Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nitpickery - Darkness in the Mirror.

Hey y'all.  I feel like gettin' a little nitpicky today because I stayed up late last night reading this book called Darkness in the Mirror, and I can feel rant mode going on. 

I have a problem with the library.  This problem is, they have a multiplicity of books written by people who never should have been published.  A while back I checked out this book called Sorry, It's Not for Us (or something to that nature), which dictates the plight of a woman who must choose what books to allow her publishing company to pick up and which to say no to.  She speaks of very high standards, and her reasoning is interesting.  However, the library must disagree with this.  What other reason would they have for publishing the nonsense I've checked out there for the past several months?  It had The Dark Tower by C.S. Lewis, but that was the one good book I've ever checked out from the library.

So Darkness in the Mirror is a story about a family, and one of the genetic traits of this family is schizoaffective disorder.  First one woman gets it, then her daughter Ruth passes it on to her daughter Ondie.  She has another daughter, Serita, who seems to have escaped this fate.  Ondie is trying to get back with her baby's daddy, not knowing that he's having a fling with Serita.

The reason why I picked this book off the shelf was because it was by Erica Lewis, who happened to be near the C.S. Lewis section, sadly small in the library.  Also, the cover is of serious young woman who has just written "I hate you" in lipstick on a mirror, staring coldly at her reflection.  Now, doesn't that sound like a good story?  Think of it, a woman versus herself and torn apart by exciting!


I've come to expect a lot from madness books.  There's so many complex emotions in insanity, and when presented correctly it's perfectly thrilling.  However, this book wasn't about the madness at all.  It was a friggin' soap opera.

How did this book suck?  Let me count the ways.
1. Lackluster plot.
2. Undercutting its own drama.
3. No real characterization.
4. Vastly underdeveloped writing style.
5. Ignoring the specifics of schizoaffective disorder.

There might be other things, but for now we'll stick to these, as they are the main functions of what exactly is wrong with this story.  Yes, I'm going to spoil this story at lot, but since there's nothing to it anyway, you're not losing anything.

Let's start backwards.  Number 5 is the absolute worst thing wrong with this book: ignoring the very thing that makes someone want to read this book in the first place.  It mentions the disorder, shows a couple of mad episodes, but in the end I know nothing more about the disorder, only that it makes people paranoid that other people are scheming against them.  This story seems to be about family drama without any real theme or point to it.  Come on, where's the struggle against madness?

4 is a problem that all writers go through at some point.  No one starts off as a good writer.  We all go through a stage where we think we know crap about writing, but in the end only everyone else can see the noobs that we really, truly are.  Writers can be underdeveloped in many ways.  They can ignore emotion and just write block for block what happens, they can rush through parts they think are uninteresting, they can use all these fancy-schmances words and references that they don't really know how to use effectively, and they can write boring dialogue that no one would actually say in real life. 

This book is guilty of all of the above, hence the "vastly" part.  I mean, holy crap!  Why the crap was this published, other than for cheap relationship fantasy?

Let me show you an example from the book.

"He dashed back inside and grabbed the keys off the counter and sprinted down two fights of concrete steps with no shoes on.  He pressed the button on the keyless remote and the noise halted.  But his was not the only alarm that sounded.  Serita spied her smashed windshield and the brick that laid it to waste.  Ondie zeroed in on her standing there when the clamor from her car ceased.  Serita backed into the apartment like a frightened rabbit."

This is a description of Ondie discovering Serita at Dexter's (her baby's daddy) house.  Aigoo, it's like a dang kid wrote this mess.  They're obviously trying to sound dramatic, but this is a major fail.  I mean, if this were a first draft written during NaNoWriMo to be edited later, that would be one thing, but I am astonished at any publishing company that would put this in print.  Why aren't there any commas?  Why isn't there a description of Ondie that makes her as frightening to the reader as she is to Serita?  Why are they describing flat statuses rather than action?\

Hint, writer peeps.  If something is happening, like a dog is chewing on a bone, say the dog's chewing on a bone.  Don't just say he had a bone in his mouth or something dull like that.  Describe an action like an action, and your words will play like a movie.

Okay, I will attempt to write something a bit better, because I'm an arrogant nerd-girl and I can.

"At the sight of his former love (the woman who'd had his child!) beating up on his Jeep with a branch, Dexter dashed back inside, snatching his keys before he dashed right back out.  He ignored the impact of his bare feet on the concrete as he rushed down the stairs to stop the mad woman.  The first order of business was to get his car alarm off -- he by no means wanted to attract more of his neighbors' attentions to this mess.  As he clicked the panic button on his keys, he realized that his alarm wasn't the only one going off.

Shaking like reed in a storm, Serita peeked her head out the door.  It was every bit as bad as she thought it was: Ondie had taken a break from his jeep to start with her Ford.  A brick appeared in Ondie's hand, tightly gripped.  Serita watched in terror as her sister angrily swung her arm, casting the thing smack into her now shattered windshield. 

As if knowing that she was being watched, Ondie's eyes snapped straight up, focusing solely on baby sister Serita.  She stared into Ondie's bloodshot glare, regretting it instantly.  There was no pain in the older girl's eyes, no betrayal or tears.  There was only hate, a hate married to the worst sort of rage imaginable.  It was then that the younger sibling knew that what she was seeing was not Ondie.  It was the devil."

There, I think that's a bit more dramatic.  That's the way a madman should be portrayed, as someone outside of themselves.  Thing is, a lot of authors have trouble with something I call "dwell".  Dwell is basically where you take an emotion and just dwell on it, expounding it and making the emotion come closer to the reader.  Too much dwell can be bad, but I've found that most often it's the opposite problem that occurs.

Okay, so let's start at the beginning.  This story starts off more or less following Ruth, the mother of these two girls.  Once Ruth's mother dies (in the most cliched way possible), the story sort of goes on to tell, not show (bad, bad, bad!) exactly why Ruth's marriage goes south -- her daugher Ondie shows signs of the disorder and the time this consumes puts a strain on Ruth's marriage to Kenny.  Then it goes on a continuous loop of being focused on Ondie, Serita, and Ruth.  You can really tell that this author is far too feminist for her and her readers' good.  I guess the story sorta runs around Ondie.  At one point the story is told a little bit through Dexter's parents, but since these people have no real plot importance, she really shouldn't have bothered. 

It's okay to have the perspective jump a bit to show what other characters are thinking, but in the end it's best to keep your story being seen through the eyes of one character or two to four characters whose story is interwoven.  I dunno, maybe if this story had some sort of united theme, then the jumpy perspective would be okay.  There's just no themes to this book.  Overall, it's just like coming in to work and listening to your friend gossip about a coworker and her family's mental history, and just about as well told.

Let's get some more into those negative points.  This story had no real characterization mainly because it pretty much refused to make characters reveal anything deep going on in their heads.  You can tell that the author thought of these as 3D people, but she really didn't bring the characters' depth into the story. 

For example, she says that Ondie's doctor, Dr. Mathis, was a nice guy, but you really don't get to see him do anything much of worth for Ondie.  His advice is flat, his descriptions lack emotion, and he doesn't do anything in the plot other than listen to Ondie and say hi to people. 

Maya, Ondie's daughter, is constantly being shuffled from daycare to Grandma Ruth's, to Dexter's, and then back to daycare.  You rarely get to see her do anything that makes her distinctive from other children.  She worked with paints a lot, so the author could have made her a good artist or something.  But no, Maya is merely another under five little girl, cute but only there to die dramatically and cause her mother no end of grief.  She's practically a redshirt.  Yeah, Maya dies in an accident just after Serita discovers that she's pregnant with Dexter's kid.  Harsh, no?

That's also an example of how Lewis really undercuts her own drama.  Maya is barely there and then she dies, leaving behind no impression of herself in the reader's mind other than a vague shadow of a two year old.  Also, one of the dramatic points of the story is that Ondie supposedly wants Dexter back.  However, early on she meets Paul, the hunky Jamaican guy.  In the other book, the one about the woman who rejects badly written novels, she explained that you're supposed to hold back your character's hope/good things/victories until the near end of the story.  I know one person who really should have listened....

Also, Ondie is the dang luckiest person in the world.  Her mom does everything she can to help her, she's got a dang hot Jamaican man to hang on to, Dexter doesn't press charges when she wrecks his jeep and knocks him down his steps, she manages to get out of a 90 day stint in a mental hospital without a hint of trouble, she keeps her job even after that, and Paul still stays with her throughout all her mental breakdowns.   Yawn.  Let me know when something interesting happens.  Well, they did have that small thing where Ondie thought Paul was cheating on her, but that passed quickly and without any real incident.

Honestly, this story could have been really good.  It could have been dramatic and told with intimate detail the plight of a mentally damaged person.  As is, it's a stupid soap opera where we have no clue what anyone is thinking at any time.  Ruth is obsessed with getting her girls to talk and work things out, but once Ondie smashes the cars and Serita has her baby, Serita gets so afraid that she pulls out a restraining order on Ondie.  Even then Ruth doesn't give up, and yet we are never really shown any true emotions about how Ruth feels.  She's just doing it for form's sake.

So yeah, lackluster plot in the sense that there is no real sense of accomplishment.  Only people just sleeping around without thinking about it and no one even bothering to tell anyone to have some moral standards.  It's all just a bunch of selfish people wanting what they want and never really considering how other people feel.  Ruth wants her girls to get along, Serita wants Ondie to leave her alone, Derrick wants to have a normal family, Kenny wants to defend his daughters (he does a terrible job), Derrick's parents want him to stay away from that family, and apparently Ondie wants Serita to suffer. 

Yeah, that's right.  At the end of the book, Serita starts suffering from postpartum depression, and this seems to lead her down a path that could possibly be schizoassociative disorder.  At this point, and only at this point, does Ondie finally calm down.  She had a boyfriend that could only exist in a book, a good job, and she managed to avoid most of the serious consequences of her actions. 

But no, these don't sway her any.  She doesn't calm down at all until Serita is put under mental examination by Derrick.  In fact, this makes her so happy that she tells Dr. Mathis that "the beast that she can't control" is gone.  She finally decides to leave well enough alone and stop aggravating an already bad situation.  If she could have done this before she smashed up Derrick's and Serita's cars, then she would have been spared a lot. 

That is insanely stupid.  That's like saying you can only heal once you get revenge or feel justified.  Was that the dang theme of this book?  A little thing called self-control would have stopped all this nonsense from occuring.  Heck, it's making me thing that this disorder is an emotional disease, caused by stress or something.  I dunno, like the sins of the fathers passing to the the sons...or mothers to daughters, as the case may be. 

In any case, it was not worth staying up late to read this nonsense.  No real madness, no real plot, no real themes, and a seriously underdeveloped writer. Next!

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