Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I love a good thriller. I can't think of one, off hand, but I do love the idea of one.

When I was young, I read one whole Robert Ludlum book, a mechanistic thriller with lots of twists and turns and gut wrenching action. When I got to the end--I stayed up all night to finish it--I was exhausted, wrung out, sweaty and tired in a moral and emotional sense.

Then I found out that I could get the same effect, from another one of Ludlum's novels, by reading the first chapter, then skipping ahead to read one anywhere in the middle, and then reading the last chapter. And guess what. That took a helluva lot less time.

I find most "thrillers" unbearably boring. Lee Child, Dean Koontz, James Patterson, etcetera, etcetera. Most are a big fat snore, to me. 

Here are my notes about Lee Child's novel "Persuader," published in 2003.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The first chapter isn’t bad, a fairly exciting action scene, although it doesn’t make complete sense. The last line of Chapter One is startling and turns the story on its head. It’s great, in a way. The second chapter explains why Jack Reacher was there, and then it gets way too complicated and repetitious for me. A paragraph or two of back-story would suffice. The narrative breaks two of the rules I tell my students: Don’t repeat, and don’t explain. The worst thing you can do is go through the planning of an action with the reader and then go through the action itself. The only time that works is when the action goes horribly wrong.

Here, the novel goes through the action and then through an endless explanation in flashback. It is so very, very boring.

I don’t care about any of this, not the characters, not the story, not the set-up, not the crime family, not the long-lost dead guy. Jack Reacher is a big fat cliché: ex-Army, highly trained with guns, other weapons, blah-blah-blah. Who cares? I ran out of gas on Page 38. I don’t know why anyone would read any farther.

 I tried to go back and finish Ch. 2. I sped-read it and when I finally staggered to the end of the chapter I was exhausted. Done. No more for me. I just didn’t care.

The writer’s main job is to make the reader care about what is going on, about the characters and the story.

The only person I could come close to caring about in this novel was the kid who was “kidnapped” and he was barely there. Just a few sentences, as I recall.

I have this friend Jack, who is a Renaissance man: engineer, avid reader, a graduate of CalTech. A man of many moving parts. I often use him as a literary scout and often read whatever he recommends.
So I called him on the phone to talk about Lee Child and the tough-guy hero Jack Reacher. My question: Why would anyone enjoy this crap?

JACK: It's all psychological. Some people need to feel powerful and even omnipotent, and these narratives feed that need. Like James Bond.

        RA: The second chapter does show that the idiot Jack Reacher is in control. But that does not interest me. I’m more interested in what happens when you let go, when you lose control.
Back to my own notes:

        Another insight: Mediocre writers attract mediocre readers.

        Escapist readers just want to get away from their humdrum lives. That explains why mediocre writers, like Lee Child, attract a lot of readers, who must have boring jobs and boring families and live boring lives. They are probably grinding along in their routines and feel just barely alive. Jack Reacher and his "adventures" must bring them to life. Sort of.

        Child writes in a familiar genre: macho-psycho-stupid fantasy fiction. I don’t care about all that shoot-em-up stuff. Boom-boom, bang-bang, you’re all dead. Who the hell cares?

       But a lot of people do care. I don't begrudge them their escape. But I do wish they liked more depth, more character development, and better writing. Then they might like my stuff. At least that's what I tell myself.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2012, Roger R. Angle


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