Thursday, May 31, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Don't Blink by James Patterson

It's not often a book changes the way you think about writing.

I read a post on AgencyQueryConnect about Patterson's belief that writing one book a year was insufficient in today's fast-paced marketplace, and that he wrote one book a month. Huh? Wha?

One month of writing on a new project, and I'm just getting through my zero-draft, a piece of fiction which can only be understood in terms of a military training course, where a mocked-up city is assaulted by practicing warriors, but all the obstacles are plywood facades. I don't cook up any really good supporting characters, any really mind-bending ideas, until at least month three.

So I had to read a Patterson book. I had to know.

Don't Blink is an absolute revelation!

It was around page 250 that this book changed my life. I couldn't understand before then. No way, no context. No truth. Now my eyes are open.

People who watch Bridezillas and SpikeTV need something to read while they poop!

And every chapter here is somewhere between tinkle-length and the span of a satisfying bowel movement. (Although if you're approaching your impending evacuation with a wet compress for your forehead and at minimum seventy-five pages of Joyce's Ulysses, this is NOT the book for you.)

All hail King Patterson, the Henry Ford of fiction, he of 200+ million books served, the number that changes every time you drive past the sign (hell, the dust jacket said 180+ million, the blurb at the end 200+). I see now: this is the McDonald's of prose. It's no surprise that he would have franchised the brand (in this case, I suspect, 90% to 'co-writer' Howard Rougham).

The story is predictable, because what's promised is an experience that matches the photograph on the menu board. That's the whole idea. So everything is easy, safe, and reiterated frequently enough that you can refresh your memory as to what point in the plot you had gotten to that last time you locked the bathroom door. There is no subtlety allowed, and any writing error that might create a subtle moment is quickly corrected by the authors intrusion to explicitly explain the subtle thing that just happened. (At a funeral for a murdered man: "I was hoping that this was all just a dream. But no, it was a real as real gets, and it was also heartwrenchingly sad." A FUNERAL? HEARTWRENCHINGLY SAD? HOW CAN THIS BE?)

The authors' observations are assiduously non-original. New ideas would get in the way of easy reading. So instead, they offer retreads of others' creativity:

"playing Hollywood Hamlet... Rehab or not rehab? That is the question."

"A bathroom... a bathroom... my kingdom for a bathroom."

"Say it ain't so, Dwayne."

"Cue Paul McCartney and the Beatles: I'm not half the man I used to be."

Ummmm... Those are other people's thoughts, guys.

One character is described as looking just like Niles Crane from Frazier. Another like a slimmed-down version of Boris Yeltsin. Why create a character? Just pick one from TV. Your readers will feel more comfortable that way.

This is Reading for Dummies, the images and ideas carefully counted out like Chicken McNuggets in cardboard clamshells. I get the feeling that Patterson read through Rougham's synopsis, gave him the green light to write, and then mentioned: "now, if you have any great ideas that come up while you're writing this, Howard, that might make this an even better book, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE DON'T USE THEM! SAVE THEM FOR THE NEXT ONE! WE'VE GOT A QUOTA HERE, BROTHER!"

After all, you only get six nuggets of chicken in a six piece meal.

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