Woman No. 17 Hitting the Thematic Checklist

Sitting in a tire shop is not my ideal Sunday morning; I wasn’t the only patron to bring a book, and though I surreptitiously tried to suss out what the other ladies were reading without looking like a creeper, I only ended up looking like a creeper.

While the tech replaced my tire, I was able to finish Woman No. 17 by Edan Lapucki. The blurb on the cover describes the novel as “sinister and sexy” (which is weirdly also my Tinder profile.) And like my Tinder profile, it doesn’t really live up to the hype.

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The story presents the dual viewpoints of a well-off woman and her nanny, the women a generation apart, both preoccupied with their roles in the world as well as their mothers. In addition to the classic “my mother was a psycho omg am i my mother” conundrum, there is also an artsy slant that questions identities and whether we can put them on and take them off like clothes and at what point our assumed identities become part of us (see: Masks All the Way Down.)

There are so many Liberal Arts Intro Class themes that the novel tries to explore, the reader is in danger of a slipped disk from all the whiplash.

IN ADDITION TO THE ABOVE MENTIONED THEMES: the role of art in the world. A classic “am I an artist?” crisis.

IN ADDITION: a nonverbal son and how we treat the disabled as less than.

IN ADDITION: Approximately eight million flawed or straight up sociopathic woman. Cue Gone Girl/The Girl on the Train comparisons.

IN ADDITION: Representation of the female body on film as exploitative or powerful, dependent on the lens. Cue a really terrible art project that serves to upend the male gaze with dick pics. Subversive!

IN ADDITION: Poverty porn.

The story is compelling, the train wreck of these woman’s lives compulsively readable as they make poor choice after disastrous decision. If the novel hadn’t tried to capture so many different liberal arts elective course titles, the whole story would have felt more unified and might have led to a more satisfying ending.

*WOMEN NOS. 1-16

  • One pertinent lesson of this novel is to not let your mom use twitter. There’s actually a wide array of social media usage in this novel, including Snapchat and Craigslist. Regardless of the app, the characters in this novel manage to create disaster with every post and tweet and email they send into the world.
  • Just add booze? In my blog about Dead in the Water I complained about the lazy character shortcut of making a character a pedophile in order to telegraph to the reader just how evil the character is. Equally annoying is making a woman a boozer to depict how broken she is. Just add booze! Insta-flaw! I know this was used prominently (and as a plot propellant) in The Girl on the Train. Has it become more prevalent, or am I just noticing it more?

 

Cut the Chit-Chat and Get the F Out!: Ararat by Christopher Golden

The title of this blog post paraphrases a line spoken by a character late in Christopher Golden’s novel, Ararat. It also accurately describes the experience of reading the novel (or listening, as I did) and suffering through long passages of pointless arguing amongst a group of people trapped together in a most improbable situation: Inside Noah’s Ark high up on Mount Ararat.

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See what happened was…there was an earthquake and an avalanche, which opened up a cavern in the side of Mount Ararat. The cavern turns out to be the interior of an ancient ship, and soon a large cast of characters, including a pair of fame-seeking adventurers, a priest, a covert operative, a documentarian, a UN representative, local Turks and guides, a professor and a host of grad students, phew…are holed up inside the ship. Their main object of interest is a certain cadaver which appears to be something other than human.

*mild to moderate spoilers*

And in case you’re not attuned to the finer points of Demons 101, the cadaver helpfully has horns. Like demons do.

Soon, all the members of the crew are acting a little odd and there are long stretches of pointless infighting, bizarre dreams, and grade-school musings on belief and religion. Even when they get stuck in a gruesome version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, they still find time to argue and grouse in between horrific murders. As the demon plays a round of Possession Russian Roulette with the survivors, there are some nonsensical (and unecessary) plot machinations to explain what seems inherently unexplainable.

In service of blood, gore, and arguing, some of the story’s more interesting elements are sold short. For example, the characters ask why the ship is so high on the mountain, but never revisit it or even posit a theory. Sure, if we want to go with the classic story, it was a flood, and if it was a flood, what kind of implications did that have worldwide? Who were these people and what were they running from? And most importantly, why in the hell did they take a damn demon with them?

Another shaky element detracting from the strength of the story is the tepidly described setting. It’s a mountain. It has snow. Blizzards. An ancient ark. The setting is a character itself, but at times remains as one-dimensional as some of its human counterparts.

This is a book ripe for film adaptation. The setting is wonderfully claustrophobic, an ancient rotting ship in the side of a mountain, a blizzard raging outside, the natural tension of a multinational cooperation exacerbated by a little demonic influence. Cut out some of the sniping and get to the action and we could have a serviceable film.

* “Then as God had bid him to do/ he took on animals two by two” (this poem!)

  • Christopher Golden’s novel Snowblind is in talks to become a TV series sometime in the future. Pretty decent novel with some silly shenanigans at the end.
  • The “Rosemary’s Baby” vibe at the end of the novel almost redeems everything that came before it
  • I don’t understand why demons have to adhere to certain mortal rules, such as holy water or Latin. If they operate on a different metaphysical plane than humans, why should they be subject to our language or physical objects like crucifixes? I mean, they can possess us and make our heads spin around!

 

This is how it will be when you drown: Dead in the Water by Nancy Holder

This is how it will be when you drown. – Dead in the Water by Nancy Holder

If you ever come across a copy of Nancy Holder’s Dead in the Water, published in 1995 and winner of the Bram Stoker Award, pick it up and read the first chapter. It contains phenomenal, graphic description of drowning far from the romantic auspices of classical literature.

 

Ophelia’s Drowning Fail

 

When Holder writes “You turn around to see your friends again. And they’re farther away than you thought they’d be. A lot farther,” it’s evocative of Stevie Smith’s 1957 poem “Not Waving But Drowning.” The choice of second person POV lends the chapter it’s power, effectively removing away the narrative screen between the reader and the action. It’s not some random unnamed character who’s drowning. It’s you. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the novel never comes close to evoking that emotional punch.

It’s a great setup: A group of castaways are picked up by a luxury cruise ship when their own doomed freighter sinks on its way to Hawaii. Unsubtly named The Pandora, the ship and its eye-patched captain are not what they seem. Could it be they are on a ship where all the evils of the world are percolating below its shimmering, mirage-like exterior?

Like the ship itself, the novel is an incoherent jumble of dreams, hallucinations, images, graphic violence, and characters perpetually feeling sorry for themselves. Throw in Lorelei the water spirit, excessive quoting from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and an insidious fog (because when is fog ever benign?) and the novel ends up more confusing than compelling, verbose but hardly visionary.

  • Reading Pet Peeve Alert: Lazy uses of classical myths to evoke (incorrectly) an association. Pandora was a woman whose curiosity caused her to accidentally unleash evil on the world. I don’t see how that corresponds with a murderous ghost-captain who sinks ships and enslaves the souls of the drowned in service to him. For a correct usage of this myth, please refer to The Girl with all the Gifts.
  • Reading Pet Peeve Alert Part II: Throwing in pedophilia to grant a character automatic “evil” status. The character was nasty enough; I don’t get why we need to read about that. It’s repellent.
  • Lady cop alert! How quaint that the blurb on the back of the book has to point out that the novel contains a “female cop packing a .38″ Emphasis mine. I know that may cause some readers to quake in their trousers, but don’t worry, she has a dickish, misogynist partner to balance out her offensive possession of ovaries. Who of course she’s in love with. It’s like The Wolfen on a boat!