Total Drek

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Friday, February 04, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 1

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that just doesn't seem to want to start, even though we've already read a dozen pages. Last time we staggered through an endless body of front matter and watched a newly-introduced character get shot in the head with an impractical firearm for unclear reasons. What happens this week? Not much, we just get to meet the least sympathetic main character I've ever seen (aside from explicit anti-heroes, anyway) and his female sidekick. Might as well get comfortable, because it's going to be an experience.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week, amidst fierce competition, that "honor" goes to Ken Houghton for managing to point out how stupid the choice of firearm was while, simultaneously, mocking Sarah Palin:

It is possible to find a .357 Magnum with a laser sight. It is even possible to find good discussions of why one might want to do such a thing. (Note the "weapon of choice for under cover law enforcement, detectives, private eyes, body guards" bit.)

Why one would use Dirty Harry's gun to take out this dude--whose own armament is unknown, so the laser sight will give him some reaction time, and the range of the gun puts you at risk--when a rifle with a scope would do the job rather better is left as an exercise.

Unless the answer is that the last (only?) time you paid attention to guns was when Clint and T. G. Sheppard were singing "Make My Day."

We haven't started the book, and I'm already nostalgic for the days when Sarah Palin asked if the rifle had "a kick," as if Newton's laws of motion didn't apply to her. Which was at least as rational as the choice of weapon here.

Indeed, bizarre choices like this will rapidly become a narrative staple, and lead to a rather distressing conclusion: the authors are writing this novel as though it were a screenplay. And what seems dramatic and villainous on the big screen often seems laughably incompetent in text. But you'll have to wait a few episodes for the paradigmatic example of that little issue. Congratulations, Ken, and keep at it everyone! I can just hear y'all chomping at the bit to mock this shitbird.

And, with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag. My footnotes use the traditional star system (e.g. *, **, etc) while references included in the Afterword to the book are noted with numbered parenthetical tags (e.g. (1), (2), etc.). And on we go!

Dramatis Personae: In order of their appearance in the text.

Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair; fan of remote telephone booths; shot in the head by parties unknown.

Beverly ???: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's.


I just want to begin today by pointing out that when you turn the page following Eli's sudden demise in the prologue, you run smack into a page with "Part ONE" written on it in big block letters. Beneath them is a quote from Woodrow Wilson which seems to suggest that men are easily manipulated by a good leader. And in my copy, beneath that, is my scrawled note, "Oh for fuck's sake! Quit with the dramatic dividers and tell a damn story!" You can tell how much I've been enjoying the front matter by this point.

Chapter 1: In which an undescribed male falls in love with an undescribed female, and we talk about lines.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 7, Line 1-3:
Most people think about age and experience in terms of years, but it's really only moments that define us. We stay mostly the same and then grow up suddenly, at the turning points.

As an opening paragraph, this does beat Left Behind's "Rayford Steele was thinking about a woman he'd never touched." On the downside, however, this opener is setting the bar very high for The Overton Window, by which I mean that it's essentially telling us that, not only is this going to be a thriller, it's also going to be a "coming of age" story. Combining those two genres is no mean feat. Can the authors do it? I don't want to spoil it but... no.

Page 7, Line 4-6:
His life being pretty sweet as it was, Noah Gardner had devoted a great deal of effort in his first twenty-something years to avoiding such defining moments at all costs. [emphasis added]

"His life being pretty sweet"? Oh, man, this just does not bode well for the book as a whole. This makes it sound like the narrator is about to go to a kegger at Trey's place. Also, notice this theme of "Noah as slacker". We're going to find it contradicted, and then affirmed, and then contradicted so many times throughout the book that, really, we'll end up with no idea who the hell "Noah Gardner" actually is. It'll be fun!

Page 7, Line 8-9:
...he'd spent a full decade building what most guys would call an outstanding record of success with the ladies.

I find it best to imagine the narration in The Overson Window as being in the voice of Glenn Quagmire:

Trust me, it helps.

Page 7, Line 11-12:
Noah had all the bona fide credentials for a killer eHarmony profile.

I'm forced to wonder if the authors got paid for product placement in this book. If so, eHarmony should demand their money back. I'm also wondering when eHarmony became the yardstick against which a life is to be judged? Aside from the smarmy writing, this is a classic example of how the authors would rather tell us than show us. Why spend any time demonstrating Noah's good traits to us when they can just declare them in narration in a tenth the time? I'll leave it to you to fill in the why but, if you want a hint, it has to do with crafting a believable character.

Page 7, Line 12-14:
Since freshman year at NYU he'd rarely spent a weekend night alone; all he'd had to do was keep the bar for an evening's companionship set at only medium-high.

So... he likes his women the way he likes his steaks? Is that what we're supposed to take from this? And what does "medium-high" mean, exactly? I think the authors intend us to think it means, "airhead bimbo," but knowing a bit about twenty-something men, it more likely means something quite a bit different. I mean, let's face it, to the average twenty-something male, "medium-high" probably means something like, "has boobs and all her teeth". And on a related note, if anyone is finding this guy an at all likable character so far... can you e-mail me to explain why?

Page 7, Line 15-17:
As he'd rounded the corner of age twenty-seven and stared the dreaded number thirty right in the face, Noah had begun to realize something about that medium-high bar: it takes two to tango.

Perhaps, but it only takes one to mix your metaphors. And also, did we just forget about ages 28 and 29? Because, hell, he's still got a ways to go before thirty, which isn't really all that bad in perfect honesty. Hell, whatever, what's two years in the grand scheme of things?

Page 8, Line 2-5:
Now, on his twenty-eighth birthday, he still wasn't sure what he wanted in a woman but he knew what he didn't want: arm candy. He was sick of it. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to consider thinking about getting serious.

Okay, wait, hang on just a second: did they accidentally print a Harlequin Romance in here by mistake? Or maybe some sort of Twilight spinoff? I mean, damn. And did I just read that this twenty-something male is tired of all the meaningless sex with attractive women? Because that seems plausible.

Page 8, Line 6-7:
It was in the midst of these deep ruminations on life and love that the woman of his dreams first caught his eye.

"Deep ruminations on..."? That's supposed to be deep? Are you f-ing kidding me? Oh, man, this is gonna be a loooong book. In any case, said woman is in his company breakroom posting some kind of flier on a bulletin board. As long as we're in the scene, I should mention that Noah is in the company breakroom for his afternoon candy break. In other words, he's hitting the vending machine. Why should you care? Right now, no reason, but it'll become somewhat relevant in the next chapter.

Page 8, Line 13-14:
Top psychologists tell us in Maxim magazine that the all-important first impression is set in stone within about ten seconds.

At least now we know where the authors did their research. And oddly, Maxim is a more reputable source than I was anticipating. Anyway, Noah stares for a long time- thereby demonstrating that he has only a passing familiarity with his company's sexual harassment policy- and ends up making three observations, which I feel compelled to share with you.

Page 8, Line 18-19:
First, she was hot, but it was an aloof and effortless hotness that almost double-dared you to bring it up.

No doubt that's right before it double-dog-dares you to swallow a quarter. It's like this book is being written by a middle schooler.

Page 8, Line 19-21:
Second, she wasn't permanent staff, probably just working as a seasonal temp in the mailroom or another high-turnover department.

That might be interesting or relevant if we had any idea where the hell we are right now. That said, honestly, I just want the narrator to tell me more about Hottie McPretty since, as of this moment, we don't know shit about her. I mean, seriously, can was have a description of some sort? As of this moment all we really know is that she's female and that she's hot. That's not real specific, you know?

Page 8, Line 21-22:
And third, even in that lowly position, she wasn't going to survive very long at Doyle & Merchant.

Again, that might mean something if we had any idea what "Doyle & Merchant" is. As it stands, I barely care. Regardless, it comes out in the next paragraph that (1) Doyle & Merchant is a top-shelf New York PR firm, and (2) Hottie McPretty is dressed as a hippie, without actually being dressed like a hippie. She looks like a "free spirit," you know? It's sort of like how she's "hot" but the kind of hotness that can apparently double-dare you to do shit. Honestly, this character does more while doing nothing than any character I've ever seen. Nevertheless, we still know basically nothing about this woman. I mean, hair color? Cup size? Height? Seriously, throw us a bone here, authors! And I guess they do, albeit in a manner so abstract as to be effectively useless.

Page 9, Line 3-5:
What struck him was a word, or, more precisely, the meaning of a word: line. More powerful than any other element of a design, a line is the living soul of a piece of art. [emphasis original]

I'll spare you the rest of the paragraph, but the authors explain how the lines of a thing are more important than the details and relate a story wherein one of Noah's artist friends sketched him a picture that, using just seven strokes of the pen, perfectly captured the essence of womanhood. The authors are apparently attempting the same thing with the text, relying on a paltry handful of sentences to capture the essence of this woman. So far, it's not working out so well.

Page 9, Line 14-17:
And that is what struck him. There it was at the bulletin board, that same exquisite line, from the toes of her sandals all the long, lovely way up to her fingertips. Unlikely as it must seem, he knew right then that he was in love.

Whereas we, unlikely as it might seem, realize right here that Noah must have a whole sheaf of restraining orders filed against him by many of those "middle-high bar" women he's apparently bedded. In mere moments he's become obsessed with a woman he ran into in the company breakroom, which doesn't say "romance" to me so much as "crazy stalker". And while a thriller told from the warped perspective of the villain might be really interesting, I somehow doubt that's what the authors have in store for us. It doesn't really matter one way of the other, though, because that concludes the chapter. We started on page 7, we ended on page 9, and once you factor in all the white space, we basically had two pages worth of text. And believe it or not, this is not the shortest chapter in the book.

Nevertheless, the next chapter is somewhat longer, so I'm going to call it quits for the week. I mean, hell, if the authors are going to halfass it, why shouldn't I? Come back next time when our "hero" manages to talk to Hottie McPretty. And trust me, he acquits himself about as well as we've been led to expect.

See you then.



Anonymous Jonas Wisser said...

Before sending Drek his physical copy of the book (for which I imagine he now dislikes me intensely), I tracked down a PDF to find out what he was getting himself into. I didn't even manage to finish this chapter.

Friday, February 04, 2011 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

Were it not blocked at work and homeā€”and no, I have no intention at all of testing that belief&mdash:I would be creating a profile on eHarmony right now: "27-year-old low-level PR done who has f*ck*d a lot of women (none well enough that they want to stay around) looking for long-term relationship."

I'm certain the e-mails would be overwhelming. Results that would make something like this seem positively uplifting.

Friday, February 04, 2011 1:25:00 PM  
Blogger scripto said...

"There it was at the bulletin board, that same exquisite line, from the toes of her sandals all the long, lovely way up to her fingertips"

So a Hippie Hottie? Does she shave her legs or is the line kind of fuzzy?

Friday, February 04, 2011 4:20:00 PM  
Blogger Mister Troll said...

Wait, I thought you were going to summarize? Isn't your post longer than the actual chapter?

Saturday, February 05, 2011 1:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A 27-year old sex-addled sociopath working a job clearly above his abilities/education suddenly has an laughable epiphany and describes it in terrible prose?

Now why does that sound familiar...

-- "There's nothing better than looking at a hot, naked chick." (Glenn Beck, 2006)

Wednesday, February 09, 2011 6:00:00 AM  

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