Brad Meltzer and Bad Fiction
18/03/2011 § 2 Comments
Life is too short to waste by reading bad books. That’s my working approach when it comes to fiction, and is the reason why I’ve given up on reading Brad Meltzer’s latest book, The Inner Circle. I remember enjoying The Book of Secrets, and I like how one of the more common motifs in his works is how books have hidden, deeper meanings. That theme works for me on a rather Meta level, and is enjoyable to contemplate.
However, The Inner Circle is just painful to read.
There are a couple of reasons for this, and some of them are personal. I haven’t read any of Meltzer’s works since I was in high school, and the way I approach and analyze not just literature, but the entire world has shifted dramatically since then. I’ve become more critical of fiction in general, and have developed rather exacting standards. I also analyze male-female relationships differently (thanks, Roissy!), and my shift from neo-conservatism to theistic libertarianism has made more critical of conservative fiction.
As such, it is painful to read the dialogue between Inner Circle’s protagonist, Beecher White, and Clementine Kaye, the story’s love interest. Beecher is exceedingly beta, the very definition of forgettable nice guy. Clementine is the pretty girl who needs his help. Most of the early chapters focus on Beecher’s long ago crush on Clementine, and reveals that he has a very serious case of “one-itis.” In addition, his first memory of her is how she saved him from being beat up by a bully. It makes me want to gag.
But more than that, the book wastes several pages trying to build up emotional tension when none really exists. The beginning plot is focused on how Clementine, who was raised by a single mother, wants to discover her father’s identity. Since Beecher works in the national archives, he is in a perfect position to find all the information for which Clementine is looking.
Naturally her father is an evil man, in order to make readers feel sympathy for Clementine. Meltzer reveals this tidbit to us in the most ham-fisted way possible, by devoting a chapter of the book to tell the story from the perspective of a mental care worker who is in charge of caring for Clementine’s father. Her father was remanded to a mental care hospital for attempting to assassinate the president of the United States.
After revealing this information to the reader, Meltzer then attempts to play up the drama of this news, heretofore unknown to Clementine, by forcing Beecher to be the one to reveal it to her. Several pages of awkward dialogue ensue, and Beecher ends up telling Clementine, even though doing so causes her emotional pain.
This specific subplot feels particularly forced, for no reader can be surprised that Beecher breaks the news to Clementine or that she takes this news rather horribly. That’s simply how these things go. This appears to be an attempt to create problems that distract from the fact that there is no inherent moral conflict in the plot. All the characters are typecast, and their actions are incredibly predictable. There is simply no inner struggle, and no real conflict.
I do not mean to suggest that there must always be some sort of inner conflict, but since there is no outer conflict, the story feels rather meaningless. Emotional turbulence is poor substitute for either type of conflict, and is not particularly engaging, especially when the characters are predictable and shallow.
This sort of shallowness seems endemic to modern fiction, and does not seem to be going away anytime soon. While I prefer the shallowness of conservative thrillers to the nihilism of modern science fiction, I’m discovering that my tolerance for the former is simply dwindling. Indeed, I’d rather read Shakespeare.
Anyway, I was looking forward to reading this book and doing a more in-depth review of it later on. However, I simply cannot bring myself to read beyond chapter nine. Like I said, life is too short to read bad fiction.