Wednesday, April 24, 2019

El Misterino: Chapter 1

In which ELJ introduces us to an extremely unlikeable narrator who's basically Christian Grey's little brother. 

You know that thing where British actors play Americans in movies and they kinda overdo the accent and it sounds weird? Hugh Laurie does a perfect American accent; everyone else sounds bad. Yes that's right! I said "everyone." Sorry, Colin Farrell! That's the one cool thing about being American (other than you know that America won't bomb you with drones probably maybe) is that when you see Robert Downey Jr play Sherlock Holmes, you get to be like, yes this is great. This is an authentic Englishman. 

And the good thing about this book so far is that ELJ went ahead and just put it in England. She set the 50  books in Seattle, and I live there, and also I'm an American, so just absolutely every last detail about the way the characters lived felt completely wild. I have no way of knowing whether she's getting things right or wrong this time--I suspect wrong--but basically you could tell me almost anything about England and I'd be like, sure why not seems likely and I've even been there! (Once.)

But I am also a man, and just like actors tend to overcorrect when trying to use an accent other than their default, ELJ goes way overboard in terms of making the bro narrating this story just a total bro. Just the broiest bro who ever broed a bro.

Maxim only thinks about fucking, and about the fact that his brother has just died. And that's kind of how privilege works, I guess. The greater your privilege, the fewer things you ever have to think about. So in that sense, sure: great job, ELJ. You don't have to make this guy worry about anything at all because he enjoys literally every imaginable privilege and thus leads a life nearly free from conscious thought.

Isn't that an odd narrative choice, though? So there are different ways of plotting a story, of course. But a very simple, yet effective way is to give a character an external obstacle that can serve as a metaphor for an internal obstacle. Here's a bad example that comes to mind immediately: you remember how in Die Hard Carl from Family Matters is really nervous about shooting anybody because he accidentally shot a kid or something and then at the end of the movie he shoots a guy and everyone is like, "Oh great! Carl Winslow can shoot people again so all is right in the universe!"

Right so it's not just that Carl has to shoot some villain or whatever. He also has to overcome the "problem" where he thinks that shooting people is bad. [Editor's note: Alden is really upset that this is the example he chose but he's just going to stick with it.]

So what I'm saying is this: the whole thing about a plot, typically, is solving a problem. Things cannot stay the way they are--they can either get better, or worse. That's a plot!

But when you start your story with a rich white guy who is a literal English "Lord" whatever that means, you really back yourself into a corner! Because our dude has ZERO problems. It's sad that his brother died, yes, but that's really not a problem for him in any kind of meaningful way. And to the extent that it is a problem, it's a resolved problem, because the dude idn't coming back.

And yes, I get it. I have literally everything going for me in life. In a sort of global sense, I have all the advantages that Maxim Tarpaulin enjoys other than the fact that I'm not a literal English "Lord." And I know that I worry about everything literally all day long and most of the night. But you can't write a novel about me worrying about stuff because almost none of my worries make any sense.

So maybe Maxim Magazine here worries about stuff too! [Editor's note: not really. He mostly doesn't.] But the fact is that he has basically zero problems, and that's a pretty weird way to start a book!

But hey let's get into it. This intro is more than long enough!

Right so Maxim Terrapin is introduced basically by ELJ printing the lyrics from Weezer's "Tired of Sex."

Mindless sex—there’s a lot to be said for it. No commitments, no expectations, and no disappointments; I just have to remember their names. Who was it last time? Jojo? Jeanne? Jody? Whatever. She was some nameless fuck who moaned a great deal both in and out of bed. I lie staring at the rippling reflections from the Thames on my ceiling, unable to sleep. Too restless to sleep.
Why can't he be making love. . . . . . come . . . . . .  true?

Hey here's a controversial thing I'm going to say: I know the default position is that Weezer did two good albums and got bad after that. But TBH: the first two aren't that good either! That shit is problematic. I was way into Weezer, right? But even when I was like fourteen or whatever I was kinda like, "uh, you sure about that lyric bro?"

"I want a girl who will laugh for no one else." Uhhhh ok sure buddy why not.
"When I'm away she puts her makeup on the shelf." Uhhh. I mean seems a bit much but I dunno.

"When I'm away she never leaves the house." Yo wtf Rivers? 

Ahem. Anyway. The immediate impression I get is that ELJ was like, Why don't I make my new guy Christian's little brother? Did you guys see the movies? I hope you didn't. I recently saw poor Dakota Johnson in another movie and it turns out she is good at acting, so that is cool, but I only saw the first movie [Editor's note: sorry. We have limits.] and it's bad. But I do recall that while CG was sort of cool, but rude, his little brother was a party dude. CG's brother had like a young Kid Rock vibe, which is not a great vibe to have!

I have a personality system where I assign you one or more Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on your personality. CG is a classic Raphael: Moody. Seeks control through isolation. Has special jeans he wears when he's gonna do sex. And his little brother, and also Maxim, are party dudes. Pure Michaelangelos. 

But like seriously just look at this paragraph. So a writing cliché is to introduce a dog. Does a character pet the dog, or kick the dog? Is this a hero, or a villain? 

No dogs, of course, but instead ELJ just gives us Maxim being hella callous to a bunch of different ladies for no reason other than that he's an asshole? 

Here's a nit to pick: right in the first GD paragraph we've got some weird style things going on. Now normally, in fiction, we're talking about em dash and not semicolon. ELJ is rocking both right up top! Coming in hot! What do you think the reason is for starting with an em dash and then switching over to a semicolon? Is it just that she used an em dash so recently and wants to mix it up? I personally support em dashes all the time and no semicolons; people don't really "say" semicolons, you know? The em dash is more appropriate, particularly in a first person POV. I only bring this up because it's effin wild to me that this made the final book. A weird punctuation thing like this, in the opening paragraph, was absolutely noticed, and multiple people saw it and were like, ehhhhhhh whatever. Shrug. Good times!

So yeah Maxim does all kind of sex on ladies all the time. So much that he can't even remember their names! So much sex that he basically refuses to think about them as human people but instead just places that he once stuck his Trevelyan. 

But he can't sleep! So don't go thinking that this guy is just a shallow fuck machine. Only very deep and serious people fail to get to sleep. He is not a shallow fuck machine. He's a deep fuck machine! I guess.

Anyway tho ELJ right away gives Max Powers a standard attitude for misogynists: Maxim differentiates between most women, who are just fuck-opportunities, and "the good ones" like Caroline. Caroline is who he's in bed with currently, as revealed in the next paragraph. Caroline is his friend  you see. And a man can't fuck his friend because a friend is someone you respect, and therefore couldn't possibly sex. What a gross attitude! This guy is our hero!

I'm not surprised. ELJ paid for an extra yacht by rewriting maybe two of her books from CG's POV and I read one of them and boy howdy! It sucked. Sucked sucked sucked. You srsly feel like you're in the brain of a serial killer, but like, you're supposed to like him? So I kinda assumed that ELJ's narrator was going to get all up in my nerves immediately, and it is so. I hate him. He is bad.

ELJ is setting up this thing where Maxim is feeling super conflicted about taking Caroline to the bone zone, because she's his brother's widow, and his brother died pretty recently. But see, we know that that isn't what the book is about! We know it's Alessia who's destined for that particular zone. I hate this kind of false, unserious conflict. This isn't a book about Caroline, so why bother teasing us with this problem that isn't really a problem? Get lost Caroline!

Caroline kisses MXM on the chest and all of the OG ELJ heads are like OH SNAP because now we know that MXM is not CG. CG never let anybody kiss him on the chest! MXM is not just CG warmed over! He's CG's little brother!

Seriously the fact that we start the book with MXM grieving for his dead brother just makes the whole deal more obvious. Killing MXM's older brother, Kit, is ELJ's symbolic removal of Christian Grey from out story. And like, good, please do, because I hate that guy. But I still feel like we're just not going to get out of his shadow as much as I would like.

MXM and Caro do another sex and then we have a scene break, so of course that means it's the next morning because 99% of all ELJ scene breaks start with someone waking up. 

Caro is already gone but has left MXM a pen-and-paper note inviting him to dinner with "Daddy & the Stepsow" so very good, more enlightened attitudes about women good good good. MXM shows how he feels about this by crumpling up the note and throwing it. The combination of pen-and-paper note and crumpling and throwing is pretty annoying! Cmon, writers. It's 2019. Don't fall back on something like this because it's the future. Have MXM do something modern, like not fav an instagram story, or eat a bunch of Tide pods.

Hey ELJ would you mind giving us a cliché-filled summary of the differences between MXM and older brother Kit (deceased)? 

He was the sensible brother. He stepped up, not down. He was not the prodigal mess that I am. No, I’m the other side of Kit’s coin. My specialty is being the black sheep of the family. No one has any expectations of me, I make sure of that. Always.
Basically I included this bit because of the prodigal son and coin and black sheep bits because, cmon. Why not throw in a few more? Cmon ELJ! I've seen you cram way more cliché into a single paragraph before!

Anyway, MXM goes to work out his hot bod because that's what you do when you're like, feeling so many feelings, right bro?

Usually when I run, I’m focused and grateful that at last I feel something—even if it’s just the pain of bursting lungs and limbs. 
Just trying to feel something ok man? Yeah we don't have to say much about that.

Also we get some of this action:

Run. Breathe. Run. Breathe.
Don’t think about Kit. Don’t think about Caroline.
Run. Run. Run.
DO YOU GET IT??? MXM runs while telling himself to run and breath, just like Alessia! They're exactly the same person! Other than how he's a literal Lord and she's like, I dunno, escaping kidnappers or something? I guess we'll learn about her deal eventually. Yay.

Anyway there's a lot of air in this chapter. Not particularly efficient! MXM has to go off and be in charge of the family money now. Yawn. Oh and he reveals that he and Caro had sex in boarding school when they were teenagers and that must have been pretty awkward since she married his brother! Whatever. Also his housekeeper gets a stray mention, which I guess is relevant because eventually Alessia will be his housekeeper and he'll pursue a completely inappropriate relationship with her and that'll be our book! Yay.

Ok so remember when I said I would believe anything about England? Ok so MXM goes to see his lawyer and notes that these lawyers [Editor's note: called bannisters in England of course] have worked for his family since 1775! Goddamn, son! This whole chapter is like a contest to see how much ELJ can make us hate her protagonist!

But seriously: I don't know if this bit is nonsense, or like, some next-level England shit that I just can't get my head around or what:

How I envied my brother’s title and his position in the family when I was younger. Kit had been the favored child since birth, especially with my mother, but then he was the heir, not the spare. Known as Viscount Porthtowan since he was born, Kit had become the twelfth Earl of Trevethick at the age of twenty upon our father’s sudden death. At twenty-eight I’m lucky number thirteen. And though I’ve coveted the title and all that goes with it, now that it’s mine, I feel like I’m intruding on my brother’s domain.
Uhhhhhhh. Viscount Porthtowan? Earl of Trevethick?

God. Are we going to get a dick joke about Trevethick? About how it's thick? This book is not good!

It doesn't really seem like MXM does anything at his lawyer's place except drink some Glengoolie Blue and decide to blow off his dinner invite and organize a Tinder hookup, so that's what happens next.

Somebody called Heather comes over and we get the first part of a sex scene and it's very talky. Kiss me. -- Only too happy to oblige, madam. Cmon.

And more ignored texts from Caro. At some point it comes out that Kit left all his money and everything to MXM and nothing to his wife and I sort of wonder if that's even possible. Here in the modern world, if you're married, surely some things would have to be in both of your names, right? Eh? Whatever. I just hope that this doesn't turn into a thing where Caro gets turned into a villain just because she would like to continue living in the manner she's been accustomed. That would be obnoxious!

The next morning, we get a bit of business while Heather gets ready to head out for her tv job. On her way out, she remarks on MXM's fancy-lad apartment. I'm very excited because here we learn that MXM is a sometimes-model and has a piano, a guitar, and turntables because he is a DJ, dontcha know. God I hope there's some big, stupid DJ night part of this book. ELJ writing a club scene with Maxim Tennyson on the ones and twos is my greatest hope for this novel.

But, I'm already guessing that Alessia won't be a violinist like I was hoping. She's going to be a guitarist, or more likely, a pianist, because that's probably how ELJ's mind works. Least likely: she's a turntablist. If Alessia turns out to be Albania's greatest DJ, and this whole book is about the two of them having sex and also Alessia expressing herself by dropping the sickest beats, then I will regard this as a good book and I will declare ELJ a good writer despite everything I've said about her. But I bet she takes the coward's way out and makes Alessia a pianist.

Anyway I legit like the end of this chapter because Heather looks into MXM's soul and just burns his ass and I love it.

“I’ll call you,” I say as I pick up her jacket and hold it open for her to shrug on.
“No you won’t. But don’t worry. That’s Tinder for you. I had fun.”
“Me, too.” I’m not about to contradict her.
I follow her to the front door. “Do you want me to walk you down?”
“No thanks. I’m a big girl. Good-bye, Maxim. It was nice knowing you.”
“Same here…Heather.”
“Well done.” She beams, pleased that I’ve remembered her name, and it’s impossible not to return her smile. “That’s better,” she says. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
I guess it probably won't seem like much without reading the whole chapter, and that's not something I recommend. But, in that quick bit, ELJ manages to imbue a side character with some actual humanity, and also MXM is rattled by it. He knows that his near-anonymous app hookup has resulted in a woman accidentally understanding his whole deal, but he can't quite verbalize why he's so irritated. Makes him a more complete character, but also, it doesn't make me like him any more.

That's kinda the problem here that I'm having with this book: I do not like spending time with this guy, and I don't particularly desire anything good to happen to him.

Oh well! Alessia joins us in the next chapter so that's something? Maybe?


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