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.