Thursday, September 04, 2003

The Book of Light by Michelle Blake
"Hated it."

Michelle Blake's The Book of Light is a grueling read, in my opinion. It belongs to that odd genre of fiction brought to us by "gender feminism" (Christina Hoff Sommer's term), that vaguely man-hating, quasi-poisonous narrative, where the main character is a snarky, bitter woman who can barely stand her boyfriend, and would probably rather be a lesbian, but "just likes a stiff one once in a while" as a real-life woman friend of mine once put it. Their general view of life is soured; everything is ugly and it smells badly; everyone's damaged, particularly men, but it's all made a little better by eccentric women that the rest of us typically cross the street to avoid conversing with. Other writers in the genre are Margaret Atwood, Ursula Le Guin, Terry McMillan, and Anne Tyler.

As with all fiction, there is some reality woven into the fabric of this story, and since I've read more than one author who writes about the world in this way, there must really be women out there who wander around with this sour point of view all the time. (And a few men, come to think of it. Jonathan Franzen of The Corrections - official killer of the Oprah Book Club fame - also fits into this "malaise genre".) I feel pity for those who are cursed with such a curdled view of the world. Everyday must just be another variant of misery. Some days you wake up as a giant cockroach in Prague, some days you don't, but everything still sucks. Bleh.

In The Book of Light, Lily Connor is an Episcopalian priest who gets involved in mysterious circumstances. There is no actual mystery, even though the genre label on the cover says it's one. The whole "mystery" is centered around a document that's supposed to be an unedited, earlier version of the "Q" document. It's clear through the whole novel that it's authentic (in the story), so there's no freakin' mystery. And we never find out what happens to the few people who end up missing at the conclusion. (So, OK, that part's a mystery.)

TLD: The thumbnail story behind the "Q" document is that some "scholars" have proposed there was a document that a couple of the Gospel writers cribbed from, because the two Gospels have so many sayings of Christ that are similar. Thus, the typically unstated premise behind the "Q" document is that the Gospels are just myth, meaning pure bullshit, so the only way they could have so much in common is if they used a common source document - plagiarism essentially. That source document is labeled "Q", for reasons I've forgotten. Of course, this whistles through the graveyard of the idea that the Gospels have a lot in common because the authors were reporting ACTUAL EVENTS. Here's a fact: when eyewitnesses describe an event, their stories have a lot in common with each other. Thus, when someone buys into the concept of their being a "Q" document as it's offered by the scholars who invented the concept, they are also buying into the idea that the Gospels are fiction. It goes without saying there may have been little bullet list collections of the sayings of Christ, but the "Q" document folks insist that such a list invalidates the Gospels as independent accounts of the events.

Besides the fact that there's no mystery in the mystery, the narrative is tedious, partially because of the sour viewpoint as descried above, but mainly because every time we encounter a female character, we are given a detailed list of what she's wearing. Every time anyone eats, we are given the complete menu, sometimes even the order in which they ate it! It's like a really skewed result of Hemingway's bad writing advice, like "always describe the weather." Look, only Hemingway could write like Hemingway, so his writing advice is useless to everyone else. If an editor were to cut out all the descriptions of food, clothing, and the dialogues that have no relation to the plot from The Book of Light, it would be a short story. And a boring one at that.

Here're a couple excerpts as examples of what I mean:

"He wears a white dress shirt with the sleeves buttoned at both wrists. The detail makes Lily feel sorry for him, so she tries not only to listen but also to empathize, but she's having a hard time doing either."

"Recently, Lily has been growing tired of the monastery chants and voices -- so precise and precious and a little feeble. So male, she thinks, although not bass male, tenor male. Today the whole service feels especially closed down, and she wonders why she bothered to come."

So, the book sucks. I was even going to post a review on Amazon saying pretty much that, but of the three books she's written, there are only about a dozen customer reviews between them. I know most authors check out Amazon regularly, so I just didn't have the heart to go poop on her parade. And I doubt she'll ever find this blog. And if she does, I'll prolly hear from her.

(P.S. Why is it easier to write a bad review rather than a good one? And why is it more fun?)

That said, besides being the epitome of a bad read, there was this bombshell in amongst the tedium and thread counts of fabric:

[Lily says,] "Let's just say...Let's just say I'm beginning to see the gospels in a new light"
"What light would that be?" he asks.
"I don't know," she says. "Maybe I'm beginning to believe they're true."

So, our main character, Lily (eye-rolling symbolism, that), is an Episcopalian priest who doesn't believe that the Gospels are true. Y'know, it's one thing to have a detective who's not really a detective, or a gal that isn't really even a gal (The Crying Game), but a priest who doesn't believe? What the Spong is up with that shit?

Note to pastors, preachers, priests (nuns), and clerics everywhere: If you think the Gospels aren't true, find yourself another fucking job, you leach! Read any part of the oeuvre of Job Bob Briggs where he waxes rhapsodic on having to explain things that are obvious! If yer gonna be a carpenter, you gotta have a hammer! If yer gonna be a flight attendant, you gotta be able to say "buh-bye!" If you're going to be a leader in the faith of Christianity, YOU'VE GOT TO BELIEVE, BABY!

Aren't editors supposed to point this kind of shit out?

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