Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Definition of Crazy

I've heard it said that the definition of crazy is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results. I often use this definition when I relate a story involving taking Toby to the kennel. Even though we've only had him a year, we've been back and forth between here and Dublin enough that he's had at least seven trips to the kennel.

He knows the place, but he still gamely hops out of the car. He still inquisitively snuffles around the ground. He still trots behind me and allows himself to be led into the building, and then into the run itself.

It's at that moment, just before I slip out and latch the chainlink door behind me, that Toby realises he's being abandoned. He starts to whine and howl. He grabs my leg between his front paws. When he's finally shaken loose, he hurls himself against the door. It's a big ugly scene but I've learned not to feel guilty about it because A.) I know it's going to happen, B.) I'm not crazy, and C.) I know I'm coming back.

The reason I think Toby is crazy is because he's a smart-ish dog. He knows where he is and he must know what is going to happen. Kodiak has always hated going to the groomer and puts on the brakes as soon as you open the door to a grooming establishment. You have to drag that dog over the threshhold because he has a long memory for unpleasant experiences and he's not crazy.

Maybe Toby just wants to please and that's why he expects a different outcome each time. Or maybe it's a case of hope triumphing over experience, if a dog can be said to hope. (The Kid says that hope is the thing inside you that keeps you alive, so maybe even dogs can hope.)

I like to pretend that I'd never do anything so silly (and crazy) expecting different results from the same activity. However, I have to admit to myself that I'm wrong. It's time for me to admit - I am crazy when it comes to the books of certain authors.

Just this month, I was burned spectacularly, again, by Patricia Cornwell. I got into Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta forensic mysteries the first winter we spent in Chicago. I was unemployed and had loads of time to sulk around the library, looking for interesting books and new authors. I'm not quite sure how I ended up reading Postmortem, but I suspect it has something to do with the forensic angle. (When I was 10, I wanted to be a pathologist.)

Even though her books scared the pants off me sometimes, I still devoured every book I could get my hands on. My devotion continued, even though I noticed sometime around Point of Origin in 1998 that the quality of the stories was starting to slide. I read the first Andy Brazil book and found it a horrid piece of self-indulgent twaddle. I didn't feel any great need to read the subsequent Brazil books.

But somehow, even though the Scarpetta books continued on their downhill trajectory, I still felt a loyalty. I'd still buy the book (usually quite soon after its release) and hope for a better experience. The three years between The Last Precinct and Blow Fly were nearly interminable.

The verdict on Blow Fly? Eh.... It was a huge departure, to switch to the third-person. I'd since read that Cornwell did that to allow her to explore the mind and point-of-view of the villans. Fair enough, but it really only served to distance the reader. I'd hoped the shift in narrative would be a one-off, or maybe a two-off, but I was wrong.

I helped Peter out with a craft fair earlier this month. As a thank-you, he paid me 50 euro, with the explicit stipulation that I spend the money on books. (If left to my own devices, I may have done something practical with it.) I managed to find Cornwell's latest, Book of the Dead, for half-price in Read's. I'd resisted the book for two monthes, but it seemed like a decent deal and half-price wasn't that much more than the mass market paperback will be whenever it comes out a year from now.

Not only is the book still in third-person, it's in the present tense. It reads like a bad movie script. The writing is just plain lazy. (I lost count of how many times the word 'unthinkable' was used in a three-page stretch.) The names, oh dear god, the names - Dr. Self (an egomaniacal TV shrink), Shandy Snook, Lucious Meddick (an undertaker), Will Rambo (apparently a good Swedish name). The plot is unreasonable and unbelievable, as are many of the characters.

Instead of being tethered to the real world, as in the earlier Scarpetta books, the setting has shifted to some sort of nebulous privatised forensics facility that is all of Scarpetta's and her niece Lucy's creation. They're the literary equivalent of a bunch of spoilt rich kids in a very high tech sandbox.

The characters have become petty and jealous charicatures without an ounce of professionalism or humanity. It's like Scarpetta and Cornwell are business associates who have fallen out, but finances dictate that they continue to work together.

I could go on (and on and on, just like the book), but I won't. I just don't understand what has happened to Cornwell. I understand (or at least I'd like to understand) that writing fifteen books in a series could cause one to become burnt out and disinterested. But the answer, especially when one has buckets of cash from the books, is to stop writing for a while. For a long while. Go play with your helicopter or try to solve real-life cold cases. But please stop punishing yourself and your crazy readers. Someone has to step up and be the sane one around here.


At 29 December 2007 at 19:16, Blogger laurie said...

re toby: boscoe's the same way. i brought him in this morning to have his anal glands tended to, which he hates. he was so happy to be going in the truck with me! flew down the stairs, bounced by the garage door, leaped in happily.... and then we pulled into the vet parking lot and he started to whimper. poor guy.

re writers who suck you in: i've had that happen to me, too. there's one who has written a series of books about dublin life ("the mammy," "the granny," "the young wan,") and man they're bad. why do i know that more than one of them is bad? well, i got sucked in, just as you did.

nice to see you back blogging now and again.

At 29 December 2007 at 22:32, Blogger The Rotten Correspondent said...

I'm right there with you on Patricia Cornwell. About Point of Origin I started scratching my head, but I still went out and bought both The Last Precinct and Blow Fly. Blow Fly has the (seriously dubious) honor of being the only Scarpetta I didn't finish. I simply didn't care enough to even continue.

It kind of breaks your heart, because the first ones were so well done. The three book Temple Gault arc especially was wonderful.

But...I guess hope always springs eternal. Although I totally agree with you that she just needs to take a break. A long one.

At 30 December 2007 at 06:00, Blogger Kaycie said...

Our dogs love to go in the car with me. I say "let's go bye bye" and they run each other over trying to be first to the door. Maddy is calm and laid back. It doesn't matter where I take her, she's game. Jack, on the other hand, begins quaking with fear, literally, if he realizes we are at the vet's, the groomer's, or the car wash. Yes, my sweet, neurotic little Jack is terrified of the car wash.

I used to love to read Stephen King. Many years ago. Then he wrote "Christine". I couldn't finish it and haven't bought one of his books since. I probably should give him another chance.

At 30 December 2007 at 11:52, Blogger Maolsheachlann said...

But sometimes it's good for authors to try something new. I liked those rather Dickensian names that you mentioned, for instance. I've never read a Patricia Cornwell but, I have to say, all the crime thrillers I've ever read tend to blend into each other in my memory. I'm always amused when I scan the library shelves, borrowing mystery books for my father (who likes them), and every single one has a blurb that goes: "Ray Salmon is a private eye with a difference. He's a dwarf with Tourette's Sydrome who looks to take all his clothes off in public". "Jemimah O Donnell is a private eye with a difference. She's a devout Mormon who would rather be analysing the Bible than dealing with the cases the Utah police bring before her." And so on. Surely it's nice for the recipe to be spiced up a little?

At 31 December 2007 at 01:51, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read Cornwell but I have the same love-hate-can't-stop-thinking-this-book-will-be-different thing going with Joyce Carol Oates. She was one of the reasons I wanted to write fiction and then she took a detour through horror, boxing and some other plain awful territory. I went back to something she wrote in 1966 to remind myself that I wasn't crazy and there was sound reason to keep her on my list of literary icons.

Amy P

At 1 January 2008 at 16:28, Blogger -Ann said...

Laurie - At least Bosco catches on before he's all the way in the vet's exam room. :) I've never heard of the books you mention - I will have to give them wide berth.

RC - You'd have to figure that by now, she has enough money to never work again. And it just doesn't seem like she's enjoying the writing. (Although, I did tell Peter that I suspect monkeys are actually doing the writing.)

Kaycie - If you decide to go back to Stephen King - I recommend Gerald's Game and the Bachman Novellas (which resulted in the movies Stand by Me and the Shawshank Redemption).

Maolsheachlann - Welcome and thanks for the interesting thoughts. I know what you mean about the genre pitfalls of the modern mystery novel.

Amy - You have to figure with someone as prolific as JCO, there are going to be some clunkers. "They can't all be winners. kid."
At least you get suckered by literature - there's no excuse for getting suckered by trash. :)

At 2 January 2008 at 18:20, Blogger Babaloo said...

I'm with you on Patricia Cornwell. I've got quite a few on my shelves but I'm ready to donate the later ones to the local library. I know for sure I won't re-read them.

Can I ask what kennel you bring Toby to? I know you live in Co. Cork, too, so that would be interesting to hear. I'm not sure I want to bring Honey to a kennel, we've only had her for 9 months and she's a rescue dog and very shy & timid. But the need may arise one day and I don't want to be stuck then. If one was recommended to me I might reconsider. Let me know.

I haven't been to your blog in ages and can see I've got some catching up to do.

Happy New Year!

At 3 January 2008 at 06:18, Blogger -Ann said...

Hi Babaloo - I take Toby to a place called Four Paws on the Macroom-Millstreet road. It's very convenient for me because it's on the way to the train station. The place is very clean, the owners seem nice, and Toby seems to get a fair bit of outside time.

I don't know where you live and Cork is a big place, but I think there's a decent kennels near Ovens and I've heard a rumour about a spectacular place near Kealkil.

At 11 January 2008 at 11:56, Blogger Babaloo said...

Hi Ann, thanks for this. I actually live about 15 min from Macroom, that's why I was asking. We're nearly neighbours then! ;-)

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