I am reading a fairly implausible book right now. It's a romantic thriller. I like to read these sorts of things now and again; you know, stuff you might read on a vacation when you prefer your mind at about the consistency of bean dip.
Right now I like bean dip. A lot. In fact, yesterday I was reading this book while eating corn and black bean salsa with Tostitos restaurant style chips.
I know! Time to read!
And yet, here I am complaining that what I read was implausible. It is, no matter how often the characters say, "Oh shit!" and "What a clusterfuck." Although I myself say these things frequently about my own life and times, it's not at all the same thing. And when I try to imagine myself in the plot in the book---which, with my Guiness Book World Record Level Imagination I can usually do with great ease to the astonishment of my husband and to the concern of the mental health community worldwide---I think, "Pffffft, tsk, yeah, right, whatever, like that is something I'd do!"
Okay check this:
The heroine is the daughter of a SuperSpy. SuperSpy Dad sent her a mysterious and dangerous package. When she received it, she opened it and VOILA! mysterious and dangerous contents. She immediately thought, "Oh shit."
My comment: My dad is not a SuperSpy. However, he regularly sends me mysterious and dangerous things. I often think, "Oh shit!" upon opening them. Usually they are messages, typically about my failings. You know like, "Hey, Ju Ju, I know you are busy but you missed your stepmother's birthday for like the 25th year in a row. Could you drop her a little card, something?" Or, "We haven't seen you in a while...any chance you are taking a trip near us soon? We think your baby is about ready for college now, yes? And last we saw she was just pulling up...it'd be nice to see you or hear from you..." You see? Oh shit. There, though, the similarity ends.
Shortly thereafter, her father arrived, hoping he got there before the package. When he discovered he didn't, he said, "Oh shit, what a clusterfuck." The heroine, his daughter, agreed. There followed a scene in which their entire history and relationship is played out in five minutes during which he manipulates her into handing over the package and saying, "Bye Dad, love you," as if that will end the matter, even though it is only page ten.
My comment: Who among us hasn't been emotionally guilted and manipulated by a parent, even as we realize consciously this is happening? However, MAJOR mysterious and dangerous packages that Very Scary People are after aren't usually the stakes. Also, and this is important, my parents do not ask me to break the law and traffic in stolen goods. If they did, I'd go commie on them and report them. I think. I'm pretty sure. It'd be their fault, you know, hammering into me this Sturdy Code of Ethics and Law-Abiding morality. So right away, the heroine and I have a major breach of trust.
The heroine then proceeds to call a variety of people over the next hour to inquire about the contents of the package. She's seeking information and in the process, putting large bugs in a large number of ears about the stolen goods. The purpose, apparently, is to display her honesty and naivete; the author repeatedly informs us that the heroine is a horrible liar, as do the people the heroine talks to, "You're a horrible liar, what's really going on?" they ask. The heroine herself is even honest enough to say she's a terrible liar, horrible at this SuperSpy game, always having eschewed it, due to her conflicted feelings about her dad and disgust for the effect of what he does.
My comment: We get it. She's lily white. Her only flaw is...being just too darn good. Again, here the heroine and I seriously part ways even more. I have many flaws, including being a really great dramatist, which some might call a flair for fiction or other crueler sorts might call lying. I have always aspired to be a SuperSpy in my fantasies, so I assure myself I'd be very, very good at the game. I say this, despite being told by a real SuperSpy once that I'd make a HORRID SuperSpy because I like to talk too much and enjoy telling stories way, way too much. I found this richly ironic considering this SuperSpy just told me (a) he was a SuperSpy, (b) it was a lot of fun to be a SuperSpy, and (c) where he had just gotten back from and what he had done there. At least I'd dramatize it straight out of any recognizability. How do I know he hadn't done the same? I don't. But he seemed like he was telling the truth. What? This proves his point? Me believing this? Oh you! Whatever!
Sigh sigh says our intrepid little heroine. She finishes her phone calls, tidies up her OCD level clean house---a nice little A-frame on the beach in California---and goes to bed.
Enter the hero.
A former SuperSpy, now a Private Contract SuperSpy, he breaks into our heroine's house, seeking the package. However, our up-to-that-point unscrupulous and hard-as-rocks hero immediately melts at the sight, smell and feel of the oh-so-innocent and seemingly-honest litle house. He completely believes the heroine must be completely innocent and there has been a terrible mistake.
He hears the cock of a pistol's safety being taken off. And turns to see the heroine, in thin, short silk nightshirt, standing with a 9mm pistol pointed right at him.
The two engage in witty repartee---otherwise known as Stalling Dialogue aka Setting the Scene for the Attraction---until...
Two assasins working for another SuperSpy, who is double-crossing SuperSpy Dad, burst in to kill both the hero and heroine.
The hero takes two bullets---in the Kevlar he had luckily been wearing---meant for the heroine, and their lasting happiness is immediately ensured. I mean, ensured as soon as they finish killing off or otherwise making impotent the other SuperSpies and Assasins, recover and return the mysterious and dangerous package, get over the "We're sorta kinda on opposite teams and can't trust one another plus we each represent what the other hates/fears," little humps.
There's some running, hiding, flying in private jets, wearing the same clothes for at least 200 pages, shooting at, dangerous hikes through deserts, exciting break-ins, and lots of subplots and other characters all twisting and attempting to make others twist in the wind, a completely creepy pair of Antagonists, one of whom is a la Grace Jones in a View to a Kill, complete with frequently prominent nipples that rise to attention on command, making all men in her path putty---or bean dip-brained...in other words, more than a few hundred pages that would make Albert Zuckerman proud.
My comment: Except...unlike other thrillers...it's pretty implausible...
I know, I know. Pretty much all thrillers are completely implausible to the average joes. Yet, somehow, usually, I can willingly suspend my disbelief. For example, I was absolutely on a treasure hunt through Rome with Dan Brown in Da Vinci Code. Suzanne Brockmann keeps me on the edge of my seat.
The difference is I respect the thriller-level complexity of the characters and how they'll back down from their stereotypes when it makes sense to do so. Like, before they nearly get everyone killed. They display a sort of wisdom.
If I heard someone break-in to my house, I'd be on the horn to 911 faster than you could say 911. In fact, I keep a phone right beside me for just this purpose. I don't have a gun in the house. If I had to defend myself, I keep an old can of Aquanet and I'd aim for the eyes, while shrieking to high heaven, and kneeing for any balls I could find. If proximity became an issue (as in, the intruder got closer rather than running for the hills crying repentance) I'd use my peace-symbol fingers to gouge eyes and elbow to crush a windpipe. But generally, I'd do my best to escape notice and wait for the big, tough police to come rescue me. Like they are paid to.
In fact...I've had this happen. And allow me to assure you, I did not dialogue with the gentleman in question who broke into my home. Nor did I cuddle with him, and allow him to kiss my temple reassuringly, his little Grinchy heart full of pity---all for ME!---for the first time in his amoral life. Unfortunately I inadvertantly revealed my presence, or otherwise I would have hid. He attempted to dialogue with me. He tried to excuse his presence in my home (As IF!). He even said, and this was wicked creepy, "What a large bed you have."
This clicked on my Holy Shit Act. I began shrieking in an attempt to wound him via his eardrums. I screamed, "I called 911, they'll be here any minute, LEAVE LEAVE LEAVE." I waved the clothes hanger I clutched at him menacingly and attempted to appear as deranged as possible.
I must have accomplished my purpose because he did, in fact, leave. I know. Wow. Sometimes that self-defense lesson stuff works!
If I think back, I guess one could say he was attractive enough, with a smooth voice---that part I recall clearly. However, I felt not one iota of anything other than terror. I did notice his build, you know, for the police sketch artist, and what he was wearing, for the same reason. I certainly did not notice it in any way admiringly. I looked for any details to share with the police who I hoped would find him, lock him up and throw away the key, and remembered to not let him move me from my position.
I certainly, unlike the heroine in the story, would not have handed him my gun (or clothes hanger in my case), spent some time chatting and GASP! flirting, and then left with him. Good grief...everything you are not supposed to do!
I tried really hard to give this poor chick a break. After all, she was raised by a mainly absentee SuerSpy father and broken-hearted mother who pined for her absentee SuperSpy Spouse. She got sucked into this whole Whirlpool (the book's title, by the way). And, after all, she's supposed to be so sweet, and she's so hurt by the men around her.
And there you go...my major point of departure.
BAH! No victimhood! Kick 'em where it counts, girlfriend! Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and quit living for and in total reaction to the men around you! Don't let them tell you that you can't play the SuperSpy game well! Be smart, figure it out!
I think of Kay Scarpetta, Robyn Hudson (poison ivy on the windowsill has to be the best security system ever), Sam Jones, Eve Dallas*...they wouldn't take this crap!
Or even...Jane Doe, as lame as that TV show is. Hey who doesn't like a housewife by day and secret SuperSpy who saves everyone's ass by night (although, actually, it's not as cut and dry as day versus night. She's more housewife before and after school and SuperSpy until soccer practice time. See? Anyone can squeeze in SuperSpy, even busy moms! Who bake! And run minivan carpools! There is hope for our lot yet! And this isn't a new concept. Anyone remember Scarecrow and Mrs. King? Anyone?
So yeah, the book, too implausible to really enjoy but eh...a moment to read. What's to complain about! And hey, it's just fiction, at least it's not some dangrous and mysterious message that makes me say, "Oh shit! What a clusterfuck!"
*The good reads I alluded to: Sparkle Hayter's Robyn, Lauren Henderson's Sam, JD Robb's Eve, and Patricia Cornwell's Kay.
So really...what makes or breaks your suspension of disbelief? Any good novel recs? And anyone know the name and title of that new mystery that got great reviews but I can't recall..something with a crazy long title, maybe math, physics or some complicated science in the title?
ETA: Some amazing oversights on my part! Okay a few more mystery/thriller writers I really enjoy and this sort of transcends the bean dip level but here goes: Dana Stabenow, Anne Perry, Kathy Reich, and Walter Mosely (the Easy Rawlins series). I also have to add in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, and Elmore Leonard.
By Julie Pippert© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced.