14 November 2009

bad descriptions (very bad)

In almost every novel on the copyright page there lies a brief "summary" of the narrative. Recently I've begun to read these so-called summaries to see what they say. I think it's reasonable to assume that these writings will be a good description of at least a semblance of the contents of the book. Not so, I tell you!

Here are a few novels and the fucked up, lame-o, reductive and/or just plain wrong descriptions contained within. These happen to be from my class on adolescent literature.

Paranoid Park by Blake Nelson--summary: A sixteen-year-old Portland, Oregon skateboarder whose parents are going through a difficult divorce, is engulfed by guilt and confusion when he accidentally kills a security guard at a train yard.
Where do I start with this one? No, he is not engulfed by guilt and confusion WHEN he accidentally kills a guard, but AFTER he does so. Stupid.

Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden--summary: Liza puts aside her feelings for Annie after the disaster at school, but eventually she allows love to triumph over the ignorance of people.
This one is the weirdest--what does it mean to say she "puts aside her feelings" ?? I don't think she does, and after the "disaster at school" can only be referring to the ear-piercing incident which is in no way a disaster. This summary makes very little sense and is just plain stupid.

Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You by Peter Cameron--summary: Eighteen-year-old James living in New York City with his older sister and divorced mother struggles to find a direction for his life.
This one is also weird and mostly startlingly reductive.That's all you could come up with for James Sveck, that he is struggling to "find a direction" ?? That makes him sound like a moron. Stupid, and criminal, really, when you consider how lovely and nuanced the character is in this luminous novel.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson--summary: A Traumatic event near the end of summer has a devastating effect on Melinda's freshman year of high school.
Okay, well, I can understand the need for obfuscation on this one so as not to reveal what the trauma is until the reader needs to know, but really, saying this trauma has a "devastating effect" on her freshman year in high school makes it sound like she didn't get to go to prom or something. How about the effect it has on her psyche or her soul or her sense of self? Fuck the freshman year of high school.

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch--summary: High school senior and football player Keir sets out to enjoy himself on graduation night, but when he attempts to comfort a friend whose date has left her stranded, things go terribly wrong.
I'll say they go "terribly wrong" beginning with this summary! Gigi is not Keir's "friend" but the object of his lust/love/obsession, and her date does not "leave her stranded." It can also be argued that Keir does not attempt "to comfort" Gigi but rather himself, which is a nice way of saying he rapes her.

I think the depiction of James Sveck with his face in his hands on the cover of Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You says it all.


Pete said...

Ok, so I read read this post of yours in the car on my way home from seeing Rent at the Civic Center. I immediately went to Barnes and Noble to purchase Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You. I just finished reading it and loved every minute. I find that summary to be almost offensive in its simplicity.

To say James is just "struggling to find direction in life" is like saying Meursault in The Stranger is just trying to find meaning in life or Marlow is just going for a painfully long boat ride in Heart of Darkness. The summarizer is truly missing the existential deliciousness of the novel.

I don't think the book jacket summary does much better with it either. I find that the description of having a "crush on a coworker" found in that summary misses the mark on what I read as a much more complicated situation. It is unfair to James to say he acted on a crush he had on John. I actually don't think he had a crush on John at all, at least he never fucking says he does. I saw James' "offense" more of an experiment in his own sexuality, trying to define who he is, wants to be, or thinks he should be.

That being said, I loved the book. I thought it was brilliantly written and a very honest narrative. Mostly, James Sveck is 18 year old Pete. My only gripe with the book is in how John reacts to the situation with the online profile. While it's certainly not unrealistic; I think the aftermath needed to be more fully explored.

I miss reading and discussing YA all the time...


a.e. said...

Pete! I'm so excited that you read and liked Someday. It's really one of my favorite books--I couldn't believe how good it was when I first read it, and I just taught it for the first time this summer. Yay! I've loved Peter Cameron since I read his short story "Memorial Day" in college. You're right about book jacket descriptions, too--they suck just as bad, if not more so. As for the John/James dilemma, yes--it could be explored more thoroughly. I just love James--and I'm just so happy that you feel the same!

I just have one question--how do you feel about egg salad?

Pete said...

As it happens, I love egg salad-- even with pickles.