Two books converge in the woods, and I choose the one more complicated
A long-favorite short story by James Thurber, “The Macbeth Murder Mystery,” tells of an American woman at a hotel in the English countryside, circa 1955. She wants to read a good mystery story before going to sleep, but the only thing close at hand by her bedside was Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
So she reads it as a murder mystery, and comically reads too much into everything.
I’ve just done the same thing with two shortish novels – “Private” by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro and “The Reason You’re Alive” by Matthew Quick – that happened to be taking up space in my Kindle library. I figured, “Well, what the hell…”
The only thing the two books have in common is that the protagonists of both are war heroes, with unlimited access to funding.
I fear I’ve read far too much into both books, however. I’m now all worked up about the art of storytelling.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“Private,” the first book in the Jack Morgan series, is a relentless plot machine. Resistance is futile. Every chapter is bite-sized and fast-moving. Multiple plots are juggled with ease. Celebrities make cameos. The men are more manly; the women all sleep with Jack. One plot involves the NFL… accompanied by the mafia, of course. Another involves obligatory cyber-genius serial killers preying on young females. There’s plenty of sex, violence and advanced forensics. In short, it’s a typical late 2000s episode of “CSI” or “Criminal Minds,” with the loose ends neatly tied up before a closing ad for Kraft Foods.
The thing is, you can’t put the book down – and you can’t argue with its success. It’s like eating peanuts from the generous bowl the bartender always places in front of Jack because he’s such a big tipper. You always think, “Just another chapter or two before I put this down…”
“Private” is published under the James Patterson Brand… ghost-written by Paetro and, judging from the acknowledgements, researched by a small army of assistants. It takes a village to be a best-selling author these days.
The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After this naked, tour-de-force of storytelling, reading “The Reason You’re Alive” reminded me of a corporate parody video I once saw where a marketing manager urged his staff to “dimensionalize that paradigm.”
I now think I finally know the meaning of that phrase. You see, I see what you did there, Mr. Quick. You dimensionalized the paradigm of storytelling.
“The Reason You’re Alive” isn't all about the plot. It's told by an unreliable narrator in a PTSD mental fog – a non-politically-correct war hero. There are graphic descriptions of war crimes, combined with lots of casual and mean-spirited obscenity. There’s also a deus-ex-machina Vietnam buddy who provides the funding that makes the ending possible.
Still, in the end, I didn’t really enjoy the book that much, to be honest. It was all a little too forced, a little too quirky. The war crimes are over-the-top but, hey, I’ve read that Miramax has purchased the movie rights, so maybe it’s just me. I probably never watched enough episodes of “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” to become as desensitized as a studio executive.
Still, if forced to choose between the two books, I’d choose “The Reason You’re Alive” in a heartbeat. It’s not like everything else. And “Private” is precisely like everything else.
The moral here is that I’m going to re-think the “reading whatever is close at hand” trap I’ve fallen into lately.
I’m now looking for something that dimensionalizes the storytelling paradigm, but that that also isn’t a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
I hear “Macbeth” might be a pretty good read.
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