Monday, May 21, 2012

What bad novels do

I just read a really bad novel, which I sort of enjoyed in a grubby sort of way--it passed the time.  The author's name is Christopher Farnsworth--I wrote a play once about Philo T. Farnsworth, and so this guy's name caught my eye in the new fiction section at the library.  Book's titled Red, White and Blood, which is also an album by Generation Kill, a metal band I've at least listened to a couple of times.  Plus it's about contemporary politics, which I'm also into.  Plus, vampires: score! 

This is the second book (that I know of) in a series with this premise: the President of the United States has a vampire working for him. Vampire's named Nathaniel Cade, discovered by President Andrew Johnson, who got him (it) to swear an unbreakable loyalty oath binding it (him) to protect the President and the nation forever.  So Cade lives in a lair underneath the White House, and when we're faced with some REALLY bad situation, they bring him out and he goes to work.

Now, I don't know about you guys, but that strikes me as a splendid premise for a trashy novel.  And so it turns out.  Cade is the only actually interesting character in the book, of course, but he's plenty interesting.  Part of the premise is that dark spooky critters from the Underworld keep slithering into our world, and Cade's the only one who can deal with 'em.  The bad guy in this novel is the Boogeyman.  He's basically the unkillable evil spirit who inhabits the bodies of loser guys who, after he possesses them, become serial killers. Cade's caught him and killed him oodles of times, but he always sneaks back, finds a new host, and starts killing folks.  This time back, he's after the President. 

If only Farnsworth could write.  Alas . . . .

Here's what he does: he'll create a character, call him, whatever, Anderson, Jones, Saltalamachia.  You learn a little about Anderson, like, maybe he's a porn producer.  He's slimy, he's a bad person; we get maybe a page and half about the guy.  We read about him meeting a girl, and they have wildly acrobatic sex.  In the midst of this, the monster kills him and the girl.

That's half the book, scene after scene exactly like that.

Now, as it happens, I am aware that people do have sexual relations from time to time. But not like this.  What happens in bad novels of a certain kind is that we pornografy sex, turn it into something fundamentally untruthful.  We then get to moralize over it, like slasher flicks do.  Bad girls do bad things, which we enjoy watching/reading about/consuming, but which also must be punished.  So the whole 'see her naked/see her killed' dynamic.

I said that it's fundamentally untruthful.  But it's not entirely untruthful--it's oddly revelatory of a certain kind of male adolescent mindset. But it's entirely false in the larger, moral universe that we'd really rather have even our pop fiction inhabit. 

I get that it's a novel about a vampire, and that vampires don't actually exist.  I don't think, though, that it's too much to ask for fantasy novels to display some acquaintance with human truth. I also don't mind wasting my time reading a trashy novel occasionally.  I just don't want to feel grimy after I've read it. 

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