I know that reviewing books isn’t really my thing here on BCP. However, nothing really exciting is happening in the world of makeup, and I wouldn’t feel like writing about it anyway even if there were. But, by all means, if you have any questions about makeup or skincare email them to Buttercuppunch at gmail. Questions, I can surely work with. Anyway, I kind of feel like discussing a book I read during my honeymoon. I realize I’m not being very timely about it, seeing as how I shelved this book in November. I guess I just didn’t really realize how much this book bothered me, how much I haaaaaated it, until I heard someone who was about 100 pages in recommend this bound volume of Charmin to someone else. At that moment I kind of broke out into a cold sweat, realizing that I, too, suggested someone read it before I was deep enough in to smell the toilet for the shit. **** Please note that this is just one reader’s opinion, and if you thought differently about this book or any of the points I’m about to make, please don’t take offence. It’s nothing personal to you, and there is no way that my lack of enthusiasm towards this title will diminish your enjoyment of it. Please note also, that I deeply resent having to write such a disclaimer on my own fucking blog, but I’m just kind of over the recent rash of piss-whiney comments on my posts. If you don’t like what I have to say, don’t fucking read it, and don’t waste your precious time telling me about it, OK? Because I don’t really care. If you want to whine inanely into a comment box, Jezebel.com is always there for you, my friend. ****

 

The book in question is none other than the Oprah-approved, chick-lit-in-sci-fi-clothing, torrent-of-knockoffs-inducing first novel by Audrey Niffenegger:

 

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***** OK, here’s where I start disclaiming in earnest. This review is intended to be a few things from the get-go: 1. A chance for folks who have already read this book to discuss it. 2. A mild warning to people who have heard of this book, were probably never going to read it anyway, but this review will surely put them over the edge. 3. Entertainment for people who really don’t give a crap either way. The following review is surely NOT, however, intended for folks who really want to read this book and don’t want any of it to be spoiled for them. Basically, EVERYTHING AFTER THE JUMP IS A SPOILER!! SPOILER, SPOILER, SPOILS!!! If you don’t want this book spoiled for you, do not read this post. AGAIN, if you read this review anyway, and I broke your Oprah’s Book Club boner and shattered your life and kicked your puppy (because your puppy was probably a whiney little bitch anyway), it’s been established that I warned your ass. Any bitching about spoileration in the comments will be deleted, because I’m on the warpath, whores, this is my playground and I do not suffer triflin’ fools pissing on my goddamn see-saw. Fuck. *****

My problems with this book are many. I’d like to write this review in grown-up paragraph form, but then I’d be too tempted to rant and meander, so bullet points will have to do to keep my bile on track.

  1. This book is a first novel, and boy, does it read like one! First of all, narration is a problem. This book is narrated, in a sort of diary entry format, by the two main characters, Henry and Clare. Other more masterful authors have used multiple narrators to great effect, but here it’s just messy. Niffenegger did not give these two distinct enough voices. I’d actually be willing to say that she really didn’t give either of them a voice at all. There were multiple times when I’d be a few pages into a chapter, get confused, and have to flip back to the beginning paragraph to remind myself who’s telling the story. What say you, Heidi? 

 

2.  Besides reading exactly alike, the characters had as much depth as any of the biiig personalities on, like, the Hills. Niffenegger bothered to go into a lot of backstory on the two, who their families were, how and where they grew up, but none of that is reflected in the way the characters behave. More than half the time, I was left at a complete loss for the motivations behind these people’s actions. And this is supposed to be a love story. From the beginning of the book until the bitter end, I had NO IDEA why these two loved each other. Oh, they both like coffee? They both like the Violent Femmes? They like Thai food? What is it? Honestly, and this may sound characteristically bleak coming from me, but I swear I tried to give this love a chance; it seemed to me like these two were “in love” and married because they knew they were supposed to be. Or they were just used to each other and it was sorta convenient b/c they were the only people who could put up with each other. Like, Henry’s got this involuntary time travel problem, plus he’s sort of a nympho, plus he’s an annoying, pretentious dick. And she’s a vapid, limp dishrag of a woman who also finds Henry annoying (so she really doesn’t mind all that much when he vanishes in time), but she lacks determination and personal identity, making her the perfect candidate for settling down with such a flaky, inconstant man. They were made for each other in that respect, but the book kind of reads like they don’t even really like each other that much. Also, Niff (I’m sick of typing her name) never really gives us a reason to like either of them. What I’m asking essentially, is, “Where’s The Love?”


 

3.  Thin characterizations aside, Niff’s writing style is grating as shit. An Amazon reviewer puts it really well: 

 

I was also thoroughly annoyed at the ‘name dropping’ style of writing that was sometimes rewarded with an explanation, but most often not. I can’t remember all of the characters names offhand, but they’ll enter the story with something like, ‘Fred walked in and startled me.’ Yeah, he startled me too. Who the hell is Fred? We find out several pages later, ‘Fred Flintstone was a childhood friend’. Thanks, coulda used that information ten minutes ago.

But this isn’t limited to people. The characters ponder going to Ann Sather’s for something to eat. Neighbor? Relative? Last night’s one-night-stand who happens to make great waffles? Two pages later it’s revealed that it’s a Swedish restaurant. They talk of the CSO – only later can the acronym be explained as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As a Chicago native I recognized these references, but they grated on me nonetheless.

Same with descriptions. ‘He looked like Joe Schmoe.’ Great. That helps. Not ‘his hair was slicked back in that Joe Schmoe style’ or something like that – at least then I would start to form a mental picture. To use a similie with a subculture or hipster reference and no context is pretentious and condescending. ‘He answered the phone while standing in front of a Maholy-Nagy poster’. How many people are familiar with the Chicago Bauhaus movement and would get this reference? What does it add to the story?

I’ve gone on too long already with my rant and haven’t even mentioned the street directions – complete with street names. I don’t care which streets you take to get to the library, either tell me what happens along the way or just get there already.

 

Oh, WORD. The name-dropping is easily one of the worst things about this book. If I had to hear about one more person eating dinner at ‘Beau Thai’ (BOW TIE! HAR HAR HARRR!) I was going to fling the book across the room and pray it landed neatly into the shredder. 

 

4.  The racist characterizations of minorities was almost too much to bear. Like, Henry’s babysitter was his Korean neighbor who fully spoke in broken English. Uh, and Claire had Black servants in her house (ugh! Getting to that…) who fully talked like Mammy and Sissy in Gone with the Wind. Not only were these portrayals offensive, but they just felt jarringly out of place in a novel about upper-middle-class liberals with “punk” leanings. It’s like how around Christmas, I turned on Holiday Inn, thinking it’d be some wholesome Christmas movie. But instead I got a faceful of this: 

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NOT COOL, NIFF. Dumb ass. You are a lazy, bad writer who can’t move past stereotypes and I kind of hate you personally now. 

 

5.  How do the couple in this book overcome adversity and finance their oh-so-comfortable “rock star life” while working as an “artist” and a librarian (who disappears for days at a time and never calls in to work)? They win the fucking lottery. Using our hero’s little time travel trick. Oh bother. Add to that the fact that the hero is a rugged, tall-dark-and-handsome badboy with a troubled past who practically wades in broken hearts as he makes his way down the streets of Chicago. He’s such a ladykiller, in fact, that a lady! That he’s involved with! KILLS herself over his rejection of her!!!1!!!!!!!1!11111!!! This is the depth of Niffenhack’s imagination, y’all. OH! And CLARE. Clare is a wealthy, mansion-raised midwestern princess with flawless looks (it’s repeatedly mentioned that Our Gal doesn’t have to wear makeup on her ghostly-pale whitey-white skin. Prosh!), a waterfall of flowing red hair that dwarfs her diminutive, waify body, whose preternatural slenderness is only compromised by the ample curve of her perfect breasts (*dry heave*). And they’re both so smart and well-educated. They can both speak, like, 4 other languages and they often pepper their conversations with French, German and Russian prose (none of which is translated for the reader, of course). AWWWWWWW! AND, the two have a rip-roaring sex life, the degree to which Clare regularly can’t sit down for the pain in her nethers. Oh! And their love saves Henry’s alcoholic father. Like, all he has to do is meet Claire and see how happy his son is, and like magic, decades of unresolved emotional issues and chemical dependencies are poof! Gone. Are you all picking up what I’m putting down? This book is an elaborate (yeah, elaborately retarded) wish-fulfillment fantasy, and I. Hate. That. So brain-dead, So unimaginative, this book is the literary version of this: 

 

6.  The sex. Let’s talk about the sex. There is lots of it in this book. Normally, I’d think that was a good thing, but the lovin’ in this book is so stiff and mechanical, so compulsory, so bad-porn-like, that it is the antithesis of sexy. Usually, readers like the read about sensuality in book b/c it’s titillating, but the sex in this book made me wrinkle my nose and cringe until it was mercifully over. The acts described in this book were about as appealing as the idea of seeing George W. Bush naked. If that’s not an EPIC FAIL, I don’t know what is. Relating back to the lack of individual voice prob, the two leads speak in the same detached, dirty way about sex. For guy and girl, they refer to theirs and each other’s genitals ONLY in the c-words. Even after Claire gives BIRTH, she calls her baby-maker her “cunt.” Puh. Lease. I don’t know any woman that casually refers to her bits in that way, especially not after having a baby. It’s redonk, and honestly? The way Niff writes about sex is so unrealistic I’m left imagining that she’s had very little of it in her lifetime. 

7.  The baby stuff. OK, so Clare has like 1,000 miscarriages in the story. It gets really redundant, and I feel it’s handled poorly. Like, Henry talks about the pain, and how drained and drawn and distant Clare is and blah, blah, blah, zzzz. And then Clare comes in and explains the mechanics of the miscarrying, what it feels like, la la laaa, I’m bored. It’s like uterusploitation up in there. I was kind of waiting for Clare’s cervix to cough up something like this: 

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Well, it sure would have been a lot more interesting than the anemic histrionics during this juncture in the story. Which leads me to my next point: 

8.  Paternalistic much? When Claire’s miscarrying all over the place but still is heartbroken with wanting a baby, what does Henry do? He, knowing what’s best for her, gets a vasectomy without telling his wife. Because he can’t bear to see her in pain anymore, so duping her by shooting blanks is totally the Awesome Husband of the Century thing to do! We’re supposed to like this guy why? Anyway, this turn of events pretty accurately sums up the patronizing, paternalistic dynamic between Clare and Henry. This, without even stepping a little toe in the fact that through Henry’s time travelling, he and Clare have a relationship while she is literally a little girl and he is literally old enough to be her dad. I don’t take umbrage with the whole “pedophilia” angle this book dances around, because he really does act like her dad when he’s around young Clare. So much so, in fact, that Clare’s dad is practically not even a character in the book. 

9.  The paper. The thing that burned my ass the WORST about this book was the goddamn descriptions of papermaking. They started pretty early on in the book (from there they get more gratuitous and pointless and plodding, BTW), and the first time papermaking was mentioned, before I smelled what a rotting rat carcass this book is, I fully stopped reading. I thought, “Um, that’s really esoteric, like really. What is the deal? This has to be some weirdo personal interest of the author.” So I flipped the book over to the back cover, and sure enough: “Audrey Niffenegger is a professor in the MFA program at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts.” Fuck you, bitch. I can see right through you. Which brings me to: 

 

10.  niffenegger-copyClaire has red hair. So does Audrey. Clare is as fair as Hylas’ water nymphs. Audrey is pretty pasty herself. Clare makes paper. So does Audrey. Clare lives in Chicago. So does Audrey. Claire speaks French, German, etc. So does Audrey, otherwise she couldn’t have quoted so much foreign literature in this book. Basically, I do not like when authors write fantasy versions of themselves into books. Clare is the beautiful, hip, successful, sexually insatiable, happily married, happily mommied woman that Audrey probably wishes she could be in real life. I know this, not because I’m judging childless, single Audrey per se, but because of the wistful, purple prose-y way she describes Clare’s existence. And the way she gushes over Dream Man Henry. And the way that when she pontificates on marriage and motherhood, it’s fairly obvious that she kind of has no idea what she’s talking about. It’s the same reason I quit reading Tom Robbins’ books. I can’t take reading someone’s personal fan fiction. Robbins writes beautiful, modelesque, lithe, big-breasted young women that like to have lots of dirty, unprotected sex with smarmy, chubby old codgers who bear an unsettling resemblance to Robbins himself. While Niffenegger writes herself, along with all of her annoying hipster idiosyncrasies, poured into Isla Fisher’s body, more or less. I realize that plenty of authors do this sort of thing (ahem, F. Scott Fitzgerald), but in Niff’s case, it’s just really gloppy and gratuitous and gross.

 

islafisher

It burns us.

 

11. Alba is a pretentious, unpleasant-sounding, retarded name for a child. There, I said it. 

12. And finally, I can not get over how this book ends. THIS is the point where I threw it across the room. This is the point when I went from, “eh, it’s bad, but hardly criminal” to “I can’t believe I recommended this book to someone. I am sooo embarrassed. I can’t believe I revealed to someone else that I purchased and then read this drivel. I can’t believe that for a few chapters I even liked this book. HAND WRING!” Now, it’s fairly obvious in any wannabe-epic love story that one of the protagonists has to die. Not really a spoiler there. Also, it’s revealed like ½ way through the book that Henry dies. He sort of has to. Of course, it’s never really clear exactly how H dies (you know, that horrid stenographer-like attention to detail would have come in handy during this {anti)climax, there, Niffy. You kind of dropped the ball at the worst possible time. Haaaack.), but that’s beside the point. It’s what happens after that counts. Clare has plenty of time to prepare for it & all, think about what she wants to do with her life, begin grieving and all, but after Henry dies…. Nothing. Clare does nothing with her life after him. Uh, aside from letting her best friend’s husband fuck her on the BFF’s dining room table, on top of the family’s crusty breakfast dishes. Gross, dude. After that, Clare sits in a room, on a chair, and waits for Henry to time travel back to her (when she’s all old, after wasting her entire fucking life waiting for his ass) at what I’m assuming is the hour of her own death (can’t be sure, as I was too busy foaming and howling about what a stupid sentimental bitch Clare is). Oh, how very Nicholas Sparks of you, Niffy. Way to depress the hell out of us, ruin what could have been a decent story and further your heroine’s status as a useless, hollow, wet noodle. Fuck Clare, fuck Henry, fuck this book, and fuck you, Audrey Niffenegger. I want my $13 back. I want the hours I wasted on your brain droppings back. I’m out! 

 

**** Feel free to discuss this book. Any and all dissenting opinions about this title are welcome in the comments. But, please, no morality-policing me for the thoughts I’ve shared here. My opinions are just that and you can take it or leave it. If I wanted to have a finger wagged in my face by every high-and-mighty rando who can manage reading letters on a screen and translating them into words and meanings, I’d go work for Newsweek. Thanks, byyyeeee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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