Pimping SB Sarah's Book Club!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Hour I First Got Annoyed

So I've been a romance reading slump lately ever since I read Blah Book and decided to take a break from romance and read something I've been wanting to read for a long time: Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed. I liked his previous two books and while I can say most of what I read tends to be forgettable in the long run, his previous two books were utterly splendid and completly memorable. This last one...not so much. Well, let me clarify, it was memorable in an extremely annoying way. How annoying, let me count the ways. They can all be summarised under what I call the liberal sucker punch. So maybe these things wouldn't bother many readers, but they sure as hell bothered me. What is the liberal sucker punch? Glad you asked. It's when you are reading mainstream fiction or watching a movie or a tv show when out of the blue a character makes a statement such as: "That was as stupid as a vote for Bush!" Cue laughter. And you are meant to laugh, because the character must be really really stupid to have voted for Bush and only stupid people voted for Bush, right?

Or you are reading a great, insightful romance blog the writer, apropo of NOTHING remarks that we owe Canada an apology. Why, you may ask. Because our border agents, you know, might ask Canadians for a passport these days.

Both these examples left me scratching my head. Because in both cases, the shows I was watching, the blog I was reading had nothing at all to do with politics. One was a comedy and the other was a blog about romance writing. But then out of the blue there are these political comments that leave me feeling weirdly unsettled. Like I don't belong here reading this blog or watching whatever it is I am watching. Its a sucker punch, because you don't see it coming and it makes you feel, well, suckered. Like you've been watching propagana all along and just didn't know it.

The Hour I First Believed was just such a book. Here are the things that I was suckered into reading.

1. Lots and lots of ruminations on the killers at Columbine. Transcripts from their video recordings. Directions to various websites about the killers. One page would have been enough -but gah -what is it with liberals and their insane wanting to step inside the minds of evil people? Who cares? All this attention paid to them perversely makes them almost worthy of attention.

2. Liberal Shorthand: Bush voter = comic relief character. The one character who votes for Bush is characterized as a fifty year old virgin who is obsessed with a car (I forget what kind.) I don't know why it was important to know who this character voted for, adds nothing to the story at all. But its okay -he's a looser and the fact that he voted for Bush makes him even more of a looser.

3. Comments about Rush Limbaugh used to see whether another character is worthy of friendship. Again cheap liberal short hand. If the main character had liked Rush Limbaugh or gotten offended that the other character had hated Rush, there would be no relationship possible. Because people who like Rush are not worthy of friendship -or in this case, handouts. The fact that everyone hates Rush and didn't vote for Bush, means they are good people.

4. Repressed gay character who gets killed because he is repressed, thus nullifying guilt of killer. See, if the gay character (he comes out in a looooooook faux New Yorker article) had had a loving and accepting family, he wouldn't have run away at his brother's threatening to out him. Then he wouldn't have been running franitcally down the road as the car, driven by a Columbine survivor hit him. The fact his mother refuses to accept her son is gay, even as he is dead, makes her culpable of his death too! But the poor driver (a drugged up nurse) is forced to go to jail instead. Oh the poor, poor, killer!

5. The usual fucked up soldier back from Iraq. Seriously. How many times have we seen this character? Why is it the only time soldiers in books or movies are allowed "depth" is when they are FUBAR? Of course since the soldier is FUBAR, this serves a ringing, deep insightful condemnation of Bush as well and America's response to 9/11.

6. Loooong lecture by a Women's Study study doctoral student on the evils of America. This leads to unintentional hillarity when the main character, in all seriousness remarks: "You should leave the politics out of the dissertation defense for fear of offending a conservative professor." Conservative professor. In Women's Studies. Uh, has there ever been such a beast allowed to live free and unfettered while roaming the halls of academia? I'd love to meet him/her. Really, I would.

7. Infidelity used as short hand for character development. Not even sexy infedelity in this case. But boring "I fucked her out of existential angst" infidility. There is nothing more like taking saltpeter than reading about existential sex.

8. Guantonomo is used to demonstrate just how sensitive and caring the main character really is. Because if you regard Guantonomo as anything other than a death camp, you are obviously a Fascist.

9.And this is when it gets unforgivably bad. The equating of Columbine with our response to 9/11. In other words, our country is so evil and so out of whack all the really really bad stuff that produced the Columbine murderers lead to the horror that is Iraq and Guantonomo, etc., In case you missed this analogy, the author points it out in a needlessly explanatory afterword. Liberals love moral equivalency. They seem to think it especially insightful if they equate America with terrorism and murder and mayhem.

And what makes this all so annoying is that Wally Lamb is a good writer. The book is not just propaganda. It is actually a fairly detailed and nuanced character study of a marriage and two characters profoundly affected by the Columbine massacre. But its like the writer just can't help himself. I wanted to enjoy this book, get absorbed in it and forget the world for a while. But I just couldn't. Everytime I was absorbed, the needless politics yanked me right out.

Well, the book did accomplish one thing. I am back to reading romance again.

What about you, gotten a liberal sucker puch lately?


  1. I find it very distracting when politics are inserted in a novel - especially if it hasn't been billed as a political novel. And it seems that lately anything and everything is "Blamed on Bush" - even the Gores' breakup (something about them never being able to recover from the hanging chads). I'm disappointed that Wally Lamb went down this road. But I guess I'm not all that surprised.

  2. What makes this even more disapointing is Lamb is a good writer, he doesn't need to be constantly inserting this stuff. The book is not unreadable by any means. But its this attitude of equating "liberal politics=good character" while conservative politics = bad or stupid character that I find clumsy and annoying. And shallow. Aren't people more complex than that? I dunno -its probably me that's changed in the years since I have read his previous books. PLUS -this book's got megga good reviews from every main stream media publication. So this is clearly what the smart people in the know consider great writing. But I honestly feel it speaks more to the insularity and "ivory towerism" of our cultural elites than anything else. Sad. Wonder if the politics were reversed, if this books would have gotten the notice it had.