Like finally being asked out by the cute boy at school and then finding out he has really bad breath and no personality, Life in the Boomer Lane has lately been disappointed by a couple best-selling books. These are works of fiction that have glowing recommendations from readers, and high marks from critics. LBL can no longer keep silent. She hereby presents them to you and explains why she didn’t agree with those readers and critics.
The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C Rosenberg Any book about Nazis, especially about the most notorious concentration camp run by the Nazis, sounds like it should be serious reading. And any book based on a real-life event, even more so. It garnered five stars on Amazon, with readers falling all over themselves to hurl accolades at it. According to Amazon, “Joel C. Rosenberg is a New York Times bestselling author with nearly three million copies sold among his eight novels.” This book was deemed “the best novel I’ve read all year” and “one of the explosive and chilling stories I’ve read.” The combination of reader and critic reviews and Rosenberg’s own track record made this book sound mighty promising.
It took LBL until the first sentence of the second paragraph in the book to think otherwise. Cut to an idyllic day in in 1940 in France, in a small town near the German border. Jean Luc, one of the book’s protagonists, was there for a happy gathering of his family to celebrate his neice’s fifth birthday. But Jean Luc was having a problem, and it was not indigestion. “He felt as though every molecule in his body were shaking.” LBL had to actually put the book down and consider what shaking molecules would feel like, but the closest she could come to it was in 1966 in the supply closet of the Atlantic City Chelsea Hotel children’s daycare room. Being unable to do so, she continued. “Evil was on the march and although everybody around him seemed bound and determined not to believe it, there was no question in his mind that the Nazis were coming for them, for the people of France…” Jean Luc was mighty perceptive, being the only person in France to be concerned about a Nazi threat.
But Jean Luc doubts himself. “Not that anyone was listening to him. Who was he, anyway, to know what fate lay in store for his country? He was just a kid, really, twenty-eight years old…of average height and average build with sandy blond hair and bluish-green eyes set behind gold wire rim glasses…”
Not even Nancy Drew had such self-doubt. That paragraph, alone, was enough to have LBL stop reading. Let’s bypass the fact that Rosenberg feels that describing what Jean Luc looks like is somehow important to a historical novel about war and atrocity. This was 1940, not 2014. Twenty-eight year olds in 1940 were full-fledged adults. Few of them were pursuing graduate degrees and living in their parents’ basements. Fewer still were frequenting bars at happy hour. Jean Luc is twenty-eight, married and a minister. Pretty strong creds to have whatever opinions he had, no matter what color his hair and eyes were. And she won’t even address herself to the fact that in that same paragraph we are told that his wife was “adorable,” although, thankfully, her hair and eye color were omitted.
Within minutes of Jean Luc’s profound observation of a Nazi threat, followed by his own self-doubt, Nazi planes appeared right on schedule. Bombs rained down. Buildings immediately started exploding. Body parts were flying through the air. Everyone quickly fell into a state of profound disarray. Jean Luc’s physical state went beyond molecule vibration and came perilously close to catatonia. This is clearly a step up (or down, as the case may be) from vibrating molecules. One would think all was lost, but since most protagonists don’t lose their lives within the first chapter of a book, LBL was afraid this one wouldn’t either.
Jean Luc recovers well from vibrating molecules and complete internal meltdown. He hurls his family into a car and drives the streets of the town against traffic, in a scene worthy of the finest automobile-infused thriller. In the final paragraph of the first chapter, Jean Luc has not only safely gotten his family to the main road leading out-of-town by choosing a route no one had known about, he has figured out a way to avoid the complete log-jam of fleeing Frenchmen. He jumps the center guard rail and drives away from town in the now completely empty incoming lane. By the end of the paragraph I felt as though I had just watched every Tom Cruise movie ever made. I was clear that no Nazi on the planet would be a match for Jean Luc and his vibrating molecules, and so it became completely unnecessary for me to read the remainder of the 468 pages.
LBL’s recommendation: Escape from The Auschwitz Escape.
The Fever by Megan Abbott, an Amazon “Best Book of the Month June 2014” garnered 3.5 stars. According to Amazon, “The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.”
LBL is a sucker for contagion, every big green juicy blob of it. She has devoured books about plagues past, present, and future hypothetical. The problem with this book was that this “contagion” only affected one girl. The others were obviously hysterics. Abbott did her best to make ordinary settings and events seem sinister, sort of like reading about a group of teenage girls shopping in the local mall and noticing that the Auntie Annie pretzel vendor was staring malevolently at them while she dispensed their orders, followed by the down escalator not working.
This is not to downplay the current belief among some that inoculations are the spawn of the devil, but the state-mandated HPV vaccine administered to female teens at the school just never felt like it would be discovered to be the root of all evil. And the algae-ridden pond on the edge of town, clearly a health hazard, never seemed to harbor the slimy evil that Abbott clearly wanted the reader to believe it did. It was just a dirty pond, in spite of Abbott’s endless scenes describing people sneaking into it and leaving with mouths filled with slimy black matter and ensuing nightmares. LBL felt really sorry for the town citizens, not that their swimming hole was toxic, but that they obviously had no better way to amuse themselves.
The final way to creep out the reader was to have one of the teen girls take to You Tube, warning anyone with internet access that this sickness was “bigger than all of them” and would consume them all. That was enough to get CNN involved. It must have been a slow day for news coming out of the Middle East.
Try as Abbott might, it just seemed like a stretch. By the end of the story, we had the same one victim (now recovered), the girl who gave her poison confess and be arrested, and the rest of the teens deemed victims of mass hysteria.
The message: Unrequited love can be a bitch, especially when you are one.