Sunday, August 28, 2011

Next week

Next week: Gary Chapman's The 5 Love Languages.

The 17 Day Diet

MORENO, MIKE. The 17 Day Diet. New York: Free Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-4516-4865-2. Pp. 243. $25.00.

Call me naive, but when I read a book about a diet called The 17 Day Diet, I expect the diet to last 17 days. That's not so naive, you say? Well, then, we've all been duped. Because this diet lasts 17 days. Plus another 17. And another. And then for all eternity. Next week I will be reviewing Gary Chapman's The 5 Love Languages. I expect there are, in fact, nineteen, but we'll have to wait and see.

Unlike my experiment on the Dukan diet, I decided not to adhere to Dr. Mike Moreno's prescribed regime. First, because it seems like a bad idea to go on two different diets so close together; secondly because I don't need to go on another diet...yet. And lastly, I just don't trust any man over the age of forty who gels his hair.* Instead, I just enjoyed this read like I would any bestseller, that is, with the dust jacket removed and surreptitiously held under the table when in a public place.

The 17 day diet is less well-defined than the Dukan diet, whose guidelines are rigid and relentless. Dr. Moreno is much more laid back. What he calls a diet is really more like common sense. No, one should not eat fast/junk food. Yes, one should eat lots of fruits and vegetables and lean protein. No, one should not eat until one's stomach explodes à la Monty Python, leaving one's rib cage and pounding heart exposed. Yes, one should exercise. Yes, one should stay hydrated. Yes, one should limit one's alcohol intake to one drink a day (although what would be the point, eh?).

There are some commendable qualities here that I found lacking in the Dukan Diet, namely the citation of various scientific research papers. My one complaint is that Moreno doesn't actually say what the statistical findings are, only that most subjects felt better/worse after they did/did not do something. I could have used a little more raw data.

I remember believing that Pierre Dukan was overly blunt about his overweight readers and assumed this was just the French way, given that obesity in France is fairly new and alarming and probably thanks to the importation of American fast-food chains. It turns out that Dr. Mike Moreno is also a bit rude. But it's fun to read a book for overweight women that was written by a fit and sexist man. Here are two of my favorite quotes and then let's call it a day.

"Women, I'm sure you're happy and well-adjusted...until a few days before your period, when you turn into Attila the Hun and snap at everyone for no apparent reason. Your family and friends avoid you. And who would blame them? Next comes the physical stuff, like your body being so bloated that it should be listed on MapQuest."

"Are you newly married? Some newlyweds are surprised to find out that not only do their new husbands own Bart Simpson bubble bath, but also that they love junk food, and lots of it. Ice cream. Potato chips. Foods that you may have forgot existed, because as a single gal, you often subsisted on the four basic food groups: Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice and Slim-Fast."

Maybe it's the PMS talking, but I would so jam my fist clean through his spiky head.

*I know I've already mentioned this in an earlier post, one which, under the guidance of my writing manager/editor/future wife Iosef Markovitch, I have deleted. Nevertheless, here's the hair I was referring to:

Here's who I thought of when I saw that picture :

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Go the Fuck to Sleep

MANSBACH, ADAM. Go the Fuck to Sleep. New York: Akashic Books, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-61775-025-0. Unpaged. $14.95.

What is the purpose of a book like Adam Mansbach's Go the Fuck to Sleep? It's good for a laugh, I suppose, but I could have gotten my laugh at the bookstore without actually dropping $14.95 plus tax. I suppose this could make a good gag gift for the parents of a juvenile insomniac, but it's only funny the first time and it's actually only funny for the first page, given that it's got the same punch line at the end of every one after. And you can't read it to your kids unless you want them calling you a "fuck" by their third birthday, so...Why are people buying this?

Probably because this book was written for a certain kind of parent, one who enjoys a laugh at the expense of their small child and who also happens to have money to burn. This hypothetical parent probably lives in Park Slope and, upon seeing that Jonathan Lethem wrote the blurb on the cover ("Total genius"), thought it would make a good  addition to their collection of, what? overpriced gimmicks? This book is truly a mystery to me. I laughed out loud once. But mostly I was dumbfounded and not a little creeped out by Ricardo Cortés's illustrations, which include fuzzy, sleeping animals, and frighteningly proportioned toddlers. Or maybe this is just a manifestation of my fear of small children. 

A Stolen Life

DUGARD, JAYCEE. A Stolen Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-4516-2918-7. Pp. 273. $24.99.

In 1991, Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped one morning on her way to the school bus stop in Tahoe, California when she was eleven years old. She spent eighteen years living with her captives, married couple Phillip and Nancy Garrido, during which she gave birth to two daughters, the first when she was fourteen. She was discovered in 2009 during a visit with Phillip to the Berkeley police station. When her relationship to Phillip and her two daughters, who seemed too old to be hers, raised suspicions, she tried to hide her identity before finally agreeing to write her name, having been forbidden to speak it for almost two decades. When the police asked for her mother's name, she asked, incredulous, "I can see my mom?" That the authorities would reunite her with her mother had not occurred to her. Worse, she feared that her mother would reject her and her children. For an outsider, these concerns seem irrational. How could she not know the police would reunite her with her mother? How could she possibly believe her mother might not accept her and her children? Of course, Dugard's experiences lie far beyond what we would consider to be "normal", and her thoughts and assumptions can only follow suit. A Stolen Life is the result of a stunted childhood: Dugard may be over thirty now, but she is still, in more ways than one, still eleven.

I'm not sure Jaycee Dugard suffered from Stockholm syndrome. Having read her memoir and excerpts of her diary during her captivity, one does not get the sense that she was fond of her kidnappers, although she desperately wanted them to like her. The word she uses to describe her situation is "conditioned". Phillip and Nancy Garrido had conditioned her to believe that the only place in the world where she and her two daughters would be safe was in the Garrido's hidden back yard. When she was allowed to venture outside these narrow confines, always with Nancy or Phillip as chaperon, what Dugard experienced was not a sense of freedom but of fear. People, Phillip kept reminding her, were evil. What Dugard was incapable of understanding was the reality that she was, in fact, living with two people who had done one of the most evil things one human can do to another. Two adults knowingly took an eleven-year-old child from her mother and sister and used her as a sex slave. By the time Dugard had her children, whose safety was her greatest concern, staying with the Garridos seemed her only option.

A Stolen Life is not an enjoyable read. Many have found it a riveting one, of course, and it's reassuring knowing that Dugard, who has two adolescent daughters to care for, is going to make pretty good bank on this bestseller. Nevertheless, I failed to see the purpose of the book, other than as fodder for the tabloid junkies, and the prose is too poor for A Stolen Life to have any literary value. I'm not chiding Dugard; she only has a fifth-grade education. What I do find commendable is Dugard's stoicism. I was most moved when watching a interview she gave with Diane Sawyer, whose theatricality and attempts to get some kind of emotional rise out of Dugard go unrewarded. Dugard is lovely and soft-spoken and honest. Her responses to Sawyer's bait are abrupt but sincere. She rightly explains to Sawyer that no one can imagine something like this happening to them, but "you just do what you have to do to survive". End of story, Sawyer. It may not be the most exciting or insightful answer, but given that no one can know how to act in such a situation, I find it is a just one. In all, I felt I learned more about her from that one minute of conversation than throughout the whole of her book.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Next week

Next week: Double hitter! (Although I make no promises.)

Jaycee Dugard's A Stolen Life and Adam Mansbach's Go the Fuck to Sleep.

Now You See Her

PATTERSON, JAMES and MICHAEL LEDWIDGE. Now You See Her. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-316-03621-4. Pp. 383. $27.99.

That's odd. Wasn't I just reading a James Patterson novel whose cover is adorned with a blond woman in a bikini?* I'm referring, of course, to the unimaginatively named novel Swimsuit, which I reviewed here back in February. This week's Patterson novel is totally different. First of all, it's co-written by Michael Ledwidge instead of Maxine Paetro. Secondly, the bikini-clad woman on the cover of the earlier novel is facing the reader, her face obscured by bad lighting. In the latter, the woman has her back to us. I think our inability to see their faces is supposed to indicate that something awful is going to happen to both of them. Something awful happens to both of them.

I enjoyed Now You See Her better than Swimsuit. The heroine, Jeanine/Nina, is ditsy and charming, although her ethical judgment (and, I'm guessing, Patterson's) is appalling. The novel begins with her getting into a drunk driving accident in which she runs over a man walking his dog. The man, we are told, was a drug addict recently released from jail. So when the cop lets Jeanine off the hook, we don't have to feel bad. The man deserved to die anyway, right? At least, that's the reasoning we are given and are obligated to accept. But just in case we can't, however, Jeanine gets off the hook at the very end of the novel, eighteen years later. She didn't kill the drug addict/ex-con after all. He had already been fatally shot by the time she hit him. Problem solved!

As far as a bestselling novel goes, Now You See Her isn't too terrible, perhaps because Patterson borrows so many plots and tropes from other, more masterful, sources. The base of the narrative is akin to the 1991 film "Sleeping with the Enemy," (starring Julia Roberts' hair) in which a woman fakes her death to escape her marriage to a murderously violent husband. There's also a wink to John Grisham's The Confession (which in turn was based on the memoir of David R. Dow, The Autobiography of an Execution). There are also elements taken from "The Shining" ("Heeeere's Johnny!" to be exact), "Psycho," and "American Psycho". All in all a good puzzle of mismatched horror and thriller references to put together. Patterson makes it easy in that he mentions almost every source he uses. Jeanine is a Hitchcock fan; her friend Charlie wants to be the next John Grisham, etc etc. I had fun putting the pieces together.  Now that I've given you the parts, I won't need to sum up the plot. You can figure it out on your own!

So, for his next novel, I suggest Patterson incorporate these sources: James Joyce's Ulysses; Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, all of William Shakespeare's historical plays, and, finally, the masterpiece science-fiction film "Soylent Green". 


Monday, August 1, 2011

Jet lag

I'm succumbing to jet lag before I can write my review. Expect a post on James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge's Now You See Her next Sunday.