart.  That means that any talentless hack such as myself can come along and do what we please.  I got the law on my side, baby.  Don’t like it?  Tough titty, said the kitty.

All joking aside, Joyce’s masterpiece is free of its copyright and if you’d like to read it online, Google will point the way, I’m sure.  Too lazy?  Fine.  Click this.

Also, I should add that the opinions expressed below are solely those of my wholly fictional character and in no way reflect my own personal views.  What’s that?  You say you’ve never heard of the term “Author Surrogate?”  Good.  That’s good.

Here it is, my #FridayFlash of the week, “Everyone’s a Critic.”

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EVERYONE’S A CRITIC

Brad was no English major and only recently became interested in books.  He had read somewhere that “Ulysses” by James Joyce was one of, if not the greatest novel ever written.  He was sure that it was.  It had that sort rhythm, that sort of tone that was typical of great works.  However, of the many qualities this hefty tome may possess, clarity didn’t seem to be one of them.  In Brad’s mind, the first few paragraphs went something like the following:

Stumply, plump Buck Mulligan came from the wizzengraff, walloping a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a hairline lay vexed. A yellow dressing gown, unhinged, was subsisted gainly behind him by the marring morning air. He held the hairline aloft and fluctuated:

Bippity, Boppity, Boop.

Harangued, he peered down the dark, porous stairs and called up succinctly:

— Come up, Kinch. Come up, you masterful plum-bob.

Fortuitously he came thither and mounted the pompous battlement. He faced about and stolidly minced the quadrangle, the floundering canopies and the shrugging motives. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he wanged towards him and made vapid gutterings in the air, invoicing in his loafers and filching his buttonhook. Stephen Dedalus, junipered and lackluster, leaned his arms on the top of the hearthstone and folded tightly at the solid caterwauling visage that minced him, elemental in its gestures, and at the loathsome unobtainable hare, listless and humming like the compost.

Buck Mulligan lingered a stirrup between the colluder and then scrupled the hibbletone obfuscate.

“What the fuck?!” Brad said for what might have been the fifth time since trying to read this book.

The only thing that he took from this passage was that something was happening to Buck Mulligan’s robe and that probably wasn’t the point anyway.  At first he thought that pressing on would be the best idea.  Maybe everything would be made clear later on in the book.  After getting to page forty-two and being utterly and completely lost, he started again.  Brad kept rereading each line as if he’d missed some vital word that drew everything together. He found no such word.

Brad closed the book and looked at its front cover.  “Careful, me hearty, or you’ll be joinin’ Melville in the briny deep!”

This was a reference to a sketch he had recently been working on.  He suffered through “Moby Dick” and would have liked it if it weren’t for the, “stupid fucking Cetology chapters,” as he thought of them.  He drew a picture of himself wearing a captain’s hat, brandishing a large pencil and forcing a terrified Herman Melville off a plank and into shark infested waters.  There wasn’t much room but he thought he could squeeze in Joyce if he tried.

Then there was “Naked Lunch” by Burroughs.  He thought of novels he didn’t like as if they were mental patients in some Nineteenth Century sanitarium.  If “Ulysses” was the type of nutcase that thought he was Napoleon or Abraham Lincoln, then “Naked Lunch” was the kind of whack-job that thought painting with one’s own feces was the highest form of art.  Not to say he thought the book was shit—it probably had its qualities—but these qualities were not to his tastes.  Neither was shit.

“Twain,” he said.  “My man, Mister Clemens.  Now there’s somebody I can get into.”  He read “Tom Sawyer” for the first time since middle school and liked it very much.  He read “Huck Finn” and loved it.  Dickens was another—almost always a safe bet.  Rowling, King and Gaiman were yet others that he had enjoyed and would readily invest his time in without fear of wasting it.

Then there was John Updike. He wasn’t too sure about Updike.  The man was steeped in talent, no question, but Brad got the feeling that he was the kind of guy that got prescribed Ritalin when he really didn’t need it.  Brad thought that if Updike hadn’t been a writer, he might have been an exceedingly thorough museum guide.  He was the kind of guy that could go on for hours talking about a single rock or the smallest fragment of pottery.  Interesting?  Yeah…to a point.

He put the literary headache in his hands down on the couch next to him and picked up his sketch pad.  He’d been reading a lot recently and had been drawing a few of his favorite scenes.  He flipped through the pages.  There was Huck, Tom and the other boys in their hideout signing their names in blood.  There was Pip meeting the convict in the graveyard.  There was Jake Chambers playing with Oy, Shadow talking to his dead wife in a dark hotel room and a weeping Hagrid carrying the body of Harry Potter back to Hogwarts with a menacing looking gaggle of Death Eaters in his wake.

Brad smiled broadly.  He thought about those books he didn’t like and a vague and prideful thought came into his mind.  It formed and he said, “At least when I do something artistic, it doesn’t suck as hard as…”  His smile faded.

As hard as what?  Those famous artists?  Those published artists?  Those critically acclaimed and well respected artists?

He thought of the drawings in front of him.  He was proud of them.  It was like…“What?  Like I put my whole heart into these?  Yes.  Like I put part of my soul into these?”  He thought about it and finally said yes.  Now he imagined some of his work on display.  What if someone disliked his doodles as much as he disliked “Ulysses?”  What if someone told him it was shit?  What if someone wanted to walk him off a plank?  Worse, what if nobody cared?

He put down his pad.  He frowned.  He looked down at the book next to him, picked it up and read aloud.

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stair head, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed…”

A Place On The Wall

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Hi guys.

Here’s what Joe’s been up to lately.

If don’t know, I’ve been writing about Brad and Joe for a while now and if you’re interested, you can read more about them here: The Brad & Joe Chronicles.  I also wrote a short story about the two of them called Drive On, which clocks in at around 7k words.

Here it is, my #FridayFlash for the week, “A Place On The Wall.”

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A PLACE ON THE WALL

Joe tapped his pen on his desk and looked around at his new office.  Even with the three weeks he’d spent as manager, he was still having trouble thinking of it as his desk and his office.  He kept expecting Ashton Kutcher to pop out from somewhere with cameras and tell him that this was all one big practical joke.  But as he put his signature to important documents again and again, he was forced to accept his fate and acknowledge his new position.  He groaned in the back of his throat.

There was no large wall displaying portraits of Holotech’s past managers, but Joe couldn’t imagine how he might fit in if there was one.  Near the top there would be managers from the sixties wearing suits so loud they glowed in the dark.  As the portraits went on, lapels would lengthen as the seventies marched past and power ties and slick haircuts would mark the eighties.  The attire would soon fade seamlessly into more modern fashions as the portraits progressed to present day.  Though the clothes past managers wore would vary, the authoritative and stern expressions on their faces would not.  At the very end of these paintings would be Joe, wearing the kind of hat that holds a can of beer on either side and flipping the bird to passersby.  That’s how Joe saw things, anyway.

The door opened and Joe immediately brought his pen to a piece of paper, as if he had been working the whole time.  This reflex was a relic of his time as a worker bee when a manager would pass by.  He looked up and saw that the person that entered the room was the cleaning lady.  Then he looked down and saw that he was trying to write with the wrong end of his pen.  Then he remembered, not for the first time, that he was the manager.  He needed coffee.

He left his office heading from the break room and people that passed greeted him as “sir,” which he was still not used to.  He avoided people and the more traveled walkway by taking a right down a path that lead him into the heart of what he thought of as “Cubicle City.”  As he walked and thought about how he could better deal with the unease of his managerial duties, he overheard someone.  It wasn’t a specific word that caught his attention, but the tone.  It sounded like the tone of a cocky young man.  It sounded, he had to admit, a lot like himself.

“…Yeah, so anyway,” the cocksure voice said, “I wake up and there’s this chick next to me—hot—smokin hot.  She’s says good morning and I’ve got no friggin idea what her name is.”

“Oh geez, what did you do?” said someone.

“I told her I had no friggin idea what her name was,” the cocky voice said.

“No you didn’t!” said a different voice.

“Shit yeah I did,” said cocky voice.

“What’d she say?”

“She said she didn’t care.”

“No way!”

“Yep, then we bumped uglies and she went on her way.  I still can’t remember her name.”

“Shut up!”

“If I’m lyin, I’m dyin.  I don’t even know how I got her home.  I even lost a shoe somewhere along the way.  Man, I was trashed!”

Joe had heard enough and knew it was time to step in.  Nothing bugged him more than stories like this.  He rounded the corner and saw men crowded around one of the new kids HR had sent over a few days ago.

Joe cleared his throat to speak and the men listening to the new guy’s story stiffened.  Joe didn’t realize at the time what a manger-like thing clearing his throat was.  Joe tried to ignore the frightened looks on their faces.

“You know, I’d like to think that I’m a pretty tolerant kind of guy.  I’d like to think that I let most things slide.  But what I just heard irritates me to no end.”  The young man swallowed hard.  “What’s your name?”

“Kenneth Burton…sir.”

“Tell me something, Kenneth Burton,” Joe said, eyes narrowed, “How do you lose just one shoe?”

Ken looked around, his mouth trembling a little.  “Umm…I was…drunk?”

“No,” Joe said, shaking his head very slowly.  “You spill drinks on your shoes.  You throw up on your shoes.  But you certainly don’t lose them.  Especially not just one.”

“Well, I did…sir.”

Joe chuckled.  “I was born at night but it wasn’t last night.  If you’re going to make things up, at least make them believable.  By the look of you, I doubt you’d be able to handle Kool-Aid, let alone anything stronger.  Come find me when you’ve got a real story to tell.”

“But…”

Joe rolled his eyes and walked on to the break room.

“I could drink you under the table!” Ken said.

Joe stopped.  Behind him he heard gasps.  Joe walked back to Ken, staring a hole through him.

“Say that again?  I must have misheard you.”

“I…I could drink you under the table,” Ken said, with far less gusto.

Joe smiled the way a lion might when it’s found a plump, blind and deaf gazelle.  “Alright.  Sparky’s Pub.  Tonight.  Eight o’clock.  Whiskey.  First man to tap out loses.”

Ken looked around uneasily.  “Alright.”

“And you better bring your A-game, son.”

“I never leave home without it.”

Joe nodded.  “We’ll see.”

Naturally, the entire office came as well.

___

There was no wall of past managers at Holotech, but if there was, employees would pass by it quickly to avoid those stern, authoritative eyes watching their every move.  However, they would smile at the one on the end.  They respected Joseph Crandal not only because he worked hard, but because he could play hard too.  Seeing your boss down twenty-three shots of Jack in a night to win a drinking contest earns a kind of respect that is hard to come by within the limits of Cubicle City.

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NOTE: Evidence has been found that indicates the author of this post may have gotten so drunk on one particular occasion that he did lose a single shoe.  The author has refused to comment.

Forest For The Trees

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Hi Guys!

Look it!  I did an MS Paint drawing for this post!  Normally I just steal from a Google image search.  Not a bad pic, eh?  Pfft, Photoshop is for amateurs.

So here’s what Brad’s been up to lately.  Nuff said.

Here it is, my #FridayFlash for the week, “Forrest For The Trees.”

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FORREST FOR THE TREES

Brad exhaled a breath through pursed lips that made a sound like a motorboat as he flipped through T.V. channels.  He had been making this sound quite a bit lately; partially because he liked the sound of it but mostly because he had nothing better to do.  He didn’t know what most people did when they quit their well paying jobs for almost no reason, but whatever it was, he was sure he was behind the curve.  It had occurred to him that most people don’t quit their well paying jobs for almost no reason and this might very well be wholly unexplored territory.  He thought back to something an ex-coworker said to him.  “If things get bad enough, you could always come back to work here.”  At the time he laughed at the idea.  Now he wasn’t so sure.  He made his motorboat sound again.

Since he had quit his job, he found he had a knack for quiz shows and usually fared pretty well.  He kept a running tab and figured that he could make a good amount of money should he ever be in New York and picked up in the “Cash Cab.”  He discovered that he was at least as smart as a fifth grader; possibly even as smart as a sixth grader, but he didn’t want to rush to any conclusions.  “Jeopardy” was always a good challenge for him and it came on just after lunch when his blood-sugar was at its highest and his brain was working most efficiently.  Today, after Alex Trebek was standing with the contestants as the credits rolled, he didn’t flip to Animal Planet like he normally did and instead looked at the notebook lying open on his coffee table.  He muted his TV and picked up the pad.

He had bought the pad in the hopes of coming up with some kind of coherent plan for his life.  He wanted some kind of list; some sort of checklist that he could tick off as he went that would lead him to a more fulfilling and happier life.  Instead, he had filled the pages with mostly doodles.  Doodles were the way that he thought of them, even if an average person might think they were pretty well done.  There was a caricature of his old boss, Mr. Norton that looked remarkably like Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” (of course, Mr. Norton looked pretty similar to Gollum without Brad’s artistic interpretation of him).  There was a sketch of his apartment window that he had partially shaded, it looked quite nice.  There was also a drawing of his shoes lying near the front door.

He looked at the bottom of the first page and there was a scribble that didn’t appear to be much of anything.  He turned to the last page of the pad and flipped through the pages.  As the pages flipped by, a stick figure man walked along the bottom of the page that Brad thought of as “Sticky.”  Without provocation, Sticky was attacked by another stick figure man who was apparently well versed in martial arts.  The ninja stick man hit Sticky in the face, then the gut, then kicked him in the head and sent him flying to the left most edge of the page and bouncing off.  As Sticky tried to stand, the ninja stick figure produced a Molotov cocktail, threw it at Sticky and jumped back off the page.  Sticky burst into flames and ran frantically back and forth on the bottom until the fire truck came.  The fire truck ran over the flaming stick figure man, causing a noticeable bump in the fire truck’s path.  Stick figure firemen quickly got out of the truck, put Sticky out, hopped back into their truck and exited on the right side of the page.  This only left the meaningless scribble on the first page that was, or at least had been, the burnt, flattened and beaten Sticky.  Brad smiled.

“No,” he said seriously and wiped the smile from his face.  “No, this is why I can’t seem to get anything done.  This is what I used to do at work when I got bored.  Enough.  Time to buckle down.”

Yes, it was time to buckle down.  It was time to be a grown up and figure out his life instead of drawing pointless but amusing animations in his pad of paper.  What was he going to do?  Spend his life doodling as life passed him by?  No.  This was his life and he should be using this time to figure out what his passions are and whatever his calling might be.  Now it was time to be serious.

“Right,” he said aloud.  “Serious.”

Nothing happened.

He shook his head like an Etch-a-Sketch to try to clear out the cobwebs inside.  That didn’t help either.  Brad sat in his apartment looking around and his eyes always came back to that stupid pad and things he wanted to draw.  He glanced over to a newspaper that he picked up the previous day.  He opened it, completely ignoring an ad for an online art school and scanned the classifieds.  Still nothing.

He made his motorboat noise again.

He unmuted the TV and flipped to the Animal Channel.  He picked up his pad and “doodled” a pretty good rendering of his apartment door, given that he was only half trying.  As he drew, he thought again of going back to his old job and firmly decided against it.  That would be a step backward.  The trick was to figure out what that step forward would be.  How would he want to spend the rest of his life?  He labeled the door, “The Rest of Your Life.”  He frowned, knowing he couldn’t open that door.

Anyone else looking at that door on the page might give it a try.  It was that good.

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