Daily Prompt Grateful and Guilty Whether it’s a trashy TV show, extra-pulpy fiction, or nutrient-free candy, write a thank-you note to your guiltiest guilty pleasure (thanks for the prompt suggestion, Sarah!)
I read a crappy romance novel once. It left me feeling dirty, but I couldn’t stop. Everything about it was bad except the mastery this author had over the “hook.” I couldn’t stop. Literally.
I was in Italy, studying Italian. Someone had left books in English at the apartment of one of my classmates, a woman from Manchester. She gave it to me along with The Da Vinci Code. Also impossible to put down.
Anyone who writes fiction wants to write something that is impossible to put down, and they’d like to write a best seller, so I was interested in the novel for those reasons because, after a while, I was no longer interested in the book as a book. I finished it and plowed on with the second one, the EWWWW! icky book.
It was more than 500 pages, a long and circuitous tunnel in which one could lose ones self. The characters were types, but realistic enough to be compelling, There was the good guy (who was a paraplegic woman in a wheelchair living alone [god help us] in a house by a lake) and the bad guy (another woman but other than that she could walk I remember nothing about her) and the love interest — a handsome, red-haired doctor. The twists and turns involved, predictably, the protagonista falling out of the wheelchair into the snow dangerously near the lake and being rescued by some towns folk and cared for by the doctor who falls in love with her. Of course, she can’t believe it. I can’t either — not because she’s a paraplegic in a wheelchair, but because she’s so obnoxious.
I read that book exactly as if it meant something to me and I hated every minute. It was like crack. I left it in a trash can in a hotel room in Milan, finally finished it, the culmination of everything completely predictable. She married the handsome red-haired doctor who carried her down the aisle. The antagonista had some horrible thing happen to her that taught her a lesson. She didn’t die, instead she learned that nice people — even sexy people — might be in wheelchairs.
Nonetheless, that novel did something I had not yet learned (may not have learned) how to do with my own writing — it held me completely in thrall, even though, the whole time, I felt like I was eating from an ashtray full of cigarette butts. Somehow that novel even smelled gross. I didn’t feel guilty for reading it, a little shame, naturally, but I learned a lot from the experience.
The Da Vinci Code was well written, not overly accurate (some years before, I’d actually read the books Dan Brown is said to have plagiarized — if I hadn’t I might have liked the book more). It contained a mystery (a sinister one), a love interest and some mildly deviant sex. It was a good book – not a great book, but a simply very readable and engaging decent novel (that I didn’t like). The other? Everything focused on the lowest common denominators of human life in our times. If it were two celebrities, Carmen Diaz would be The Da Vinci Code) and Kim Kardasshian the other novel.
The novel left me feeling sort of sick for a day or two. I had a hard time sleeping that night, not only because I was leaving Italy, but because I felt ashamed that I’d actually spent some of my precious time in Italy reading that. I still haven’t figured out what the author did in her writing or even if it was her writing or if it was just normal, morbid human fascination.
I recalled a trip I had made to a writer’s conference seven or eight years ago. I had paid the fee for the “right” to speak to some literary agents about Martin of Gfenn. Martin of Gfenn is about a leper. The protagonist is a young painter, who gets leprosy. It’s the 13th century so there’s no cure.
I’d written each of these agents the required synopsis of the book. They had the story in front of them when we met. Each experience had its own wrinkle of bizarreness. The first was a brand new agent really looking for novels. She was interested in my book, but asked if I’d done any research at all. “A lot of you writers get an idea, but you never do any research,” she said. “You can send me a chapter but only if you send a complete bibliography.” The next agent was so tired and burned out from the conference — and possibly from being a literary agent — that when she sat down with me, she talked about her son (of whom she was proud) and the trials and tribulations of her job. The third…
“So your protagonist is a young man who gets leprosy?”
“What happens at the end of the story? Does he get married and have a family?”
I’m thinking, “He’s a LEPER.” I say, “No, he probably dies, but I didn’t write that in the novel. It didn’t seem to fit.”
“Why does he die?”
“Leprosy was fatal in those days.”
“Really? So he has to die? Readers don’t like sad endings.”
P.S. This post is not meant to say I think romance novels are bad nor is it meant to criticize people who read and like them.