As Threatened… Books I Have Thrown Against a Wall, and Why.

As I said in my first post, I read quite a bit and am not at all picky about it.  That said, not everything I read pleases me, and it doesn’t matter if the book is classic, critically acclaimed, or otherwise, if it Pisses Me Off it gets chucked against a wall.  I already related that this was the unhappy fate of The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s immortal tale of hypocrisy and penance.  Sorry, I just thought it sucked.  I disagreed with it on so many levels I honestly don’t know where to begin.  Granted, I was a mere eighteen at the time, but age hasn’t mellowed my disdain by an ounce.  Little Pearl makes the case for why children need to be spanked.  I HATED that kid.  I mean, dear old Reverend Dimmsdale finally grows a pair and asks long-suffering Hester to leave town with him, to which she gladly agrees… until this kid opens its spiteful little mouth and basically disowns Mommy for having the nerve to be happy.  And Hester AGREES with her?  HELLO, who is the parent here?  I admit I am NOT a mother, but if my theoretical progeny started trying to tell me how to live my life, said progeny would assuredly be put in its place.  So anyway, Hester puts her twee little bonnet back on and makes a sad face and tells Dimmsdale no, and then her kid gets all happy again, grows up and lives a real life, while Hester molders to death in her lonely hovel of Fail.  Okay, what is Hawthorne trying to say here?  That redemption is for sissies?  That a single happenstance of Fail defines one for eternity (and don’t bother to try to get past it, just keep wearing that hair shirt until you die)?  The minute the bonnet went back on… well, as soon as I picked my outraged jaw up off the floor, the book got hurled against a concrete dorm wall with considerable force.  The Indians would have been glad to sign me, girl or not, that day.

My problem with most of the books which become my Wallbangers is usually what my favorite Lit prof called “thematic implications.”  I have a tendency to get affronted on a personal level when a work’s theme comes off as heavy-handed, arbitrary, or condemnatory.  For example, compare Hester Prynne to Scarlett O’Hara.  While Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett didn’t get a happy ending either, in no way would a reader believe that her losses at the end of Gone With the Wind would break her.  Like Scarlett, Hester is initially presented as a woman of backbone under duress, and the manner in which Hawthorne suddenly robs her of all dignity in the forest scene is completely arbitrary and seems to have been done with no more clear purpose than the intentions of a malicious child pulling wings off flies.  Hester at this plot point becomes the trope known as “The Chew Toy”– a character an author piles misery upon for no apparent reason other than to make said character suffer.  Scarlett O’Hara was nobody’s chew toy.  Like Hester, everything that happened to her was her own fault, and also like Hester, she learned from it, but a character of substance isn’t going to go wallow in a masochistic orgy of self-flagellation for the rest of her days.  Um, what would be the point?  The point I took away from The Scarlet Letter was that we are defined by our mistakes, not by our inner strength.  Book hits wall.  THWACK.

My book-pitching hasn’t been limited to the works of Hawthorne.  If memory serves, all of the following books have met walls of various forms at my hands:

  • Madame Bovary. Concrete block dorm wall, approximately a year later.  Emma Bovary needed a Sassy Gay Friend, for she was a stupid biotch.
  • The Stand. Drywall, causing a small dent.  Stephen King has often said he has no control over who dies and who doesn’t in his books, but killing off Larry after over a thousand pages of his being more sympathetic than Saint Stu just plain made me mad.  Baby, Can You Dig Your Man, indeed.  Dig him a six-foot GRAVE!!!!  Boo, hiss is all I have to say about that.
  • The Awakening. Concrete block dorm wall again.  Seriously, Kate Chopin treated her heroine no better than Flaubert treated his, and to the same end.  Let’s have a suicide party!  Emma Bovary, you bring the drugs, then we’ll all go for a swim!  How is this supposed to be an enlightened feminist treatise when the main character offs herself?
  • Cold Mountain. Aimed at drywall, hit a window fan, causing damage to book.  Did not care.  The anticlimactic ending is pure emotional manipulation.  Basically, “And then he died.”  Meant to evoke gales of tears; wrenched from me an Oh, REALLY?  What a cop-out.
  • The Horse Whisperer. Tile bathroom wall, reading in the tub.  See Cold Mountain as to why.

I’m sure there are more;  those are just the ones that come to mind right now.  Feel free to disagree.

 

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