Taki is on about the film This is 40 and how mindnumbingly appalling it is. For me, two very good points are brought up:
1. The universal rules for conversation are: Don’t talk about your kids, your pets, your job, or the dream you had last night. We know you like those things.
2. In After America, Mark Steyn implores writers to get out there and experience the real world. He says, “Don’t just write there, do something.” Storytelling is about imparting an experience to those of us who don’t have the time or the resources to experience it ourselves.
We always knew good art comes from suffering. This Is 40 proves bad art comes from success.
That’s the tragedy of art and literature. In real life, of course we want the fuzzy, “best grandma in the world coffee mug” things to prevail, we want things to run smoothly in a now dystopic world. We’d prefer reaffirmation of family values.
But to read about it for 1000 pages or watch a two and a half hour film on it? Imagine all the “goo goo goo” words you used to coo to your baby and put those into a film, end to end, along with the beaming faces of family members who love one another and it’s not, shall we say, the most rivetting of things to watch.
In my own new novel, there’s a murder on page one and no one can be trusted, yet the characterization is so without sharp, jangled edges, it’s difficult to produce anger and passion in the reader, a sense of horror. When the prime suspect is later questioned by the prime suspecter in a showdown on the island, the atmosphere should be able to be cut with a knife.
Instead, it’s one clever person giving very clever replies to another clever person in a standoff and though it certainly creates uneasiness, a sense of being sold short and maybe even of residual menace, it doesn’t create horror … yet. For those who like their murders gory, with severed limbs and torn-out hearts every few pages, it would be a disappointment.
On the other hand, the last thing it is is functional – it’s decidedly dysfunctional, people trying to create some sort of normality when all around is falling apart and not doing a terribly good job at it. People passing themselves off as normal when they’re really as crazy as rattlesnakes inside.
When you have the two heroes finally come together by page 12, what do you have left for them to do? You could make one of them the murderer after all, yes. You could have a new discovery – that one about the multi-million pound mineral accidentally being discovered and that has them at odds but you see the point – I can’t just leave them to “discover each other” and whisper sweet nothings in their perfect lovemaking for the next 12 chapters, gazing into each other’s eyes with that deep oneness, much as I might personally want it to be so.
There has to be an edge.