Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Author: Francesca Lia Block
I try to avoid ranting in my reviews. Yes, I'm not always full of praise and kudos. If I see a mistake, I point it out. If an author breaks rules they should know not to, I wag the finger reprovingly. If I find the characters or themes of the story offensive, I will say so. But I don't treat a bad book as a slap in the face. I don't come at an author with both barrels demanding the time I spent reading refunded. I don't take this stuff personally.
The Frenzy is bad in a way that I do take personally. It doesn't fail due to a lack of interesting ideas. In fact, it has some great ones. It doesn't fail due to a lack of skill on the authors part. Francesca Lia Block has over 30 published books and several prestigious awards to her credit, so she obviously knows what she's doing. No, the great failing of The Frenzy is laziness. It's a first draft. The author hasn't put in the work to make it the best it can be. It never should have found it's way to the bookshelves in it's current form. Someone somewhere along the way should have kicked it back to the author and said "We all know you can do better." Yes, yes, I know -- authors have to eat, deadlines have to be met, publishers have to turn in good quarterly reports. But there is still a very clear and distinct line between a book that has been polished to at least meet a certain standard of quality and a book that has been throw together by someone who doesn't give a damn. Don't ship the latter.
We start off by flogging the dead horse of the menstruation allegory, which ranks number three (below gold eyes and Red Riding Hood references) on the list of Werewolf Cliches You Think Are Clever, But Aren't. Our heroine Liv greets her thirteenth birthday with a certain "blood curse" and her parents arriving home from a hunting expedition with a dead wolf. Between the two, she suffers an outburst of rage that leads her to charge into the woods and black out. Four years later, she's on antidepressants, has an interracial relationship with the son of the only black family in this hick town, covers it up by allegedly dating a closeted homosexual, and is scared to death to have sex because she's afraid of losing control. She doesn't know she's a werewolf, but she winds up learning that, and a lot of other uncomfortable things, over the course of her last summer before college.
The Frenzy has nearly everything that goes into a good werewolf story: an experienced author, a compelling plot, deep psychological dimensions, a combination of supernatural and mundane concerns driving the story, unique and interesting characters, and a representation of lycanthropy that (annoying menstruation allegory aside) fits in perfectly with the underlying themes and ideas. But, damn it all, it's just no good.
It has such incredible potential, too. Like the best horror stories, the real conflicts here are not supernatural, but human. The main plot is Liv trying to decide what to do about her relationship with Corey. Lycanthropy becomes a manifestation of her relationship angst. When he finds out she's "a monster", will he still want her? When they have sex, will she lose control of herself and hurt him? Should she take the chance to be with him, or will it be less painful to just let go? Halfway through, when she comes face-to-face with her lupine brethren, the alpha orders Liv to kill her mother. Liv's angsting over that represents a very real conflict between her humanity and a seething discontent with her parents.
This is great stuff, but it all comes to naught. Just for starters: the author not only gives away last plot twist, she does so with an incredible lack of subtlety. It's not just the werewolf thing. Early on Liv remembers, as a child, finding a cabin hidden in the woods with two large and seven small pairs of boots outside the door. Later in life, she's fleeing an embarrassing situation and passes by a group of seven boys with golden eyes, the leader of which seems to speak to her without words. The next day, the father of the kid who embarrassed her shows up dead. Hmm, I wonder what happened? Even more egregious: Liv has an adult friend who has a business making prosthetic limbs. Mom and Dad don't like her hanging around him, for unknown reasons. When we first meet this friend, Liv describes him as having the same green eyes and red hair as she does, a few pages after noting that she resembles neither her mother nor her father. Gee, I wonder what's up with that?
There are subplots that go nowhere. Victor, one of the aforementioned seven wolf brothers, is played up as a potential love interest, but this is completely extraneous. It doesn't add anything to the story that isn't already there as a result of the "kill your mother" bit, and seems to be lip-service to the idea that a YA Paranormal needs a love triangle. Pace, the gay guy Liv is allegedly dating, finds love with a guy named Michael. It's hinted that Michael -- who never appears on-page and is known only through what we hear about him from Pace -- is either a vampire, a ghost, or a figment of Pace's disturbed imagination. That's a great idea for a story, and could have made a great subplot or a book of its own. But absolutely nothing comes of it. We never learn the truth about Michael, and the whole rigmarole only exists to set up a plot twist that could have easily been executed in a less plothole-inducing manner.
The biggest problem, however, is the writing. Liv has no voice as a protagonist. None. I've read books before that lacked spark, but this one is completely ice-cold. She relates everything in a just-the-facts manner, with little if any emotion in the lines. She gives the impression of being vaguely disinterested in everything from recalling painful memories to verbal jousts with her mother to losing her virginity. Since a big part of her angst is supposed to be uncontrollable anger, the lack of fire in her diction castrates the book.
In short, The Frenzy is a unique story with very deep and resonant themes and ideas, but it's skeletal. A dry narration of scenes and plot points, not at all realistic or compelling. It all has a thrown-together-quickly quality about it that I hated from start to finish.
You know what really pisses me off, though? The space that The Frenzy is taking up on the Barnes & Noble shelves is not cheap. For this slapdash piece of crap to be sitting there, it had to muscle off something else by an author who has actually put effort into his writing. I read bad books now and then, but even the worst books usually give me a sense that the author cares about the story he's telling. With The Frenzy, I get the impression that the author doesn't care. She simply didn't feel like making such great ideas into something worthwhile, or hell, even readable. There are places where I'm convinced that the book wasn't even proofread! We've got run on sentences, comma splices, and the occasional sentence that's just flat-out incomprehensible. This kind of behavior is completely inexcusable. It's disrespectful to her publisher, her readers, and the authors sitting next to her on the bookshelves who worked their tired little behinds off to get there with the best book they could. The Frenzy is a bad book, and the author should feel ashamed of herself.