Fiction: “The Maze” by Catherine Coulter

the-mazeWhen I was in the middle of reading The Witches, a strange feeling came over me. I couldn’t explain it. I do get this feeling occasionally, but I’m rarely able to pinpoint where the feeling comes from. This time, I think it was a mixture of reading a book for entirely too long (The Witches), plus a general sense of ennui.

That feeling? Was a desire to read a really shitty book. Something I could just … rip to fucking shreds, douse those shreds in gasoline, light a match, toss it over my shoulder, and then walk the fuck away. A pure, antagonistic, anarchic feeling.

It’s been a while since I’ve ranted – really ranted – about anything. At least, nothing literary. I’ve had some rants in public, about certain public events (and gaslighting) that are occurring currently in our society, but a book rant? I haven’t had one of those since one of those really shitty romance novels I read.

So why did I go back to Catherine Coulter? Especially after The Cove was so disturbingly bad? Well, first, I had read The Maze years ago, but couldn’t remember its quality. I guess I thought the chance was pretty good that it’d be at least as bad as The Cove?

I do want to take a moment and say that, if I were forced to score these books against each other, I would give The Maze a slight edge over The Cove. Mainly because Ms. Coulter has grown (slightly) as a writer in that she doesn’t have one-sided dialogue tell the story any longer; but still, it’s baaaad.

Before I start this verse of The Rant Song, I suppose I should tell you some of the plot.

The star of the book is Lacey Sherlock – yes, that is her real name. Yes, Ms. Coulter incorporated every single fucking “Sherlock” pun she could think of. Yes, it gets incredibly tedious. Lacey Sherlock is a rookie FBI agent. Upon graduation from Quantico, she is recruited into Dillon Savich’s unit on criminal behavior or something. Look, I’m not going to look it up, y’all should know that by now. But Savich uses computers to track trends and catch serial killers and I’m all, whatever. Oh, PS, this was written twenty years ago, so the technology is wicked dated.

Savich wants Sherlock on his team because a) she figured out he was the bank robber in her last Quantico / Robber’s Alley simulation, and b) apparently she’s the best FBI trainee Quantico had ever seen since J. Edgar Hoover.

silence_of_the_lambs_jodie-foster_clarice-starling

Yeah — I’m right there with ya, Clarice.

So Savich hires Sherlock onto his team, and she quickly breaks a case that the rest of the team had been working on for a while, and I’m all, whatever. But in the middle of the case, Savich quickly realizes that Sherlock … has a secret.

Because of course she does.

See, her sister was murdered by a serial killer! Seven years ago, the serial killer lured her sister, Belinda, into a giant maze, and when Belinda got to the center of the maze, he cut out her tongue and killed her! And Sherlock has been hiding this secret (?) for seven years while she graduated college and underwent FBI training, all so she could catch the serial killer and kill him in return! And no one knew about her dead sister this entire time?

And then her sister’s widower comes to Washington unexpectedly and starts stalking Sherlock, who is polite (because even though her sister’s dead, he’s still considered “family”) but aloof. But he ain’t having none of it. Also, everyone – her ex-brother-in-law, Savich’s … secretary, I’m going to say, because I can’t remember and never looking it up, y’all – but everyone is assuming that Sherlock is sleeping with Savich. But she’s not. At least, not right now. It does happen, eventually – and not that hotly, either, but I’mma gonna get to that.

And then Savich figures out Sherlock’s … secret, and instead of kicking her out of the Bureau, he helps her find the serial killer, which they do … by doing a Google search on lumber? You guys, I can’t even with how dumb this is. Anyway, Sherlock goes “under””cover” to find the serial killer, and it is just —

God, this whole thing is so dumb. So the serial killer, Marlin Jones – his real name, hand to God – kills women who badmouth their husbands or significant male partners. It also helps him kill them if they use profanity.

That’s it. That’s the motive.

hannibal-smirk

Yes, Hanni – that is adorable, compared to you.

Ugh – I just realized how much I miss Hannibal.

ANYWAY. So Marlin kidnaps Sherlock (who’s still “under””cover”), takes her to a new Maze, and she gets him arrested. But – how – there’s still a hundred pages left in the book? Da fuck??

Oh, but don’t worry, there’s plenty more ludicrous-ness to go. See — Savich’s secretary is still being mad jealous of Sherlock for no fucking reason, and hires some dude to break into Sherlock’s apartment and tell her to leave town, but also, he threatens to rape her. This after Sherlock was stabbed or concussed or something in getting rescued from Marlin’s maze. So in the middle of being threatened with rape, Savich manages to come to her rescue and bring her back to the hospital. When she’s released, he takes her to his condo, they do sex, and then Marlin escapes? (That’s not as connected as it sounds – it’s not like their sex is what releases Marlin from prison.) Or, wait – she has to go back to San Francisco for some family thing, and Savich is now in love with her and won’t let her be alone for five friggin’ minutes, and that’s when Marlin escapes! (Don’t worry guys, it literally doesn’t matter which is the real turn of events.) And then we find out that Marlin’s dad – whose name is Erasmus, be tee dubs, what the fuck – is also out of jail and most importantly, alive? And kind of the ringleader of the whole Maze-serial killer-thing? And also Douglas, Sherlock’s ex-brother-in-law, may have also been boinking Sherlock’s mom? While having the hots for Sherlock? Oh, and also married to a right See You Next Tuesday?

Seriously. You guys. I am never making it up.

And as if the plot weren’t! bad! enough!? Ms. Coulter’s writing has. not. improved. At least, not as much as I’d hoped.

Oh my god, a thousand words and I haven’t even started quoting this shit. Goddammit.

Okay, where do I want to start. Oh — so, back when I read The Cove, I ranted about how bad her dialogue was. I just reread that review, and apparently, my apoplexy rendered me unable to point out Ms. Coulter’s tendency to start bits of dialogue – usually a sentence at the end of a paragraph – with a “Yeah, [statement].” And the character isn’t even answering a question!

Here are some examples from The Maze, because yes, I dogeared all of them.

“Can you help us?”

“Both Agent Sherlock and I have just a few questions. Perhaps we can meet with your people and get the answers. Yes, Captain, there’s not a doubt in my mind that we can help you.” [p. 32]

Y’know, common parlance is to answer a dude’s question once it’s asked. So, y’know, “Yes, Captain, there’s not a doubt in my mind that we can help you” should come first. But – y’know what, it’s fine.

“Yeah, she’s out like a light.  Keep an eye on her, Savich.  She scared the hell out of every cop in that warehouse, but she sure got the job done.  Funny thing how her shooting him saved his life.  If you hadn’t called a quick halt, the cops would have turned him into a pincushion. Hey, we’ll call tomorrow. Oh yeah, we got a lot on him.”  [p. 122]

“The young cop who messed up and let two of the old people go in that Florida nursing home murder – he has no idea. We were right – all old people look the same to him. Oh yeah, there’s been a spate of murders in South Dakota, right in Elk Point, then the guy went over the border into Iowa.” [p. 218]

“I’m going to call Jimmy Maitland and let him know we’re back. And Ollie. Yeah, I think I’ll give Hannah a ring. Yes, I think you’re right. She’s probably behind the leak. I’m beginning to think this might be a good time for her to transfer to another section.” [p. 262]

It’s so. annoying.

Also annoying – how people can’t just fucking come out and say Sherlock has goddamned reddish hair. Look at this stupidity from Savich’s stream of consciousness:

He cocked open an eye. Sherlock was standing over him, a shock of her red hair falling over to cover the side of her face. He watched her tuck the swatch of hair behind her ear. Nice hair and lots of it. Her eyes were green, a pretty color, kind of mossy and soft. No, her hair wasn’t really red, but more red than anything else. There was some brown and a dash of cinnamon color as well. He guessed it was auburn. That’s what he’d thought the first time he’d seen her. [p. 38-39]

A hundred pages later, and he’s still not convinced he knows what color her hair is:

That hair of hers had come loose from the clasp and was rioting around her face – red hair that wasn’t really a carrot red or an orange red or even the auburn he’d thought, but a mixture of this color and that. She had lots of hair. Actually very beautiful hair.  [p. 123]

Even Sherlock’s ex-brother-in-law, Douglas, cannot just call red hair “red”:

[Douglas] touched her hair, then sifted it through his fingers. “Beautiful. It’s auburn, but not really. Perhaps more Titian, but there’s some blond in there too and some brown.” [p. 47]

What the fuck. Guy’s a douchemonster. Wouldn’t know Titian if it came up and bit him in the face. (I’ll get to Douchemonster in a minute.)

Okay. I have been writing this review for entirely too long. So, I’ve just gone through my Word document of quotes that I want to bitch about, and divided them up into categories. Without further ado:

CATEGORY ONE: Man, These Serial Killers Are Awful Talkers

So, remember: the serial killer who leads the poor defenseless women into The Maze is Marlin Jones, acting under the influence of his father, Erasmus Jones. I am never making it up. And remember their motive!cute: they don’t like women who badmouth their husbands, and they especially don’t like women who swear. Here, Marlin monologues (!) to Sherlock about one of his prior victims while she’s in the middle of The Maze:

“He brought her in one night. They had a big argument right there. She even threw a beer in his face. She cursed him up one side and down the other. She even called him a motherfucker. Most women, even bad ones like you, they don’t say that word. That’s a word for real bad guys.” [p. 135]

YOU WATCH IT, MOTHERFUCKER. Although maybe it’s slightly comforting that at least a serial killer might be able to like me for who I am as a person?

hannibal-smiling

Besides as food, Hanni.

ANYWAY. There’s also that dude that Savich’s secretary, Hannah, hired to scare Sherlock into leaving Savich alone. Y’know, the one that breaks into Sherlock’s apartment and scares her when she’s getting out of the shower (oh, I forgot to mention that part:)

“Why do you want me to leave Washington?”

The gun stopped.  He drew his hand away.  “Your mama and daddy need you at home. It’s time you went back there and took care of your responsibilities. They don’t want you here, involved in conspiracies and shooting people, the way the FBI does. Yeah, they want you home. I’m here to encourage you to go.”

“I’ll tell you why I can’t go back just yet. You see, there’s this murderer, his name is Marlin Jones, and he just killed this woman in Boston. He’s a serial killer. I can’t leave just yet. I’ll tell you more but it could take a while.  Can’t I put on some clothes? We can go in the kitchen, and I’ll make some coffee?” [p. 173]

Yes, offer the person who is waving a gun in your naked face some coffee, Sherlock! There’s no way that will end badly! (PS, I am going to get into how Sherlock talks. Christ on sale.)

But anyway, she asks him what his name is (because remember, this individual is unrelated to the main serial killer plot!), and this is, hand to God, his entire response:

“Who are you?”

He laughed. “Call me Sam. You like that? Yeah, that’s me – Sam. My pa was named Sam too. Hey, I’m the son of Sam.” [p. 174]

I can’t with that shit. Here’s why I can’t with this shit: It’s fucking lazy writing that has no point.

ALLOW ME TO ELUCIDATE. (P.S., this is a thing I do with my employees when they write letters to taxpayers: if I feel they’re going off on tangents, I show them “the point” of every sentence they have written. And if there is repetition, or no “point,” the sentence gets fucking cut.)

  1. “Call me Sam.”
    Okay. So, if it had stopped there, I wouldn’t have had an issue. Sherlock asked who he is, and he answered: “Call me Sam.” And with just that one line, we the reader could infer that “Sam” is not his real name, and we can move on.
  2. “You like that?”
    Now, “Sam” is asking Sherlock if she likes his choice of name. Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t matter what Sherlock likes or wants. This person broke into her apartment, and came upon her when she was getting out of the shower. She is naked, unarmed in all senses of the word: she is beyond vulnerable. “Sam” has all the power in this scenario, and there is no need – besides emphasizing his louse-ness, I suppose – for “Sam” to ask if Sherlock likes his name. And even if he’s not asking her how he did for a name choice, if he’s just making noise? That’s almost worse.
  3. “Yeah, that’s me — Sam.”
    Great – he’s re-emphasizing his choice. Either to make sure Sherlock gets what she is to call him, or – and this is my theory – he’s really proud that he came up with a name so quickly when asked, and now he’s just chuffed about it.
  4. “My pa was named Sam too.”
    This sentence was either written to show the level of education “Sam” has (“pa” as opposed to “father”), or as setup for the next sentence. There is no other reason this information need be relayed to Sherlock.
  5. “Hey, I’m the son of Sam.”
    Oh, it was a joke. Now, before you get all up in arms about “See? He needed the fourth sentence so the joke lands in the fifth”, I must ask you: does the joke land? And, more importantly, is the joke necessary? I posit NO.

This has been “Story Structure Theory OR: Is That Sentence Really Necessary?” With Alaina Patterson.

(God, that whole paragraph pissed me off royally.)

CATEGORY TWO: Douglas, Sherlock’s Ex-Brother-in-Law, Is a Terrible, Terrible Person

He is. He is a terrible, terrible person. He is a misogynist. He is abusive, both mentally and physically so. He is hitting on Sherlock while married to a woman who is just as awful as he is. He makes me so angry, he just makes me want to – set him on fire!

poor-freddie-lounds

This is part of our first introduction to Douglas:

“Let’s go eat, Lacey.”

“You look like a prince and I look like a peasant. Let me change. It’ll take me just a minute. Oh yeah, everybody calls me Sherlock.”

“I don’t like that, I never did. And everybody has to make a stupid remark when they meet you. It doesn’t suit you. It’s very masculine. Is that what the FBI is all about? Turning you into a man?” [p. 51]

Here, we have another instance of somebody going “Yeah, [statement]”: this time from Sherlock. But let’s talk about Douglas. He takes her statement – “everybody calls me Sherlock” – and interprets it that the FBI is taking away Sherlock’s femininity. Go fuck yourself, Douglas.

At dinner, Douglas brings up the fact that he’s probably going to marry some woman back home because she claims he got her pregnant. And to show how absolutely awful Douglas is, that’s not the worst part of it:

“She claims I got her pregnant and I suppose that I could have, but I’ve always been so careful. Living in San Francisco, you’re probably the most careful of any American.” [p. 53]

WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK. FIRST OF ALL, GO FUCK YOURSELF, DOUGLAS. And SECOND OF ALL, GO FUCK YOURSELF, CATHERINE COULTER. 

This is not the first time Catherine Coulter has elevated the link between homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic in a completely unsympathetic way. I remind you of this, from my review of The Cove:

So Sally has been kidnapped for the umpteenth time, this time by her not-father. And her not-father is monologuing about his reasons for institutionalizing her and making her life a living hell. And here is where he brings up her gay husband:

“And, you see, I knew all about his lover. At least I made sure you didn’t get AIDS.” [316]

At least I made sure you didn’t get AIDS. [“Fiction: ‘The Cove’ by Catherine Coulter”]

I mean, goddammit. And before y’all start saying, “Alaina, this was written twenty years ago,” fuck you, twenty years ago was 1997! 1997 was recent enough to realize that gay people are not walking contagions for AIDS, which is exactly what Ms. Coulter is implying, in both of these novels. You cannot tell me with a straight face that Ms. Coulter is merely referring to birth control when it comes to Douglas “being careful” while “living in San Francisco.” This is homophobia, plain and simple, and I will fucking call people out on their fucking bullshit when I see it. So both of them – the fictional character and its creator – can go fuck themselves.

What else does Douglas do? Oh, how about lurk outside of Sherlock’s apartment, waiting for her to come home?

“Is that Savich?”

She was so startled she nearly fell over backward. As she was flailing for balance, he came out from behind a tree. “Oh my heavens, it’s you, Douglas. You nearly stopped my heart. Is something the matter? Is everyone all right?”

“Oh yes. I’ve been waiting for you, Lacey. I came over hoping we could have dinner. But you weren’t here.” [p. 60]

What the fuck. Also, he kisses Sherlock without her permission, and then his wife, Candice, who I’m fucking getting to, barges in and accuses him (rightly) of being a cheating pig, and then this happens:

“Candice,” he said very patiently, as if speaking to an idiot witness, “Lacey is part of my family. Just because Belinda died, I didn’t cut her out of my life.”

“I saw you kissing her through the window, Douglas.”

“Yes,” he said quite calmly. “I did. She’s very innocent. She doesn’t kiss well and I like that.”  [p. 151]

I … I don’t even have any more vitriol left for him. Go fuck yourself, Douglas. Go find the most splintered broomstick in your woodshed and just … go to town on your own asshole with it. Fuck you, you disgusting excuse for a fictional character.

CATEGORY THREE: Douglas’s Wife Candice Ain’t Much Better

So remember, Candice was the woman who Douglas at first thought was knocked up. Turns out, she was lying to get him to marry her. When they got married, she admitted that she was not pregnant. So Douglas returns to attempt to get Sherlock back – even though he never had her in the first place, so “back” is a misnomer. And then Candice follows Douglas – from San Francisco – and manages to follow Douglas back to Sherlock’s apartment, unbeknownst to either Douglas or Sherlock.

“I followed you, Douglas. And you came here just like a little trained pigeon. I knew you’d come to her, even though I prayed you wouldn’t. Damn you, I’d hoped our marriage meant something to you. Just look, you let her kiss you. You’ve got her lipstick on your mouth. Damn you, you smell like her.” [p. 151]

This isn’t the first time Ms. Coulter does this, but do you notice how she repeats key phrases in the same paragraph? That’s another thing I’d use my red pen on with my employees.

A hundred pages after this, Candice is badmouthing Belinda to Sherlock and Savich:

“Belinda had low tastes. I’ve heard that she went to dives, to real low-class places. That’s where she would have met this killer. Yes, I’ll bet she did sleep with him. She slept with everyone. Why don’t you ask her?” She turned and gave Lacey a vicious look. “Yes, ask the little princess here.” [p. 248]

“Now, Candice, how do you know so much about Belinda? She was killed seven years ago. You weren’t even around then.”

“I’m an investigative reporter. I looked up everything. I spoke to people who’d known her.” [p. 249]

I just … I don’t see the point of having such an antagonistic person in this story. What purpose does Candice serve? How does she contribute to the narrative? This book has so many stupid plot tangents that you could completely cut out the whole Douglas and Candice shit and you’d still have … well, you’d still have a mess, but that’s because the whole motive behind testing women by having them walk a maze is fucking stupid.

CATEGORY FOUR: … Oh my god.

And not just any normal “oh my god.” This is the Bob Belcher, pinch-the-bridge-of-his-nose-in-disgust “oh my god.”

bob-oh-my-god

So when I read these, please realize that the primary reaction I had was to facepalm myself and mutter, “oh my god.”

“What’s your name?”

“Lacey Sherlock.”

“No one’s named that. That’s stupid. That’s out of some dumb detective story.” [p. 134]

YOU MEAN LIKE THE ONE I’M READING? oh my god.

“What’s going on, Savich?”

“My gut. You’ve never before mistrusted my gut, sir. Don’t mistrust it now. I’m out of here and on my way to her house. She was going there to get more stuff. We made a firm time date. She isn’t here. Sherlock’s always on time. Something’s happened and I just know it’s Marlin and Erasmus. Put out an ABP on her car, Mazda, 4X4 Navajo, license SHER 123.” [p. 307]

HER LICENSE PLATE, YOU GUYS. WHAT KIND OF FUCKING AMAZING FBI AGENT HAS A GODDAMNED PERSONALIZED LICENSE PLATE. ESPECIALLY SUCH A STUPID ONE. OH MY GOD.

And now, the moment that I truly felt bad for Savich:

It was nearly morning when Savich came slowly awake, aware that something strange was happening, something that was probably better than any pesto pasta he’d ever made, better even than having won a huge bet off one of his relatives. The something strange suddenly intensified and he lurched up, gasping. She was leaning over him, her tangled hair covering his belly, her mouth on him. [p. 263]

I may not know too much about blowjobs, but I do know how to tell one apart from pesto pasta. I am so sorry for Savich. I can only imagine his train of thought while he was waking up. What’s — what’s that I’m feeling? Is that … is that pesto pasta on my dick? No, it’s the mouth of the girl I went to bed with last night, and the mouth is on my dick, and it’s doing things that I like. Like, dudes, answer me a question: how much time actually elapses between “being asleep” and “knowing you’ve got a woman sucking your cock”? Isn’t it pretty immediate for you guys? Like, that’s a feeling you know immediately, deep within you(r balls)? HOW DOES HE NOT KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON

oh my god.

Before I get to Category Five, the Katrina of the book, I have one random thing to add because it makes me laugh:

Savich put his elbows on the table, looked directly at the man, and said, “Detective, were there any repairmen in the Lansky household within the past two months?”

Dubrosky reared back, then rocked forward again, banging his fist on the table. “Do you think we’re fucking idiots? Of course we checked all that!” [p. 32]

escalated-quickly

I just want to point out here: this rant is officially longer than my rant on The Revenant. I am so sorry, you guys – I didn’t realize how epic this was going to be.

On to CATEGORY FIVE, THE MOST SERIOUS OF CATEGORIES: Sherlock isn’t as cute as you think she is

One of the traits that comes out in Ms. Coulter’s dialogue is Sherlock’s awkwardness when it comes to speaking. Here’s an example: for context, her direct superior just witnessed Sherlock Poirot-ing about how she solved a case in front of the entire staff meeting, but she neglected to inform her direct superior first.

“There honestly wasn’t time, Ollie. No, of course there was time. It’s just that I, oh damn, this sounds ridiculous, but I really wasn’t even thinking about it until it popped right into my head. Surely you’ve done the same thing.”

[…] “It wasn’t a very nice thing to do, Sherlock.”

“No, you’re right. It wasn’t. I can only say that I honestly wasn’t thinking about it.” It was true. She hadn’t known that Savich would put her on the spot in front of the whole Unit, but he had. There’d been no time then to say anything to Ollie. No, there’d been time. She just hadn’t thought about it. [p. 77]

Between the stuttering and the going back and forth about how there wasn’t enough time to tell Ollie, no actually there was, she was just dumb – it’s an annoying quirk.

She’s even indecisive about when she intends to kill Marlin Jones:

“All right, the truth.  He hasn’t told us everything.  If I could have gotten all of it out of him, then I would have shot him clean.  Well, maybe.  Yes, we have to get him to tell us everything, then I’ll shoot him in the chest, I promise.”  [p. 119]

And here, she’s actually doing a rather decent job of defending herself to Jealous Hannah, but then no, wait — yup, there she goes, fucking it up:

“Ollie told me that Savich doesn’t believe in becoming involved with anyone in his unit. That includes all of us, Hannah. If you want him, then I suggest you transfer out. Listen, I just want to catch this monster in Boston. Actually I did lie. I do want Savich’s brain and his expertise. Does that count? Is that brain lust?” [p. 82]

Now, let’s talk about her time being “under””cover” when attempting to bait Marlin Jones into kidnapping her. I know I’ve said it before, but remember: when it comes to Marlin deciding who his next victim will be, the secret word is fucking.

“What are you doing with the plywood, ma’am?” [asks Marlin.]

“I’m building props for my son’s school play, and that’s why I need to use plywood, not hardwood. They’re doing Oklahoma! and I’ve got to put together a couple of rooms that can be easily disassembled then put back up. So I’ll need some brackets and some screws too.”

“Then why’d you pound a nail through it?”

“That was just experimentation. My husband, that fucking son of a bitch, won’t help me, drinks all the time, won’t take part in raising our son, won’t show me any affection at all, well, so I’ve got to do it all myself.” [p. 105]

escalated-quickly

Like, she just decided to fucking go for it. Marlin doesn’t like women who swear? And he doesn’t like women who badmouth their husbands? Okay, let’s call the pretend husband a “fucking son of a bitch”, an alcoholic, and a neglectful parent and lover. Can’t just say “motherfucker,” huh, Sherlock?

Now, this next quote is from just before Marlin kidnaps Sherlock, and I’m not sure what this sentence means:

Her heart pounding, she whirled about, a gasp coming out of her mouth. “Oh goodness gracious, Marlin, you scared the stuffing out of me. Oh yeah, you scared me shitless.” [p. 107]

Is it just another example of Ms. Coulter’s “Yeah, [statement]” tic? Or is it Sherlock realizing she could have swore in the first sentence, so to cover it up she goes, “Oh yeah,” where it could mean “Oh yeah, I mean, you scared me shitless”? I’m not sure. But I do know it’s dumb either way.

This description of Savich’s voice is just fucking lazy:

“Your voice made me quiver – all dark and soft, like falling into a deep, deep well. If I were a criminal, I’d say anything you wanted to keep you talking to me like that. It’s a wonderful voice. Plummy – that’s how a writer would describe your voice.” [p. 183]

NOBODY SAYS ‘PLUMMY’ IN REAL LIFE. You overplayed your hand, Ms. Coulter.

And finally, speaking of Ms. Coulter’s hand, I want to leave you with this statement from her acknowledgements:

Whenever I hear writers brag about how their editors don’t require any changes to their manuscripts, I’m honestly floored. It’s an editor’s job to be the reader’s representative and thus make the manuscript better. And believe me, a manuscript can always be made better.  [Acknowledgements, pg. I]

Well, as I just typed 5,000 words to prove that your editor isn’t worth a goddamned dime, I just have to say: no shit, Sherlock.

jon stewart boom

Grade for The Maze: Twilight stars.

Fiction: “Seduction in Death” by J.D. Robb

seductionAs I was finishing up The Witches, I realized I wanted something a little lighter for my next reading fare. While I was still reading silly little romance novels at home, that genre still isn’t something I feel comfortable reading in public – especially since I don’t read them on my Kindle app. (Or don’t, for the most part.) So I went with the next best thing to a cheesy romance novel: a crime novel with some romance! Also known as, the next book in the J.D. Robb Eve Dallas series.

This book’s villain is actually a team of two: two young, affluent white male geniuses who never got women in high school or college, so they turned to meeting women under pseudonyms online – and really obvious pseudonyms to the modern day reader; I’m talking about John Keats, or Byron. Poets from the Romantic period that people in 2058ish (when the series takes place) might not be as familiar with as we are right now. But they entice a lady via their online profiles, and then when they go out on their first date, they roofie the girls, and then, after they’ve consented (while incapacitated, so, no, consent wasn’t part of the discussion), they inject another drug into the girl’s bloodstream which causes her to have a heart attack mid-orgasm, and die.

Yet another reason why I’m still single.

No, but for real: many well-meaning people have said to me, “Alaina, why don’t you try online dating?” And while I was just as hesitant prior to reading Seduction in Death, this certainly doesn’t help. (Although at least I’d give myself enough credit to know when someone’s masquerading as John Keats or something to figure out they’re lyin’.)

Look, one of my formative influences is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And in episode 8 of season 1, “I Robot, You Jane,” Willow dates Malcolm, and the relationship is all online. Malcolm also turns out to be a demon, but that’s neither here nor there. This conversation between Buffy and Xander, however, completely explains my reservations:

Xander: I mean, sure he says he’s a high school student, but can say I’m a high school student.
Buffy: [duh] You are.
Xander: Okay, but I could also say I’m an elderly Dutch woman. Get me? I mean, who’s to say I’m not if I’m in the elderly Dutch chat room?
Buffy: I get your point. [realizes] I get your point! Oh, this guy could be anybody! He could be weird, or crazy, or old, or … he could be a circus freak! He’s probably a circus freak!
Xander: Yeah, I mean, we read about it all the time. Y’know, people meet on the ‘net, they talk, they get together, have dinner, a show … horrible ax murder.
Buffy: Willow … ax murdered, by a circus freak. Okay, okay, what do we do?

PS, this conversation? aired back in 1997. It’s stuck with me for almost oh god I just counted twenty years. Just because Dude posts a picture of himself, how do I know it’s really Dude? I have trust issues up the wazoo! There is no way I am going to be able to trust anyone, no matter how well-meaning they may be.

holy shit next year is the 20th goddamned anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So anyway, Dear Well-Meaning Friends: stop suggesting I try online dating. Don’t quote to me the magnificent Carrie Fisher, who said “stay afraid, but do it anyway.” As much as I admire her (and god, do I ever), and aspire to her level of life-living, when it comes to that avenue, there are Things I (clearly) need to work on (probably via talk therapy), and until those Things have been Worked, online dating will be a no-go for me. And I’m okay with that.

oh god how will i be able to trust a stranger in talk therapy i’m probably going to assume he’s a cannibal and welp there goes that plan

hannibal-season-2-episode-12-hannibal-chair

SO ANYWAY. (I probably should have waited to write this until I was a little less scatter-brained, but I am way behind on blog posts and Hamilton Tickets [who I’m puppy-sitting again] is asleep on my feet and not jumping on me, so I’m going to take advantage of the quiet and my awakeness to get at least one post done.)

There really isn’t much else to talk about plot-wise. If you read these books to keep up with the budding romance between Peabody and McNab, they ended the last book on the outs, but they’re back together by the end of this one. Eve and Roarke are still very tight and in love, and seriously, I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it until it’s no longer true: I love their relationship.

“Eve.”

“Don’t.” She held up a finger at Roarke’s quiet tone. “I don’t want to talk about that now. I don’t ever want to talk about it, but I especially don’t want to talk about it now. And if anybody had listened to me when I said she and McNab getting tangled was going to screw things up, we wouldn’t have to talk about it, would we?”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re talking about it.”

“Oh, shut up.” [p. 73]

The only other dogears I made in the book all detail the villains’ attitude towards their victims. They’re rich, well-educated, assholey white boys who are killing women because women never paid them attention while they attended their genius schools. It’s exactly as horrifying and probably indicative of actual attitudes as you can imagine. And we’ve all had a rough week, month, year – even though J.D. Robb / Nora Roberts wrote these characters back in 2001, I don’t want to bring any more negativity into this week if I can help it.

Grade for Seduction in Death: 2.5 stars

Fiction: “Betrayal in Death” by J.D. Robb

Betrayal in DeathAll right, this one is going to be quick for a number of reasons. 1) No one is going to pay attention to anything anyone says about stuff other than David Bowie today; it’s just a fact. 2) I’m starting to write this at 9:30 at night, and I shouldn’t need to spend more than half an hour on it, because I have to go to bed soon. 3) It’s a J.D. Robb Eve Dallas/Roarke novel – even though they’ve all been different, they’re still all the same, y’know? 4) I rated it 3 stars, it’s not going to change anyone’s world.

HOWEVER. There was something that I did want to talk about with this, so let me get the plot out of the way, then I’m going to give you some clues, and by the end of this review, you’ll understand why this is probably my favorite of the In Death books so far.

There’s this fancy auction at one of Roarke’s hotels and a housemaid gets murdered. As it occurred in one of Roarke’s hotels, Roarke is going to take this one personally. Apparently there were a couple of other murders in buildings and other entities related to Roarke, so this is just the icing on a murder cake of awfulness. Eve investigates — because “conflict of interest” never really comes up when you’re the best cop on the force, regardless of the fact that you’re married to the guy who owns half of New York — and determines that Roarke is at the center of a conspiracy wherein someone is killing people close to him in order to have Roarke’s guard go down and the bad guy hopes to kill him.

Turns out it’s all a front so some other guys can rob the fancy auction that’s being held in Roarke’s hotel, but the idea of a hit on Roarke holds up for 80% of the book, which is way better than some other conspiracy books I’ve read in the past (I am soooooo looking at you, Patricia Cornwell and Laurell K. Hamilton!).

There’s also some hints from Roarke’s past back in Ireland and Summerset, Roarke’s valet who is way sturdier than Woodhouse and who also hates Eve which is really funny, anyway, Summerset gets some action in the book too. Oh, and Peabody and McNab kind of break up but get back together, if anyone cares about them.

OKAY. SO. The thing I loved about the book? The assassin. Why? Well –

Sly [the assassin] enjoyed traveling, and had several scrapbooks filled with postcards he picked up as he did so. Occasionally he would page through them, sipping a drink, smiling over the reminders of places he’d been, and the trinkets he’d collected there.

The meal he had in Paris that summer after he’d dispatched the electronic’s manufacturer, the view from his hotel window on a rainy evening in Prague before he’d strangled the American envoy.

Good memories. [p. 36]

duomo jpg

Eve and Peabody’s attempt to track Sly also sounds very … familiar.

“Well, the profile indicates he sees himself as a highly successful businessman, one of impeccable taste. He likes fine things, and he can afford the best.”

“[…] He’s booked or bought himself an estate somewhere, with a good wine cellar and all the trimmings…”

“[A lead] for us is music. He knew the Mozart thing playing. Called it by name, hummed along with it. Peabody, I want you to start checking out the high-dollar season tickets to the symphony, the ballet, the opera, all the highbrow stuff.” [p. 135]

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And then, there’s all of — well, this.

He’d prepared himself a delightful veal picatta for dinner. Often after a job he liked to putter around his kitchen, enjoying the scents and textures of cooking, sipping an appropriate wine as his sauces thickened. [p.160]

20130419-mads-mikkelsen-hannibal-whats-cooking

And finally, the pièce de résistance:

The kitchen was directly off to the right, and polished to a gleam. She pursed her lips as she poked into the tank-sized refrigerator and found it fully stocked, as was the AutoChef. Both ran to expensive food, heavy on the red meat.

Interesting, [Eve] thought, and imagined [Sly] Yost standing over the huge stove, delicately sauteing something. Listening to music, classical or opera, as he worked. Wearing the snow-white butcher’s apron she found hanging, pressed and pristine, in a narrow closet.

He’d cook for himself, an efficient and self-sufficient man. […] He’d set his table with the fancy china in the cupboard, light his candles, and savor his solitary meal.

A man of refined tastes, who liked to kill. [p. 195]

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Seriously, J.D. Robb is fucking with me with this one, isn’t she? Isn’t she??!

Grade for Betrayal in Death: 3 stars (the extra star is because Everything is Hannibal and Everything Hurts.)

Fiction: “Hannibal” by Thomas Harris

hannibalSo, similar to my (latest) “review” of Red Dragon, this won’t be a review of the book I read, but more like … well, I’ve realized that while everyone I know is aware of my vast love for Hannibal, many of them seem to be stymied as to the reasons why I love it so much. So, this will be me trying to put those emotions into words.

There are some movies that I love that I remember seeing for the first time, quite vividly. I’ve talked about this in relation to books I’ve read, but the same can be said for films. An example: I had taped Sunset Blvd. off of AMC when I was in high school, but never got the chance to watch it until I went to college. So one night, I couldn’t sleep, and I popped the VHS into my tiny combo TV/VCR unit, and I watched it in the dark. And I mean, three-in-the-morning dark. I may have had my Christmas lights on that I had hung under my roommate’s top bunk for lighting, but I doubt it. To this day, I cannot watch Sunset Blvd. in anything but pitch blackness. I think Billy Wilder would agree with me in that it’s not a movie made for daylight.

So having said that, I do not have a vivid memory for the first time I ever watched The Silence of the Lambs. I had to have watched it for the first time when I was in high school, because I remember doing impersonations of the “fava beans and a nice Chianti” line in drama club, but other than that … no recollection.

I do remember seeing Hannibal when it came out because my best friend Kerri and I went to see it at the movie theater, and I still remember leaning over during the Pazzi murder scene and whispering, “They’re using the blue filter there because — ”  I can’t remember why; she and I and Amelia had been taking Film Studies as an elective, and at one point we knew what all of the different color filters signified. Not anymore!

I also know I watched Manhunter, the first film adaptation of Hannibal Lecter, itself an adaptation of Red Dragon, at least twice because William Petersen played Will Graham in that movie and I was addicted to CSI: Original Flavor for about three years when it was first on.

So by the time I was a sophomore in college, I’d read all three novels – Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal — and I’d watched three movies: Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal. And … that’s it. I certainly don’t recall being obsessed with them or the characters by any means; I certainly don’t remember purchasing six posters for Silence of the Lambs and leaving them in my parents’ basement – it doesn’t seem like something I would have done! By the time 2003, 2004 rolled around, my latest obsession at that point was Arrested Development, so .. I still say a murder wizard planted those posters, Dad.

Fast-foward about ten years later, and almost without warning, Alaina gets sucked into and then becomes obsessed with this “reboot” of Hannibal. What, in God’s name, happened?

Well – storytelling happened.

See, [see?] before Hannibal premiered in 2013, here’s what anyone could say about the life of Dr. Hannibal Lecter:

  • When we meet him in Red Dragon, he has been behind bars for at least three years.
  • We know he was nicknamed “Hannibal the Cannibal” in the press for gruesome murders and cannibalizing.
  • We know that Will Graham was responsible for his capture.
  • We know that Hannibal nearly killed Will during said capture.
  • We know that Hannibal was a psychiatrist at one point, and because he still writes for medical journals and has insight into the sociopathic brain, Will goes to see Dr. Lecter in trying to capture the Red Dragon serial killer.
  • There is tension between Will and Dr. Lecter; the reader is left to assume it’s merely due to the fact that Will caught him.
  • Approximately seven years later (? – I might be wrong about that), Jack Crawford sends his new trainee Clarice Starling to ask Hannibal for help on the Buffalo Bill serial killings.
  • Hannibal helps her, but at the cost of Clarice telling Hannibal about her past and secret fears.
  • Hannibal escapes custody and moves to Italy.
  • In Hannibal, we learn about another one of Hannibal’s victims: Mason Verger, who has offered a reward for capturing Hannibal alive so he can kill him
  • Hannibal returns from Italy and, in a weird confluence and sequence of events, ends up kidnapping Clarice who has been suspended indefinitely from the FBI, and then brainwashes her into loving him, and they spend the rest of their lives happily ever after … ?

Even if people are only familiar with the Silence of the Lambs plot, we know that Hannibal is in jail and as far as we can tell, has always been in jail.

The TV show Hannibal? Shows him out of jail.

Shows him as a practicing psychiatrist. With actual patients.

Shows him as a chef. A cannibal chef.

everything is people

The show basically says “Look, we know Hannibal’s going to end up in jail; you know that Hannibal’s going to end up in jail. But how did he get there? What exactly did he do to end up in that hospital? How did Will find out? Why doesn’t Will really want to go ask Lecter for help with the Red Dragon case, because it feels like there should be more there?” and then the show gives those answers to us and they are glorious and more than we could have ever imagined

Look, dramatic irony is my favorite irony – that’s when we the audience know what is going to happen but the characters do not. We know how Romeo & Juliet is going to end, but Romeo & Juliet do not. As famous blogger Cleolinda Jones is fond of saying, “The people in ______ don’t know they’re in ______.”  This can be used for Dracula and for Hannibal.

We know that the protein scramble Hannibal makes for Will on their first date breakfast meeting contains human lung sausage, but Will doesn’t. So if we’re identifying with Will, we become horrified on his behalf. YOU’RE EATING PEOPLE, you yell at the TV.

And then, we become curious – when is Will going to figure all this out?? When does everyone realize not only that Hannibal is the Chesapeake Ripper, but that he’s serving the Ripper’s victims up literally on silver trays? What is Will’s face going to look like when he realizes that not only is Hannibal a cannibal, but that it fucking rhymes? Who copyrights the phrase “Hannibal the Cannibal”?

I mean, Chilton, obvi. He’s the only jackass with the inbred jackassery to go ahead and copyright the fucking phrase. Goddamit Chilton.

(also – the show made us sympathize with Dr. Frederick Chilton, which is an IMPOSSIBLE task. So, kudos, and keep fighting, Fred!)

Bryan Fuller et. al .are taking something so familiar and turning it on its ear. We know where the landmarkers are – Will catches Hannibal, Hannibal guts him with a linoleum knife, Hanni goes to jail, Will recuperates, fast-forward to the Red Dragon escapade – but we don’t know how we’re going to get there. It’s like, we know we’re going to Disney World, but we’re going to drive all across Canada and back first. Wait, that’s not the best analogy. Because what the writers also did was throw in actual quotes and concepts from the books waaay before they’re supposed to happen.

Ex: In the book Red Dragon, Hannibal sends a letter to Will, telling him he (Will) shouldn’t feel bad about killing Garrett Jacob Hobbs, as God kills people all the time. This letter arrives at Will’s fingertips years after the Hobbs case; in fact, in the book, the case has maybe all of three paragraphs given over to it. In the book, Hannibal is taunting Will, because that’s all Hannibal does to Will.

In the first season of Hannibal, the Garrett Jacob Hobbs case is the first one that Will and Hannibal are pulled into together. Because yes, Hannibal is helping Will and the FBI catch the Minnesota Shrike. Except Hannibal (again, quoting the brilliant Cleolinda Jones), is the WORST AT HELPING, and copycats Hobbs’s kills because he was curious as to what would happen. (It’s a long story.) But Will still shoots Hobbs dead in Hobbs’s kitchen, and in the show, it’s episode 2 where Will is in not-therapy with Dr. Lecter, and Dr. Lecter gives him this piece of wisdom in an effort to absolve Will of his guilt of killing Hobbs. Is Lecter still taunting Will? A bit, but under the guise of concerned therapist. He wants Will to trust him so he can turn him into an acolyte in the future.

So many moments I can point at to illustrate the concept of taking something old and making it new, or winking at the audience. Or just having fun with the whole thing – my favorite scene in the entire series, hands down, is when Hannibal is planning a dinner party, and he has a Rolodex of business cards, and a box of recipes. And he’ll pick a business card, kill that person, and take what he needs for his recipe. In between the killings (which we do not see), we flash back and forth between the FBI’s lab, wherein the lab techs are talking about how these six or seven victims are all missing certain organs, and we flash to Hannibal’s kitchen where he’s preparing and vacuum-sealing said organs.

“Intestines were the only organs missing from this body?”
“Yes, so we’re either looking for someone with short bowels, or the Ripper’s making sausage.”
CUT TO: Hannibal making sausage

You guys, I die every time I watch that scene. It’s priceless.

And if we’re talking about black humor, how about that time when there was a live bird inside a corpse which was stuck inside of a dead horse, and that bird when it came out was a freaking starling

Plus the show has beautiful cinematography and the actors are amazing. Bryan Fuller loves playing with gender and race, so in the show, Jack Crawford is now played by Laurence Fishburne. Dr. Alan Bloom becomes Dr. Alana Bloom, who has feelings for both Will and Hannibal. Freddie Lounds is now short for Fredericka Lounds, and she is AMAZING. Bryan’s said in interviews that if he had been able to get the rights to the Silence of the Lambs characters, he wanted to cast a person of color as Clarice, to see how that upbringing would affect the characterization.

It’s so smart, and wonderful, and what I really enjoyed doing re-reading Red Dragon and Hannibal this summer was to see where the writers were able to take scenes or dialogue or narration from the source material and honor it in a completely new way. Plus, this was probably the first TV show where I’ve actually been intrigued by the idea of being scared.

I mean, look, I don’t watch horror movies. I hate them. And while I’ve watched sci-fi horroresque shows, the highest on those lists are going to be The X-Files and Buffy in terms of grossness and being scared for characters. But I came into both of those shows late – I started watching The X-Files in season 5, practically, and the only episode of Buffy I watched when it aired for the first time was “Chosen.” (That’s the series finale; everything else I watched on DVD or FX reruns.) But with Hannibal, it was clear that things weren’t always going to be what they seemed, so I never knew when or if someone was going to die.

In Red Dragon, Freddie Lounds dies. And he dies horrifically. In Hannibal the show, Freddie is now Ms. Lounds, and Bryan Fuller did not want to see that level of violence against a woman. (He’s been very adamant about that as well – not using sexual violence as plot devices. God bless you, Bryan.) So that entire episode, I was all, “WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN? WHO’S — IS — HOW –” and then WHEN THE VICTIM WAS ANNOUNCED I WAS SHOCKED BECAUSE I DID NOT SEE THAT CHOICE COMING AND IT WAS … AND THE PERSON’S NOT EVEN DEAD

*flails*

I am so glad I watched that episode at my house in the woods by myself, because if I had watched it with people near me, the cops would have been called expecting me to have been murdered.

Okay, two thousand words later, and I still don’t think I did my feelings justice. I was just so impressed with how someone can take such well-known stories and characters, elevate their surroundings and actions to such a wonderful level of art and taste, and yet remain true to the spirit of the source material. I mean, yes, it’s a show about a serial killer. Yes, it’s a show about a cannibal. Yes, people die in grisly ways that we actually get to see on network TV at times, to the utter amazement of me. (YOU CAN SHOW HIS LIPS GETTING BITTEN OFF BUT YOU BLUR A BUTTCRACK ON A RENAISSANCE PAINTING? COME ON, NBC)

But I didn’t watch it for the gore, or the blood, or the violence. I didn’t even watch it for the black humor – that was a wonderful bonus. I watched it because I was so amazed at how something so indelible on pop culture could be reinterpreted and re-imagined into something so breathtakingly new.

And I’m going to miss the fuck out of my crazy cannibal murder husbands show.

Grade for Hannibal, the book: 3.5 stars
Grade for Hannibal, the TV show: ∞ stars

(that symbol is infinity. infinity stars.)

Fiction: “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn

sharp objectsThis is the last book I returned to the library over two months ago, so my memory’s going to be a bit weak on it. Apologies in advance?

Sharp Objects is Gillian Flynn’s debut novel. Gillian Flynn, of course, wrote Gone Girl, and, like when I read Gone Girl, my Harry Burns Tendencies reared their shaggy, bug-eyed head and yes, I read the end of the book first. Look, on the one hand, I feel it’s a testament to Ms. Flynn’s writing style that I become so intrigued with the plot and the suspense that I want to know the resolution so quickly that I am compelled to scan ahead for clues. On the other hand … I have got to stop doing that.

Before I even get into the plot, I do need to say this: this book? Is not a happy playtime of a book. The plot is well-written, and the resolution makes everything enjoyable, but dear Jesus – this is not a happy book.

This book contains the following triggers:
– Cutting
– Suicidal thoughts
– Münchausen syndrome by proxy (I don’t even care that that is a spoiler, y’all should be aware of that going in)

Firstly, the protagonist and our narrator, Camille Preaker, is a former cutter. She spent some time in an institution to overcome her addiction to cutting and depression, and she is still fighting those impulses when this story begins.

One of the things that not many people don’t know about me – mainly because it rarely comes up in conversation – is that I have a very active imagination. Meaning, when I read about something happening, I can sometimes even experience a phantom pain, almost. Or even watching a movie. One of my favorite movies is The Royal Tenenbaums. And the scene where Luke Wilson’s character shaves off his beard and then uses the same razor on his wrists – to this day, I cannot listen to “Needle in the Hay” without some phantom pain crawling around the inside of my own wrists. This paragraph I just wrote? I had to hold my wrists together a couple of times while I was writing it.

I can’t explain how or why this happens to me, but it does. So to hear detailed descriptions of how Camille would cut not just lines, but whole words onto her skin? Oh god — shivers, and not the good kind. There was one point where I had to put the book down and walk away, and then skip a couple of pages when I picked it up again.

I mean, kudos to Ms. Flynn for being able to create descriptions so visceral that they manifest themselves. But seriously, not a happy book.

Camille has flown to her home town of Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on the murders of two small girls in the town. Camille went to college and became a journalist in part to escape from her mother, Adora, who she felt never truly loved her. Part of that lack of love stemmed from the death of her younger sister, Marian, who died after a long illness. Camille doesn’t want to return to Wind Gap, but the idea of getting a jump on a national news story, as well as making her father-figure boss proud of her, compels her to make the drive.

It is just as awkward-awful as you’d think. Adora welcomes Camille into her house, but wants to know how long she’s staying. Camille spends every night drinking herself to sleep to stop the voices in her head. She cozies up to the police force and the special investigator sent by the Kansas City police force in an attempt to build her story; meanwhile, she keeps running into old high school friends who have all married and had children and resent their small-town life, whereas Camille resents the family they’ve been able to build.

Camille attempts to rebuild the relationship between herself and Adora and Amma, her preteen half-sister. Amma at first holds herself above and apart from Camille, but they bond eventually. Adora and Camille never really connect.

Aaaand I think that’s all I can say about this book without revealing some key points. (You can probably figure one out by one of the trigger warnings I posted above.)

Look, if you can get through this without wincing, good on you. While I appreciate that Gillian Flynn is an amazing writer – and admire her for being able to write in and on such dark subject matter – I don’t think I’ll reread this book. It was just too … not happy.

Grade for Sharp Objects: 3.5 stars

Fiction: “Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris

red dragonOkay, I’m going out of order on this blog – technically, I have two other books to review before I should be getting into this particular book again, but IMPORTANT THINGS HAVE HAPPENED THAT I NEED TO TALK TO SOME WINE AND THE INTERNET ABOUT

Here, you want my review of Red Dragon? Here it is:

OF COURSE I READ IT AGAIN

HANNIBAL THIS SEASON IS GOING TO TACKLE THE RED DRAGON STORYLINE

IF YOU THOUGHT I WASN’T GOING TO REREAD THIS (and underline in pencil all the lines and scenes lifted directly from this book into the series, FOR POSTERITY AND ALSO AWESOMENESS), then CLEARLY YOU DO NOT KNOW ME

THERE

REVIEW COMPLETE

NOW TO THE TALKING PLUS OH SO MUCH WINE

STRAIGHT FROM THE BOTTLE BECAUSE THAT’S HOW I’M ROLLING TONIGHT

I DON’T GOT TIME FOR GLASSES

AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT

Before we begin tonight’s tale of woe, I find I must relate another, longer tale of — well not woe, exactly, but weirdness.

(Also, in case you can’t tell, I’ve been drinking. So BUCKLE UP)

So, YEARS AGO, when I worked at L.L. Bean, I started hearing the Pearl Jam hit “betterman” like, all the time. There were days when I’d hear it on each leg of my commute. And if “betterman” wasn’t playing, it was another Pearl Jam song. Or “Hunger Strike,” by Temple of the Dog. Or those songs Eddie Vedder did from the Into the Wild soundtrack. I mean, it was ALL THE FUCKING TIME. There was this one time, where I had put it on a mix CD for a wedding I was going to because I thought I was hilarious, and I didn’t realize I had loaded it onto my iPod, and I was working on a spreadsheet or something at work with my earbuds in and the FUCKING FIRE ALARM GOES OFF, for like, the first time in FIFTY YEARS, and so I run out and help everyone evacuate and it’s not until I get back into the store when I realize that — YOU GUESSED IT — “betterman” was the song playing on the iPod when the alarms started shrieking.

When my dear friend Not-Uncle Jean was transferred to Customer Service from Men’s, I was hearing “betterman” on the radio while I was donating blood at the same time as the decision was being made. I heard “Evenflow” the morning of the Worst Physical Inventory In All Of Human History (18 hours! 18 hours of inventory! I was there for all of them! It was hell) “betterman” was the song playing on my radio when my alarm went off on my 25th birthday, setting the stage for a really shitty year, to be honest.

I started calling it The Curse of Eddie Vedder. My Dear Friend Amelia, who is a die-hard Pearl Jam fan, bee tee dubs, started looking at me like I was crazy – which, admittedly, I am, BUT NOT ABOUT THIS. I mean, we even tried to go see Pearl Jam: 20 at the Nick when it came out a few years ago but it was oversold. You know what song I had heard on the radio that day? YOU GUESSED IT. Apparently, Eddie didn’t even want me to TRY and break the curse by sitting captive in a movie starring him for two hours.

Eventually, as all curses do (even the Cubbies – GUYS, IT’S 2015, THEY’RE GONNA WIN THIS YEAR, IT HAS BEEN WRITTEN), the power of Eddie Vedder fades and now it’s just a delightful anecdote that makes me laugh on occasion.

So now let’s change gears and watch Alaina coming out of the Hannaford this evening, a book of stamps in hand, ready for mailing some late graduation cards, and other sundries. She gets into her car and pulls her phone out of her purse and realizes that she has a voicemail, a Facebook notification, and a Twitter notification.

Alaina’s Dear Friend Sarah has thoughtfully tagged her on both Facebook and Twitter in an unthinkable piece of news:

HANNIBAL. HAS BEEN. CANCELLED.

alana 1No.

No, that’s not true.

alana 2

That — that can’t be true.

will crying 2 don't lieno.  no no no. noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

DON’T MAKE ME CRY IN THE HANNAFORD PARKING LOT GUYS

alaina 3.5

oh god.

oh god no.

I felt like I’d been gutted.

will crying HANNIBALAnd then, in between the tears and the anguished yelling, I remembered that I had a voicemail.

Maybe it was my mother who thoughtfully left me a message. Mom knows how I feel about this show, and even though she doesn’t understand my undying love for it, I’m sure she loves me enough to want to call me and comfort me in my time of need. AND I WAS VERY NEEDY, RIGHT THERE, IN THE HANNAFORD PARKING LOT

Maybe it was Dear Friend Sarah, who shares the same Fannibal love that I do.

Maybe it was … I don’t know, Bryan Fuller himself, telling me to hold on hope that maybe, just maybe, some other network or streaming site would pick up where NBC left off, and my wonderful, bloody, gory, amazing show could continue – much like Arrested Development was rescued from its nadir of cancellation by the wonder that is Netflix.

It could also, realistically, be a voicemail from my union, reminding me to support our legislature in all of the budget shit that’s going down. Honestly, my money was on the union.

So, the weird thing about this voicemail, is that there was no record of who had called.

You know how normally, the phone says, “Oh, you have a missed call, it was MOM & DAD”? NOT THIS TIME. There was NOTHING. Just the Voicemail icon. No record of anyone leaving me call. I even checked “Recent Calls” in my call log, and there was NO RECORD OF ANYONE CALLING ME. And yet I HAD A VOICEMAIL.

heh .. this is the part were I was going to screenshot my Missed Call page on my phone? But then I realized that a lot of people’s personal numbers would be published on the internet, and I realized OH SHIT THAT’S SUCH A BAD IDEA so I didn’t. Yay restraint!

So anyway, nothing. And my voicemail doesn’t even say, “Message from: two-zero-seven- etc.” So … I had no idea who called.

I push play.

And guys, I really wish I could somehow embed the audio of that voicemail into this post, but that type of transfer from my phone to my laptop is beyond my ken even when I’m sober, and I’m almost done with an entire bottle of wine at this point. (DON’T WORRY MOM I’VE BEEN DRINKING SINCE 7 SO I SHOULD BE FINE EXCEPT I DIDN’T HAVE DINNER BUT STILL ONE BOTTLE OVER 2.5 HOURS IS WAY BETTER THAN AN EPISODE OF HANNIBAL)

I mean guys, I seriously just spent ten minutes searching my office for my plug-in microphone so I could record it for all posterity, but you’ll just have to borrow my imagination. (sob!)

So, picture it –

You hear a little bit of static.

It almost sounds like someone butt-dialed you. Like, there’s a conversation going, but you’re only hearing one side of the story. Someone might be laughing a bit; you’re not sure.

You’re almost leaning into your phone, trying to decipher the voice – because yes, even through the static, it sounds slightly familiar, and you can’t wait to call whoever this is and tell them that somehow, their butt-dial bypassed your caller ID, and you have to admit it: you’re slightly proud.

But then, the message starts to have a rather … musical quality. You still don’t know exactly what’s being said, but maybe it’s not a conversation…

and then

you begin to decipher some of the words

and a chill runs up your spine

will crying 1because

now you can clearly hear someone singing

and you know the words

and it’s

eddie fucking vedder

singing

she lies and says she’s in love with him
can’t find a better man

will crying DEAD

WHAT THE FUCK

WHO WOULD LEAVE ME A VOICEMAIL THAT CONSISTS SOLELY OF THE CHORUS TO “BETTERMAN”

WHO WOULD DO THAT

ON TODAY OF ALL DAYS

WHO WOULD BE SO –

goddammit.

you fucking jackass.

jesus christ.

alana dead

ANYWAY.

THAT, my friends, is the story of How Alaina Learned That Hannibal Was Cancelled.

Fiction: “The Pelican Brief” by John Grisham

Pelican BriefOkay, full disclosure: I finished reading this like, two weeks ago.  I’m still not sure why I haven’t written the review of it yet; I blame Comic-Con and all its goings on (you guys – you guys – we meet Francis Dolarhyde in episode 8 next year!  I AM NOT OKAY).

I alluded to my reading list a couple of entries ago, and basically the Hobby Lobby decision made me want to reread two favorites: The Pelican Brief, because somebody decides to kill Supreme Court Justices; and The Handmaid’s Tale, because if nothing happens, it could become our future and not just some culture-warning science-fiction.  But I’ll talk more about that book in that review.

Now, The Pelican Brief does not deal with women’s rights, feminism, or hardly any of the issues the current Congress is fighting over, and that’s fine: I didn’t read it for the issues, I read it for the violence.  In the first three or so chapters, a highly-skilled assassin named Khamel kills two Supreme Court Justices – Rosenberg, because he’s the most outspoken liberal on a higher-majority-than-our-current Conservative Court; and Jensen, an oddball.  The Feds can’t come up with a link between the two Justices and who would want to kill both of them.

Enter Darby Shaw, and her law professor/lover, Thomas Callahan.  Callahan, a Constitutional law professor at Tulane, worshipped Rosenberg, and he takes his death very hard.  Darby, meanwhile, “plays detective” and tries to figure out what killed him and Jensen.  What she discovers, she dismisses out of hand, but still types up a brief to give to Thomas.  Thomas gives her brief to his friend in the FBI, who gives it to his boss, the head of the unit, and he gives it to the White House Chief of Staff, and before everyone knows it, all of Washington is talking about this thing that comes to be known as the Pelican Brief.

And then the mastermind behind the Justice killings starts getting paranoid and even more murder-ey.  He blows up Thomas in a car bomb, and if Thomas hadn’t been drinking enough to keep Darcy out of the car, she’d be dead too. She immediately goes underground, cutting and dyeing her hair and taking every precaution she can.  Thomas’s friend at the FBI tracks her down, and she’s about to escape New Orleans with him when Khamel kills him and assumes his identity.  She nearly gets killed, except Khamel was being followed by the CIA and someone shoots him first.

At this point, Darcy contacts a journalist at the Washington Post – Gray Grantham, who wants the story.  He agrees to play by her rules and her time constraints, and eventually the two of them get back into Washington from New Orleans and they find all the missing pieces.

Essentially, there’s this power and money-hungry oil tycoon who bought tons of oil-rich acreage in Louisiana, and he’s been biding his time before he can start drilling.  Just before he can start his enterprise, an environmental group called Green Fund sues some of his companies and holdings, claiming that the enterprise will effectively wipe out the Louisiana Brown pelican, a species near extinction as it is.  The case has been tied up in courts for years, and eventually, it will make its way to the Supreme Court.  And even though it won’t end up at the Supreme Court for years, the paranoid and evil mastermind decides to kill Rosenberg and Jensen now – firstly because they almost always come down on the side of the environment, and also because if he waits for Rosenberg to die, he could be replaced by another liberal.  The current president (in this world) is Republican, and will most likely create a bench full of Conservatives.

You almost have to admit: his plan was sheer elegance in its simplicity.

Obviously the good guys save the day; it’s a Grisham novel, and one of his earliest.  There won’t be any instances of Goliath beating David in his novels for a while now, at least.

Before I get into how this Grisham novel officially shakes out, let’s talk about some parts where I laughed my ass off.

Here’s one:

“The states have compelling reasons to prohibit the sale and possession of certain types of arms.  The interests of the state of New Jersey outweigh the Second Amendment rights of Mr. Nash.  Society cannot allow individuals to own sophisticated weaponry.” [p. 20]

OH MY GOD.  I LAUGHED SO HARD, YOU GUYS.  SO HARD.  Because everyone knows now that the Second Amendment is the most holy of our texts – it even supersedes the Bible. You can take our lives, but you’ll never take our AK-47s and other advanced weaponry! And after my giggle fit subsided, I of course burst into tears at the state of our country.

What else made me laugh/cry?

One of the reactions to the deaths of the Justices was an upcropping of protests and vindication from some fringe groups.  This (clearly confused) group targets the porn houses of Washington, D.C. (remember guys: this book was written before the Internet, a time when porn theaters were a thing because no one could get it for free on the Interwebs):

But his was a nonviolent group, opposed to the indiscriminate killing of innocent and/or insignificant people.  They had killed a few necessary victims.  Their specialty, however, was the demolition of structures used by the enemy.  They picked easy targets: unarmed abortion clinics, unprotected ACLU offices, unsuspecting smut houses. [p. 81]

He keeps saying “non-violent”; I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

Oh, this made me laugh, but only to myself: the President in this book goes unnamed.  When I’m first introduced to the character, I picture Pres. Fitzwilliam Grant* on Scandal, because yes, I do watch other shows besides Hannibal.  The Chief of Staff in The Pelican Brief is Fletcher Coal, and he is a smarmy jackass of the first order.  So I went to imdb. to figure out who played Coal in the movie, and lo and behold, the actor who plays Fitz on Scandal?  Played Fletcher Coal in the movie!  I couldn’t have made that up if I tried!

*HOLY SHIT. I JUST REALIZED THAT BIG JIM, FITZ’S FATHER ON SCANDAL, IS PLAYED BY BARRY BOSTWICK.  YOU GUYS: FITZ’S FATHER IS A TRUE AMERICAN BADASS.  (And now I really don’t know how to feel about what happened to Mellie … )

Two more brief things:

1) I learned that one of the best movies according to Khamel is Three Days of the Condor.  Reading that line reminded me that my friend Amelia’s favorite movie is Three Days of the Condor, which means that I really should watch Three Days of the Condor, because if it’s good enough for both my good friends and paid assassins to love it, I’ll love it too?

2) The Chain of Screaming is officially a thing!

“Sorry.  I’ve slept six hours since they found the bodies.  The Director screams at me at least five times a day.  I scream at everybody under me.  It’s one big brawl over there.” [p. 99]

So, according to my handy-dandy Grisham-O-Matic, how does The Pelican Brief shake out?

I. An idealistic lawyer – the fresher out of law school, the better;
discovers
C. The case s/he’s currently working on has ties to the highest of government.
With the help of
2. The FBI,
s/he:
c. is able to prove the conspiracy.
As his/her life is now in danger, s/he must:
i. escape to the Caribbean or South America.
Usually, s/he also manages to swindle the Mafia/Government/Whatever out of a tidy sum of:
* $10 million.

(although this time, the $10 million was the fee to Khamel for his killings; Darby was already fairly well off.)

Grade for The Pelican Brief: 3 stars