Zippy and I just returned from our weekly date. It was his turn to choose and he chose Guillermo del Toro’s THE SHAPE OF WATER. I would not recommend the film. However, Sally Hawkins’s performance was lovely and the movie was so visually pleasing that I debated whether to recommend watching it without sound. Alas, I believe the heavy-handed characterization and plot line would still sledgehammer their way into your consciousness even without audio.
As a writer, I’m kinda pissed. The characters were lazy stereotypes, including Michael Shannon’s character who was so over-the-top I nearly burst out laughing. That character didn’t have one shred of decency. Not one. Plus, there wasn’t a whole lot of nuance in the film and absolutely zero question as to justice vs injustice. Zero question.
And you know that quote from Chekhov about the gun? (“One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”) Yep, THE SHAPE OF WATER committed that sin when a hard-boiled egg didn’t go off.
READING: After giving up on The Portrait of a Lady, I went back to my shelves and selected Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. I’m happy to report I read the entire novel and, when I was able to push aside my prejudice against authors who explain-explain-explain their characters’ emotional landscapes, found myself pulled into the story. Hooray!
However, I then started another book (this one published in 1998) and read 90 pages before I’d had enough. I absolutely loved this author’s debut novel, but now wonder if it was equally bad and that I didn’t realize it because I wasn’t reading as critically at that point in my writing life. The one I quit today is nearly 900 pages (!) and narrated by someone I find unlikable and whose dialogue is not-at-all believable. Reading it made me angry on several levels (for one, knowing many trees died for this New York Times bestselling book), and when I get angry at the writing, it’s time to look for another book.
WRITING: I’m plugging away at my YA and have, at least momentarily, quit beating myself up for working at such a slow pace. I’m essentially now writing the first draft because these later scenes are all new to the story, but because I’m being thoughtful and deliberate in my writing I’m confident I’m not driving the story into the ditch (or cornfield).
Also? Thoughtful + deliberate = doesn’t read like a first draft.
RUNNING: Per my PT/rehab instructions, I’m easing back into my running. The rules are (1) that runs must always have at least one day in between and (2) I can add 5 minutes to the run after having at least two solidly good runs at the previous time length. “Good runs” translates to reasonable pain (that can be addressed via stretching, massage, rest) and feeling halfway decent energy-wise. For my last three runs, I ran for 35 minutes each time. This whole thing has been such an adjustment for me, not just physically but also psychologically. I’m learning to cut myself some slack, to celebrate the gains and to not beat myself up when I don’t perform as well as the previous run. The key word here is “learning.” This is all very much a work in progress. Zippy encouraged me to run a 5k with him this past weekend, but because I knew I wouldn’t run nearly as well as I had last year, I declined.
Running hard as I can, but not yet flying . . .
A little while back I wrote about feeling underwhelmed by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I surmised that the story contained way too much tell and not nearly enough show. Holy Batcave, I had no idea how much worse it could get.
I just slogged through 60 pages of The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, and am giving up. Publicly. Because while I felt letdown by Conrad’s penchant for telling his reader how to feel about his characters, at least Heart of Darkness was relatively brief. Not so with The Portrait of a Lady which is a whopping and mind-numbingly verbose 550 pages. And many, many of those 550 pages consist of one long paragraph that continues for another page or more.
I conceded defeat on page 61. James wrote: “When Isabel was interested, she asked a great many questions . . .”
Really, Mr. James? You felt the need to smack this reader over the head, AGAIN, with that tidbit of information? You didn’t think all the time you’d already spent committing mind-masturbation on Isabel Archer would be enough?! I read your words and understood you wanted me to grasp that everyone around Isabel views her as a bright and independent young woman who values her independence, and that Isabel also considers herself to be bright and independent and so lives her life accordingly which means asking lots of questions so she can continue being, you know, bright and independent.
Life’s too short. There are oodles of other books on my shelves I haven’t yet read.
I don’t ever blog about books I’ve read unless I want to recommend them to others. But because the author has long since departed, I think it’s okay for me to be publicly vocalize my feelings of WTF?!
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. A book that feels like a whole lotta tell and not a whole lotta show. We’re told, over and over and over again, that Kurtz is an extraordinary man who holds people in his thrall. But when Kurtz finally showed up in the story, I did not find him believable or compelling. He just felt to me like some guy who’d lost his mind in the jungle. I was given no reason to believe the native people would be heartbroken at his departure. (Unless they were upset because they’d never get the chance to exact revenge on him for putting those heads on those poles.)
So. That’s my take on Heart of Darkness. Deep, huh?
And now, apropos of nothing, here’s a squirrel: