Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Monday, July 28, 2014

Temp Check 6/13: Rulez

So, the tally sheet still bleeds quite a bit... but man, it was heckuva week.

I wonder how I ever get anything done when I am working, since I am now more-or-less on vacation/working part-time and I still seem to run out of day before I run out of ideas or things to do. See, besides WARMER, I also have this spur to action:

This Wall of Do-Me! is supposed to remind me (and Coco) of projects we wanted to get done this summer. Well, we're approaching the halfway mark and I think we may have removed two cards from the door. So, in addition to the red boxes on the tally sheet, these cards mock our lack of industry and enterprise on a daily basis.

Meh, it's summer. I can mea that culpa.

The latest WARMER book was all the rage last year: all the cool kids were reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I borrowed an autographed copy from Sissy (that shows you how much she trusts me!) and read it over a day. I get why it was such a hit in Seattle: all the shout-outs to our locales (hotels and restaurants and streets and neighborhoods) along with all the gentle and well-informed skewering of local conventions and fascinations (Microsoft culture and TED Talks and soccer moms and REI wardrobes) make it an in-joke for self-aware Seattleites to enjoy (much the same way I imagine Portlanders must watch Portlandia.)

The epistolary style of the book was quite well-crafted, and Semple does a good job of giving consistent voices to a wide variety of narrators; the characters are for the most part engaging and built beyond stereotype. The narrative arc of the book does break a couple of fundamental rules, however, and for that reason Bernadette fails to make it onto my personal hit parade.

First of all, it violates one of Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats's Twenty-Two Rules of Storytelling. (If you haven't seen this compilation of aphorisms, you should check it out.) Rule 19 says Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. This rule is not just Coats's; Lester Dent gave the same advice in his classic Pulp Fiction Master Plot Formula, albeit in a more muscular idiom: Element #3 of the Fourth Act is The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn. I am afraid Semple does not live up to this standard, and for me, it makes the conclusion a bit hollow - it does feel like cheating.

If animators and pulp writers aren't enough of an authority, Semple also ignores the admonition of Chekhov's Gun: Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there. Semple introduces at least two plot elements that are the equivalent of loaded guns, and nether one amounts to anything, leading to a bad let-down, a little confusion, and a loss of engagement. I would be will to wager a small amount of American money that when this story gets to the movie screen (where it appears to be headed) both these elements will disappear.

Nonetheless, it was an amusing read, and whiled away a few hours if a WARMER afternoon.

When I could have been doing something else.

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