::Literate Blather::
Monday, December 31, 2007
5 Questions About: Jane Austen

An Interview with Carol Pippen, News Editor of the Jane Austen Society of North America

(DaRK PaRTY has read “Pride and Prejudice” twice and wishes we could be reincarnated at Mr. Darcy. What’s not to love about Jane Austen – one of the greatest novelists in literary history? Scholar Daniel S. Burt, in his book “The Literary 100,” lists Austen at number 18 and the first woman on the list. “Austen redefined the novel as a delicate instrument to reveal human nature,” Burt wrote. “Her novels demonstrate that commonplace, everyday experience can be the source of great and enduring art.” That got us thinking and pondering about Ms. Austen. So we reached out to Carol Pippen, the news editor at the Jane Austen Society of North America. Carol graciously agreed to answer our questions about first great English woman author)

DaRK PaRTY: Jane Austen, who has been dead for 190 years, is hot once again. Why do you think her novels remain so popular two centuries later?

Carol: Jane Austen was basically a good storyteller, who created characters that readers cared/care about. The characters are not perfect, of course, but appear as young people with major life issues. These characters have to make their way through life without guidebooks or even older people whose words they can follow. These novels still have the capacity to take readers to another world even as they continue to address recognizable issues in today's world.

DP: What is the biggest misconception about Jane Austen and her work?

Carol: The biggest misconception is that Jane Austen wrote "chick lit" or romances about silly girls who just want to get married. Jane Austen wrote comedies about the social order of her day, when girls needed to marry to survive.

DP: Jane Austen wrote six novels during her 41 years. Which one is your favorite and why?

Carol: Although this may sound cliché, but I don't have a clear favorite. I love Pride and Prejudice,” easily the winner for most read. I love Persuasion” because it is her last and seems more melancholy and even pensive about the future. Emma” is considered by many to be her best book structurally. It is fine, but I do not like the Emma/Knightley romance. I like the layering in “Mansfield Park and I even like Fanny Price, but I don't like most of the characters or the Fanny/Edmund romance. Sense and Sensibility” offers too many oppositionals although I like sections, including the funny second chapter. Northanger Abbey” is less developed in one form, and I wish that Catherine Morland had been better explored. She could have been my favorite heroine.

DP: All of her novels have been made into films or adapted for television. If forced to pick, which one would you say is the best and why?

Carol: “Pride and Prejudice” with Colin Firth, who may be single-handedly responsible for the growth in the Jane Austen industry.

DP: What is the Jane Austen Society of North America and what is the JASNA's mission?

Carol: JASNA is a group of readers whose favorite author is Jane Austen. I am not sure what the stated mission is, but it certainly is a place where Austen admirers and scholars can read about and talk about the novels and Austen's place in the literary world with other admirers and scholars. It is one of the few literary groups that welcome all; it is not just for the scholars. The organization has a literary journal “Persuasions” that comes out once a year; a thrice-yearly newsletter of about 30 pages; and a website that keeps members or potential members tuned in to current happenings.

A yearly annual general meeting in October brings members together for plenary sessions, breakout sessions, and other events. The 2007 AGM took place in Vancouver, B.C., and the 2008 will take place in Chicago; the 2009 will take place in Philadelphia. Check out the website.

Read our 5 Questions Interview about Poet Joyce Kilmer here

Read our 5 Questions Interview about Writer Ambrose Bierce here

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Friday, December 28, 2007
Hall of Lame: Superheroes You Wouldn't Want To Be

With the new Ironman movie scheduled to premiere in May (see the trailer above), DaRK PaRTY decided it was time to set some limits. Not every superhero and villain is worthy of celluloid fame.

So far we’ve gotten films about Batman, Superman, X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Punisher, Swamp Thing, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dick Tracy, Hulk, Daredevil, Captain America, Electra, Blade, Hellboy, Crow, and even Howard the Duck. Most are worthy (we’ll leave Electra and Howard the Duck on the table).

But the film industry is beginning to run out of A-list superheroes. We want to make sure that we don’t dig too deep into the annals of superhero comics. It could be dangerous – if not downright embarrassing.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 12 superheroes and villains that no one in their right mind would opt for the Hollywood treatment. In fact, these superheroes are so lame – most people wouldn’t even want to have their powers.

Editor’s Note: We aren’t including Robin on the list. Robin is the king of lame superheroes and therefore is automatically including in any list of lame-ass superheroes – even if he isn’t officially listed.

The Whizzer

Secret Identity: Robert L. Frank

Origin: In Africa with his doctor father, Frank is bitten by a cobra. His father injects him with the blood of a mongoose to counteract the cobra venom. The result: super speed.

Powers: He’s very, very fast.

Appearance: With the name The Whizzer it may have been a mistake to put him in a bright yellow costume.

Lame Factor: I guess the name The Flash was taken, but, my God, the Whizzer?

Creator: Timely Comics (later Marvel Comics)

First Appeared: 1941

Snide Comment: The United States was on the verge of entering World War II – so clearly people were distracted. But naming a superhero after a bodily function probably doomed The Whizzer from becoming the next Superman.


Secret Identity: Barnell Bohusk

Origin: Barnell was born a mutant that gave him birdlike qualities – except, amazingly, the power to fly.

Powers: He can glide for short distances, has enhanced eyesight, and his hands are talons. Oh, he’s got feathers, too.

Appearance: A plucked chicken clad in X-Men leather.

Lame Factor: These are powers? Poor bastard should hunt down the folks at Purdue.

Creator: Marvel Comics (a minor mutant character in the X-Men series)

First Appeared: 2001

Snide Comment: We wonder if he tastes like chicken. Believe it or not, but Beak has become a fan favorite and even has a fan site dedicated to him.

The Gay Ghost

Secret Identity: Keith Everet

Origin: Everet is the Earl of Strethmere (in Ireland) when he is attacked by bandits who steal his purse (no really!). He’s murdered and his spirit goes to heaven where his ancestors agree to allow him to return to earth as the Gay Ghost.

Powers: He can possess other people’s bodies and is an expert, ahem, swordsman.

Appearance: An 18th century Earl – who happens to have long, luscious hair, is transparent, and ghostly.

Lame Factor: He’s called the Gay Ghost – which is an enormous liability.

Creator: DC Comics

First Appeared: 1942

Snide Comment: Clearly, the gay movement hadn’t happened when Gay Ghost was created – and yet the character seems to be, well, gay.


Secret Identity: Laurie Collins

Origin: Collins grew up in a single-parent home before becoming a student at the Xavier Institute (famous as home of the X-Men).

Powers: She can manipulate the emotions of other people with pheromones.

Appearance: She looks like a pouty, blond cheerleader.

Lame Factor: She also acts like a pouty, blond cheerleader. And her major power seems to be the ability to make people cry at whim.

Creator: Marvel Comics (one of the more ridiculous mutants)

First Appeared: 2003

Snide Comment: Clearly, the folks at Marvel were having trouble with their teenage daughters. Yet here’s another minor superhero with a fan site.

Power Girl

Secret Identity: Kara Zor-L

Origin: Okay, she was blasted into space after the planet Krypton exploded. If this sounds familiar – it is. This is exactly the same origin as Superman. Superman, in fact, is her cousin.

Powers: Exactly the same as Superman (enormous strength, X-ray vision, blah, blah, blah).

Appearance: White spandex bathing suit with an amazing push-up bra.

Lame Factor: She’s Superman with Jennifer Aniston’s hair and gravity defying breasts.

Creator: DC Comics (apparently developed during a very bad brainstorm session).

First Appeared: 1976

Snide Comment: This is what Superman would look like if he was a stripper.


Secret Identity: Carter Hall

Origin: Hall is the reincarnation of Prince Khufu who died centuries ago while in combat with an Egyptian wizard.

Powers: He can fly using artificial wings made of Nth mental from the Planet Thanagar.

Appearance: A guy in a hawk outfit – generally not wearing a shirt.

Lame Factor: He’s got wings and uses spears and maces as weapons. One gets the sense that even Green Arrow could take him.

Creator: DC Comics

First Appeared: 1940

Snide Comment: Could not come up with a better name than Hawkman?

Brother Voodoo

Secret Identity: Jericho Drumm

Origin: Amazingly, Drumm is from Haiti (what are the chances?). A psychologist by trade, he returns to his homeland to see his dying brother. Urged by his brother to learn voodoo, Drumm studies under Papa Jambo to become the new Brother Voodoo.

Powers: Drumm taps the power of Loa to create smoke, control fire, and command living things – mostly animals such as snakes, alligators and dogs. He can boost his strength by summoning the spirit of his dead brother.

Appearance: Think of all the racist stereotypes of a black man as a voodoo priest and, well, that’s Brother Voodoo.

Lame Factor: It feels like Brother Voodoo may have been a rejected villain for a James Bond movie. Also, one of Brother Voodoo’s aliases is “He-Who-Has-Died-Twice.”

Creator: Marvel Comics

First Appeared: 1973

Snide Comment: Brother Voodoo could only have been created in the 1970s.

Green Arrow

Secret Identity: Oliver Queen

Origin: Queen, a millionaire playboy, tumbles off a yacht and washes onto the shore of a tropical island with a movie prop – a green longbow. Stranded for months on the island, Queen hones his skills as an archer before tricking smugglers to taking him back home to Star City.

Powers: Queen – mind you after only months of practice! – is the world’s greatest archer. He uses his money to develop all kinds of gimmick arrows to help him fight crime (like arrows with grappling hooks!).

Appearance: A green Robin Hood with a blond goatee

Lame Factor: This man has no super powers at all.

Creator: DC Comics

First Appeared: 1941

Snide Comment: Thank god he wasn’t washed up on the island with a slingshot.

Animal Man

Secret Identity: Buddy Baker

Origin: While hunting, Baker is zapped by aliens with a laser. His body is reconstructed with “morphogenetic grafts” that allow him to temporarily mimic any animal that has ever existed by tapping into “the unseen web of energy that links and shapes all animal life.”

Powers: He can fly like an eagle, run like a cheetah, and absorb the strength of a lion.

Appearance: Red and blue spandex with (get this) a black leather jacket.

Lame Factor: We wonder: when he’s feeling sensitive does he absorb the abilities of pink flamingos?

Creator: DC Comics (he actually had his own comic book)

First Appeared: 1965

Snide Comment: Shape of a chipmunk!


Secret Identity: Frank Oliver

Origin: Oliver, shockingly a native of Australia, was obsessed with kangaroos and began to live with them. He ate the same food, ran and hopped with them, until he developed the same abilities as his marsupial friends.

Powers: He can box and jump just like a kangaroo!

Appearance: A muscular Crocodile Dundee.

Lame Factor: One can only imagine what life in the Outback must have been like for Oliver and his kangaroo pals as the skipped, hopped, and dined together.

Creator: Marvel Comics (first appeared as an enemy to Spiderman)

First Appeared: 1970

Snide Factor: May be the lamest origin story ever.

Mole Man

Secret Identity: Harvey Rupert Elder

Origin: A genius, but very ugly, Elder was shunned for his looks. He spent his life searching for a legendary underground kingdom. Finally, after washing up on the shores of Monster Island (we don’t make this stuff up, folks) he found Subterranea and became one of its masters.

Powers: He’s blind, but all his other senses are razor sharp. He has the radar of a bat (but apparently the name Bat Man was taken). He invents all kinds of weird weaponry that he uses in combat.

Appearance: Think Danny DeVito with thick glasses.

Lame Factor: He’s a mole. Need we say anymore?

Creator: Marvel Comics (originally a villain to The Fantastic Four)

First Appeared: 1961

Snide Comment: Mole Man was created by Stan Lee – even the king can have an off day.

Matter-Eater Lad

Secret Identity: Tenzil Kem

Origin: Born on the planet Bismoll, Kem was injected with microbes like the rest of the population because it helped them eat their food. As a result, Kem is able to eat anything and well, unfortunately, he does.

Powers: He can eat any substance.

Appearance: A teenage boy in a green and yellow outfit of his superhero group – Legion of Super-Heroes.

Lame Factor: Matter-Eater Lad is proof that even comic book writers get desperate.

Creator: DC Comics

First Appeared: 1963

Snide Comment: No one wants to follow Matter-Eater Lad into the restroom.

Read our picks for the best and worst superhero movies

Read why the Rev. Colson Crosslick thinks comic books are evil

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Thursday, December 27, 2007
Poem: Spanish Poetry

By Kara Emily Krantz

if i read you
pablo neruda
with faux spanish lilts
will you smile at me

listen to the inflections
in my voice
until we fall asleep
in a blanket
of momentos silenciosos.

if i read you
spanish poetry
will you

remind me of kindness
with your warm
liquid eyes.
i barely comprehend
all the parts of you
i recognize.

if i sing you
pablo neruda
to the sounds of
your guitar
are we sharing music
or poetry
or perhaps
it is

how your silent moments
awaken such sweet
in me.

(This is the second poem by Kara Emily Krantz featured at DaRK PaRTY. Kara is a graduate student studying counseling psychology who lives in Central Massachusetts. You can read more of her verse at the Writer’s Café.)

Read Kara's poem "meanwhile i keep dancing" here

Read our musings on poetry and the first snow of the season here

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Six-word Stories
Is it possible to compose a complete short story in six words? It was a challenge once delivered to Ernest Hemingway. The great writer came up with this compelling piece of literature: "For sale: baby shoes, never used."

DaRK PaRTY became intrigued by the idea of writing riveting literature with such economy. The goal is to present a premise that lives beyond the six words and gives the reader something to ponder. In Hemingway's piece, a reader is immediately struck by the amazing possibilities. Are we dealing with a couple who lost their baby before it was born and are no longer together? Are they now selling off the nursery? Or is this an old lady who bought the shoes as an impulse in her youth and now she discovers them dusty and forgotten in a cabinet? Must she sell them to wipe away the pain of unfulfilled dreams?

By any measure, it's a powerful and riveting piece of fiction for just six words.

So in the spirit of Hemingway (and brevity in general) -- we present you with our own efforts at composing six-word stories (with varying degrees of success -- please feel free to leave your own story in our comments section):

Wake up in coffin, already buried.

Tough, old coach; watches players shower.

Writes vegetarian cookbook while eating hamburgers.

Talking trees take revenge on lumberjacks.

God dies, war erupts, enlightenment follows.

Baby dies, anguished parents mourn separately.

Cynical professor wins lottery, can't cope.

Time traveler saves Lincoln, Confederates win.

Siblings feign love for sick mother.

Wizard saves elves from his apprentice.

Beached whale galvanizes remote Scottish village.

Scientist cures cancer; Bono wins Nobel.

Terminal businessman finds enemies, makes amends.

Poisoned boss; married his rich wife.

Playboy seduces girl; marries her mother.

Poet plagiarizes dead student, wins Pulitzer.

Grandfather dies, leaves family treasure map.

Plague kills everyone, zombies hunt survivors.

Killed father, hunted by his son.

Jazz drummer falls for pop princess.

Read L. Kenyon's short story "Susan Spelling B" here

Read our 5 Questions interview about Ernest Hemingway here

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Friday, December 21, 2007
Merry Christmas Everyone!
The snow continues to fall in New England. It's clinging to the tree branches, piling up on the roadsides, and tumbling off of rooftops. Snow, especially the more than one foot blanketing the region, muffles sounds and shrinks perspectives. It also slows you down -- a perfect way to start the holidays.

We've had a good year at
DaRK PaRTY. You hope you did, too.

We want to wish all of our
readers, contributors, critics and fans a wonderful holiday. So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We hope to see more of you in 2008!

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Thursday, December 20, 2007
Ode to "It's a Wonderful Life"

60 Years After its Release, "It's a Wonderful Life" Remains a Powerful Human Story

It’s difficult to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) without a few tears splashing down your cheeks

It’s a tearjerker, but the film isn’t maudlin or manipulative. “It’s a Wonderful Life” rises above that kind of trite nonsense and becomes a truly human film – a masterpiece in the tradition of Charles Dickens (but with an American backdrop). That’s the power of the film – viewers experience the turbulence and triumphs of George Bailey’s life.

Director Frank Capra – in top form – creates a complicated and complex man in George Bailey (played with amazing range by Jimmy Stewart). So much so that viewers feel his anger, relish in his bouts of happiness, and can’t help but rooting for him. Few films provide such fully realized characters.

Bailey is in many ways unlikable. He can be a seething loudmouth (telling a boy dancing with Mary Hatch to stop annoying people). He’s got an explosive temper that he unleashes on his wife and on his uncle with shocking fury. He’s an envious, jealous man especially in his mixed emotions toward his pal Sam Wainwright who becomes a rich industrialist. He also falls into periods of depression and self-loathing.

Yet despite all of his flaws, Bailey has a sweet and tender side. He cares deeply about his mother and brother (sacrificing his own happiness for that of his family). He’s loyal to the core. Bailey’s a dreamer – a man who longs for adventure and “to build things,” but can’t muster the courage to move out of his hometown.

But Bailey doesn’t stand alone. He is given a supporting cast of original characters – all of whom bring their own histories, prejudices, and complications to the story. From his crazy Uncle Billy (who lives with squirrels and crows) to the wheel-chair confined industrialist Henry F. Potter.

Don’t let the holiday theme fool you. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a dark film – disguised by its title and its reputation as a Christmas movie. But the movie is about a man’s lost dreams, his plummet into hopelessness, and finally into an attempted suicide. This is the story of a man who comes to despise himself so much that he wishes he were never born.

And what a triumph that the darkness turns to light. Bailey gets to redeem himself. Through the lens of his own death, Bailey is given the gift to discover the consequences of what would have happened to the people he cares so much about if he’d never existed.

The most chilling scene in this sequence is when Bailey stumbles through the snow of a cemetery and falls to his knees at the base of a gloomy tombstone. Etched in the cold stone is the name of his brother who drowned in a sledding accident when he was nine years old.

Distraught, Bailey turns to his guardian angel Clarence.

Clarence: Your brother, Harry Bailey, broke through the ice and was drowned at the age of nine.

Bailey: That's a lie! Harry Bailey went to war - he got the Congressional Medal of Honor, he saved the lives of every man on that transport.

Clarence: Every man on that transport died! Harry wasn't there to save them, because you weren't there to save Harry.

The full impact of what he has wished for sinks into through his facial expressions (his eyes wild with fright and loathing, his hands trembling). It’s a powerful scene.

This darkness is what makes the ending so heartwarming. We watch the town of Bedford Falls rally behind its favorite son. They come out in droves to show support for this desperate man – this flawed, yet inherently good man.

And viewers see a mirror of themselves – what would it be like if we were in the same circumstances? Would people come out to support us? Would our families and friends be there? And that’s when the tears start.

Because George Bailey is all of us.

Read our ode to the Bourne Supremacy

Read our parody of "It's a Wonderful Life"

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007
5 Questions About: Crime Fiction

An Interview With Thriller Novelist Dave Zeltserman

(DaRK PaRTY loves a tasty mystery novel (that doesn’t involve protagonists named Dexter). Crime fiction has never been more popular – so we were happy to run into Dave Zeltserman, a crime writer in Massachusetts who just published his second novel “Bad Thoughts,” a neo-noir mystery/horror novel that Booklist praised as a “compellingly clever wheels-within-wheels thriller.” Dave lives in the Boston area with his wife, Judy; is a die-hard Patriots and Red Sox fan; and when he’s not writing crime fiction he spends his time studying Kung Fu. We talked to Dave about crime fiction and the challenges facing emerging writers in today’s book industry)

DaRK PaRTY: How did you get your start in writing novels?

Dave: I always read a lot, and at times would try writing short stories. The thing was in high school I was more of a math and physics guy, and in college majored in Applied Math and Computer Science, so writing seemed more like a lark than something I should seriously pursue. After college I worked as a software engineer, and still found myself drawn to writing fiction in my spare time.

I was struggling with a private eye story and doing a bad job trying to imitate Ross Macdonald when I discovered Jim Thompson. Reading “Hell of a Woman”, “Swell-Looking Babe” and “Savage Night” changed my way of looking at how crime fiction could be written, and allowed me to see a different way to rework my story. This ended up becoming my first book, “Fast Lane,” which 12 years after writing it was sold to the Italian publisher, Meridiano Zero, and in 2004 published by Point Blank Press.

DP: What do you find so interesting about crime fiction?

Dave: I like the toughness of it. I also like the psychological aspects of it; all that guilt and desperation and darkness and raw emotion. Good fiction is where you’re constantly upping the ante as far as conflict goes, and crime fiction is a natural for that. That’s almost the definition for noir — characters who just keep making their situation worse until there’s no hope. This is really true with any fiction, but to me the best crime fiction is when it’s written at two or more levels.

“Fast Lane” at one level is a psychotic noir novel, but thematically is also about the damage child abuse causes as it’s passed from generation to generation. My new novel, “Bad Thoughts” is also at one level a crime/horror thriller, and at another about surviving tremendous abuse.

DP: Can you tell us about your new novel "Bad Thoughts"? What's it about and how did the idea for it germinate?

Dave: When I was writing it I thought of it as a metaphysical thriller, but readers and reviewers are calling it instead a mix of horror and crime, and I can see their point. The book focuses on Cambridge, Massachusetts police detective, Bill Shannon. When he was 13 he walked in on Herbert Winters murdering his mother. Now 20 years later, bodies start piling up and the victims are being killed in the same brutal manner as Shannon’s mother. Winters, who is now dead, is visiting Shannon in his dreams to tell Shannon that he’s committing these murders during blackouts. Soon everyone in Shannon’s precinct is suspecting him, even his own partner, and Shannon is beginning to have doubts about his own sanity. The mystery is for Shannon to discover what’s going on.

This is the only book I didn’t have any real inspiration for. I was working with a literary agent at the time who gave me a one paragraph plot for a book to write, that was kind of a “Silence of the Lambs” knockoff. I didn’t want to do that, instead I reworked it into something I was happy with. I was reading some books on metaphysics while I was working on this, and some of the ideas from that were used heavily in the book.

DP: What's the most difficult part about being an emerging novelist today?

Dave: Getting picked up by a major publisher is very hard. The industry has changed from a publishing house nurturing authors and working with them as they develop their skill over several novels to looking at everything as a commercial package. Editors today also have much less say in what they buy — I’ve talked with several editors at some of the large houses who like my works, but what they tell me is they can only buy formula. Books have to be overtly commercial, and these editors have a hard time buying anything that’s different.

I consider myself very fortunate to have my next three books published by one of the top UK publishers for crime fiction, Serpent’s Tail. They’re an independent, but unlike most of the small US houses, they have a lot of marketing muscle behind them. Their books end up in bookstores and they get treated seriously by reviewers. They’re old-fashioned in that they care only about the quality of the books they publish instead of the perceived “commercial” value of them.

My advice to beginning crime novelists, if you want to get published by a large house, write something that’s formula. If it’s too dark or different, forget it, the chances are you’re going to have to be published by a small house, which means few reviews and few bookstores other than a handful of independents stocking your book.

DP: What three crime novelists do you read on a regular basis and why?

Dave: In the past I’ve devoured everything that Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, Rex Stout, James M. Cain, and Jonathan Latimer have written, and they’re the crime writers I most admire.

I run a crime fiction web-site, Hardluck Stories, so these days I’m mostly reading what publishers are sending me. Outside of that, I’ve worked my way through half of Charles Willeford’s books, and will be working my way through the other half — he was a brilliant writer, dark, sardonic, with very interesting sensibilities.

I’ll also probably be reading more Gil Brewer after recently reading “The Vengeful Virgin.” Probably the three best crime novels I’ve read recently are “Reasonable Doubts” by Gianrico Carofiglio, “Robbie’s Wife” by Russell Hill and “Cross” by Ken Bruen — where all three are very skillfully written and focus more on the tone and emotion than what you usually see.

Also, while not necessarily a crime novelist since he has only written two books, one crime, one horror, I think Scott Smith is an amazingly talented writer, and the writing in “The Ruins” – while very painful as far as the subject matter – was a real tour de force.

Read our 5 Questions interview with Author Laurie Foos

Read our 5 Questions interview with Writer Gretchen Rubin

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Deeply, Disappointing Dexter
10 Reasons Why Readers Should Avoid “Darkly Dreaming Dexter”

I haven’t seen the Showtime TV series based on Jeff Lindsay’s novels about a coy, overly mannered serial killer, so I can’t comment on the reviews that praise the show. But I can rightly and indignantly scoff at the reviews the first novel in the series “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” has received.

Where to begin? How about TIME Magazine: “With chills like these, you can skip the air-conditioning.” Or USA Today: “Dark and devious… daring and unexpectedly comedic.” Even the New York Times Book Review jumped in with: “A macabre tour-de-force.”

Wow. Sign me up.

But it took a laborious week to struggle through the 288 pages in the paperback version of “Darkly Dreaming Dexter.” Why did it take me longer to read “Dexter” than to read William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying”? Because it is an agonizing chore to wade through a bad book every single night.

The word “overrated” can’t fully describe the deep disappointment in this hollow, poorly written drivel. But I can divulge to readers 10 damn dramatic reasons to avoid it (warning: plot spoilers ahead):

1. Debasing and Degrading Damsels. The women characters are either chopped to pieces by a serial killer or exploited for their sexuality (Dexter’s cop sister, Deborah, spends most of the novel parading around dressed as a hooker and Dexter dates a sexual abuse woman who he eventually seduces – and guess what! She loves it! It turns out that all this deeply damaged woman needed was sex with a mass murderer).

2. Dull, Drab Ducks. The characters are all clichéd stereotypes that resemble cartoon characters more than real people. There is no depth here – no attempt even – to explore below the surface of any of characters.

3. Ditzy, Dumb Deborah. Dexter’s sister is one of the most vapid, self-centered, unlikable characters you’ll ever read. She shrills. Every time she’s on the page it is like listening to fingernails being dragged across a chalkboard. She gets to utter dialogue like this: “If tits were brains I’d be Einstein… That’s what she’s spreading about me. That kind of crappy tag sticks to you, and then they don’t promote you because they think nobody will respect you with a nickname like that. Goddamn it, Dex, she’s ruining my career.”

4. Defective, Deluded Drivel. The reviews all praise Lindsay for coming up with the concept of a serial killer who hunts for other serial killers. I’m sorry, but haven’t any of these reviewers read Thomas Harris? You see he has a character by the name of Hannibal Lector…

5. Disturbing, Droll Dexter. As the first-person voice of the novel, Dexter’s witty sense of humor is so damn annoying that by the time you’re halfway through the book you hope his next victim is himself. He isn’t half as clever as he thinks he is when he says things like: “Please Deborah? You’re saying please to me? Do you know how nervous that makes me?”

6. Dumb, Disappointing and Done. A cryptic, implausible, and, ultimately cop out of an ending. The real kicker is when Lindsay introduces a long lost brother as the real killer. I think I groaned out loud. Are you kidding me? Let’s not even get into the myriad of forgotten loose ends (how did his brother escape? How did Deborah survive? What happened to the stooge who confessed?).

7. Decrepit, Directionless Diagnosis. Lindsay fails to deliver on the most important aspect of any police procedural novel – making the investigation seem real. It is clear that Lindsay has no clue as to how actual police investigations work. Did he do any research at all? The crime scenes read like cocktail parties where Dexter – a blood splatter expert at the forensic lab -- pops up whether he’s working or not. He’s like a fast food clerk who comes to work on his days off wearing his uniform.

8. Dumb Dialogue. Some of the chatter between characters makes you wince. Scenes of dialogue often have no point. They don’t seem to drive the plot or reveal character. They just are. Ditties like this:

“Sorry,” I said.

“Yeah. Sure.”

I sat down in my chair and didn’t speak. Deb likes to unload on me. That’s what family is for. “Why were you so anxious to speak to me?”

“They’re shutting me out,” she said. She opened my doughnut bag and looked inside.

“What did you expect?” I said. “You know how LaGuerta feels about you.”

She pulled a cruller out of the bag and savaged it.

“I expect,” she said, mouth full, “to be in on this. Like the captain said.”

“You don’t have any seniority,” I said. “Or any political smarts.”

She crumpled the bag and threw it at my head. She missed. “Goddamn it, Dexter,” she said. “You know damned well I deserve to be in Homicide…”

9. Downright Dubious Detective. The police investigation of a brutal serial killer is in entirely in the hands of one detective – a woman with a spotty record in closing cases. There’s no task force. There’s no FBI intervention. There’s no state police involvement. In “Dexter” the case is entirely in the hands of one woman police detective (who, of course, is a dumber than Deborah).

10. Deceitful Decorum. Jeff Lindsay (a.k.a. Jeffry P. Freundlich) was nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards for Best First Novel. But it was dropped after the group discovered that the deceitful Lindsay had published several other novels under another pen name.

Read our post on "On the Road" turning 50

Read our ode to the John Carter of Mars novels

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Monday, December 17, 2007
Welcome to the Machine

The noise you associate with the overhead heating and cooling ducts? It’s really the sound of your soul being vacuumed into oblivion. It’s your dreams, your potential, your individuality, and your character being sucked away by your corporate slave masters.

Take a good look around you, Office Worker. Is there any more depressing place to work than a modern corporation? You work in a cookie-cutter office park (on the outskirts of a major city) among a rabbit warren of cubicles and conference rooms. Oh, look a coffee station! Try not to notice the dried, speckled sweat stains on the toilet seat.

Listen to numbing silence that ultimately will be the doom of you. Every sound is amplified – the click-clack of keyboards, the squeak of chair seats, the soft ringing of telephones, and (if you concentrate) the silent screams of your co-workers.

But it is the ventilation system that provides the soundtrack for office buildings – call it “White Noise of Despair.” That unhealthy hum combined with the harsh overhead lighting that leaves no doubt about your current situation – you’re in a cage. No fresh air (when is the last time you felt a breeze at work?). No natural light.

Zoo monkeys have larger spaces.

This unnatural environment stifles creativity and self-expression and promotes conformity and obedience – two attributes most rewarded by corporations (even your precious start-ups you deluded techies). How else to get supposedly highly education people to ensconce themselves in prison cells all day? You bribe them with paychecks (and a subsidized cafeteria). Those that knuckle under fastest get the cash bonuses.

And here is the best part. Give them gadgets (make them shiny and with lots of buttons). Call them Treo and Blackberry or iPhone. Give them laptops and beepers. If you web-enable everything, these toadies will actually continue to work after they’ve left the office. They’ll become like Pavlov’s Dogs and start to drool every time their mobile or wireless device beeps, hums, or vibrates.

The buffoons actually believe you are rewarding them with these devices and they will pay back your generosity by working at home – for free.

Isn’t it amusing that we once thought mineshafts were dangerous? Ha! Ha! Ha! How about these corporate offices! No fresh air – just recycled air pushed through chemically treated ducts. Everything – the chairs, desks, cubes – made of polymers (basically hardened chemicals). Then add the wires, the LDC screens, LANS, servers, telephones, and wireless networks to give the already stale polluted air a tinge of electricity.

Is it any wonder that they weaken and die from cancer, heart disease, and brain aneurysms?

Then ramp it up. Increase expectations, set unrealistic deadlines, pile on the work, and watch how jumpy they get. Watch their eyes get bloodshot, their asses get itchy, and they’re tempers flare (at each other no less!).

But don’t worry, Friend. Go back to work. The feeling in pit of your stomach will go away soon. You can watch TV later.

Oh, look, an email from the boss…

Read our Notes from a Corporate Meeting

Read How to be an Office Drone

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Friday, December 14, 2007
Cracked-Back Book Reviews: December 2007

(Quick reviews on the books we’ve been reading. A “cracked-back” is what happens to the spine of a new book once you’ve thoroughly read it. Please feel free to add your own list of recommendations by leaving behind a comment.)

As I Lay Dying
By William Faulkner

Faulkner is always a challenging read, but worth the effort. “As I Lay Dying” is no exception. In fact, it’s one of his best. The novel is broken into short chapters narrated in the first person by numerous characters – most of them members of the Bundren family. The clan is transporting its dead matriarch, Addie, to her hometown for burial. The family, crowded onto a mule-drawn wagon, experiences several disasters and semi-comic tragedies as they make the arduous sojourn. Faulkner’s stream-of-conscious writing is difficult to wade through at first as the point of view shifts rapidly with each chapter. The characters narrate in the moment and without much historical context. But that’s the brilliance of Faulkner. The story becomes that much richer and complex as nuggets of information reveal themselves. “As I Lay Dying” is a great place for readers who have never read Faulkner to start. The plot is relatively simple (although the characters are complex) and after the first part the style becomes part of the charm of the novel.

Grade: A

By Mark Kalesniko

“Alex” is a graphic novel about a frustrated animation artist who burns out working at a large Hollywood animation studio. He moves back to the blue-collar industrial city where he grew up to try and regroup, but finds himself on a steep emotional decline. He lives in an attic studio trying desperately to recapture his artistic fastball – but his excessive drinking leads him to destroy whatever he’s worked on in drunken rages. “Alex” is a nightmarish portrait of dreams gone awry and how success can’t always bring happiness. Kalesniko is one of the most underrated artists/writers working in the graphic novel genre. The artwork in “Alex” is stunning – simple line drawings, yet capturing the alienation of Alex and his hometown. The storyline is intense – especially when Alex turns against his only friend, the lonely Jerome (who lives at home with his born-again Christian mother). For those readers who don’t usually read graphic novels, “Alex” is an excellent place to start.

Grade: A-

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
By Daniel C. Dennett

This is one in a long list of books exploring religion and atheism. Dennett, a philosophy professor at Tufts University, has been at the forefront of the atheist movement (and one of the academics responsible for renaming atheists “Brights”). This book asks more questions than it answers. Dennett calls for religion to be studied scientifically to find out how it affects human nature and our policies and governments. He also floats the interesting proposition that most people actually don’t believe in god, but believe in religion. The distinction is profound as Dennett argues that people like the structure and the straight-forward morality that comes with organized religion, but when push comes to shove balk at truly believing in an omnipresent, omnipotent being that controls all of our actions. “Breaking the Spell” is a bit clunky and Dennett cites his own works and other books on the topic often (so if a reader is unfamiliar with them, it’s easy to get lost). It’s a good supplement for those interested in the topic, but not so much for those looking for an introduction to atheism.

Grade: B-

Treasure Island
By Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson deserves more credit as a novelist. He is rarely held up as one of the greatest writers in literature, but he should be. After all, this is the writer who introduced some of the most compelling and popular characters in literature: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Long John Silver. The latter, of course, stalks through the pages of “Treasure Island,” a pirate adventure against which all other pirate stories are measured. Long John Silver is a complicated character – wily old pirate with a missing leg and a secret cunning that allows him to play one side against the other while never truly announcing his own alliances. That because Long John’s only loyalty is too himself and his own survival. He is, by far, the most interesting character in “Treasure Island” and, indeed, the reason for the novel being considered a classic. The plot is straight forward – a young boy named Jim Hawkins discovers a treasure map in the belongings of an old pirate who died at his parent’s inn. Accompanied by his family’s doctor, he heads out with a suspicious crew to hide the treasure. The crew turns out to the crew of the pirate captain who buried the treasure. All sorts of adventures unfold in a delightful and suspenseful way. Treasure Island” is a book for the ages and for all ages.

Grade: A-

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