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Super Sunday Smackdown: Worst Tournament Ever, Conclusion

March 27, 2011

In the previous Sunday post I set up a March Madness-style tournament of 32 1-star and 2-star books I’d read.  The “winner” is the worst book I’ve read to date.

We did the Round of 32 and the Sweet Sixteen last week, so now it’s time for the Elite Eight, Final Four, and the championship.

So let’s get to it!

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Elite Eight

2-Star Reads Division

(9) The Painted Bird vs. (13) Bridge of Sighs

In the Elite Eight is when things get really difficult.  In this case we have The Painted Bird, a book I described as something Marquis de Sade would write about World War II.  Because that’s really what it felt like to me, with the main character going from one awful, abusive situation to another.  On the other side we have Bridge of Sighs, which goes on and on for 640 pages about a man so boring he makes Ned Flanders seem like Charlie Sheen.  It’s a tough call here.

In the end, though, I think Bridge of Sighs is winning just because at least The Painted Bird was much shorter.  It didn’t take me a month to slog through like Bridge of Sighs.

“Winner”:  Bridge of Sighs (still winning!)

(6) Housekeeping vs. (10) Yiddish Policeman’s Union

This one is a lot easier.  Using the same logic as the previous matchup, Housekeeping was shorter.  Also, I don’t really remember it all that well, except that it was really, really boring.  So boring I deleted my review on Amazon for it!  Yiddish Policeman’s Union I remember much better because it made me very, very angry.  Also, obnoxious people keep harassing me about it, the latest being someone who wrote a lengthy diatribe that prompted me to delete and repost the review out of spite.

“Winner”:  Yiddish Policeman’s Union

Elite Eight

1-Star Reads Division

(1) The Mermaid That Came Between Them vs. (4) The Darkest Evening of the Year

It’s obvious both of these books are bad.  Neither one took me all that long to read either.  While Koontzy’s book was longer, the print was pretty big so that I could whiz through a hundred pages in an hour, or roughly about a third of it.  Koontz’s book made me wonder, “How could a bestselling author do this?”  Sima’s book made me wonder, “How the hell did THIS get published?”

So I think Sima’s book made me angrier.

“Winner”:  Mermaid That Came Between Them

(6) Until I Find You vs. (2) The Reality Dysfunction

This is similar to the previous matchup, though since I’d read every John Irving novel prior to this one, it was especially disappointing.  No one likes watching their hero take a fall, even if he’s been your hero for only about 4 years at the time.  With Hamilton’s books I hadn’t read any of his before, so I wasn’t disappointed in the same way.  It was again the disappointment of, “This is what some agent and editor think is a good idea?  Really?  REALLY?”

In both cases, though, I was stupid enough that I bought another book.  In Irving’s case I bought (or my brother bought it for my birthday, but I asked for it) Last Night in Twisted River, which was not much of an improvement.  In Hamilton’s case I bought the second part of The Reality Dysfunction when I really didn’t like the first part.  Pretty stupid, huh?

But in the end I think my overwhelming disappointment with Irving’s novel made it worse for me than Hamilton’s crappy book.

“Winner”:  Until I Find You

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Final Four

2-Star Reads Division

(13) Bridge of Sighs vs. (10) Yiddish Policeman’s Union

It’s always great in March Madness when you get a couple lower seeds in the Final Four.  Everyone likes Cinderella, right?  Or we claim to even though Cinderella fucked up our brackets and screwed us out of the office pool prize money.  In this case we have a #13 versus a #10 seed, so no matter who wins, a Cinderella is going to the big dance.

Bridge of Sighs, as Ethan Cooper can attest to, really bugged me.  It was so out of character for Russo too.  Sure I didn’t like his novel Straight Man all that much and his book of short stories wasn’t great either.  But he hadn’t had a clunker like this since his first novel, Mohawk, which when viewed through the prism of his later work is kind of a mess.  It reminds me of last Sunday when I watched The Hudsucker Proxy, which was a colossal misfire for the Coen Brothers.  There have been people who have done “screwball comedies” right, but this wasn’t one of them.  It was overly whimsical to the point of being campy.  By the same token, there have been people who have done bildungsromans right–including me!–but this wasn’t one of them.  You need a character people give a damn about and Lucy Lynch just wasn’t that guy.  He was like the boring neighbor you pretend to listen at church or the grocery store or whatever when really you’re thinking about what’s on TV or that your toenails could use clipping or something like that.  So, just like the Coen brothers, Russo really miscalculated and delivered a bomb.  Though in both cases they bounced back, the Coens with Fargo and Russo with That Old Cape Magic.  So after that you could feel better, like they had gotten back on track.  (Then the Coens went off the track again with The Ladykillers years later, but that’s another story.)

I’m not sure if Michael Chabon has made up for Yiddish Policeman’s Union yet.  I saw he had a book of essays later, but I didn’t feel like reading it.  I expressed in my review of Yiddish that I was getting tired of him dicking around.  Since winning the Pulitzer with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (which probably would have won my Desert Isle Reads tourney) he’s written a children’s book (didn’t read it), a Sherlock Holmes mystery (it was OK), worked on the story for Spider-Man 2 (I will swear to my dying day the chocolate cake scene in that movie was his idea), and then wrote a cheesy thriller.  It was like, “What’s the deal with that?  Why are you doing everything EXCEPT writing literary novels?”  So the book of essays just seemed like more dicking around and since we’re talking about nearly a decade at that point I was fed up.  He’s probably a great guy, but if I see him, I’d probably kick his ass like Jonathan Franzen did in the WordLoaf episode of “The Simpsons.”

I just checked Amazon and don’t see any novels since then.  So there you go.  At least Russo’s gotten back in the saddle.

“Winner”:  Yiddish Policeman’s Union

Final Four

1-Star Reads Division

(1) The Mermaid That Came Between Them vs. (6) Until I Find You

This is the most difficult matchup yet in the tournament.  Both books were extremely awful to the point I didn’t want to finish them.  They both feature nasty child abuse scenes.  Though in this case I think Mermaid‘s was nastier because it involved a mermaid and a five-year-old boy.  That’s much nastier than a Portuguese maid, unless you’re Stewie Griffin.  (If I ever went to YouTube I’d put a link to the nanny interview where he says, “They wouldn’t let us put an ad in saying No Portuguese, but…No Portuguese.”)  On Irving’s side, though, his book was much, much longer because he just had to work in some wrestling at a private school.  Doesn’t he realize that he’s the only one who gives a shit about his wrestling record?  Maybe if it were the fake WWE wrestling that would be another story, but Greco-Roman wrestling is so goddamned boring.  They knew this back in 1950 in “Night and the City.”  I’m just saying.

Still, Irving’s novel was boring and parts were icky, but at least it made sense on some level.  Sima’s book didn’t make sense at all.  In my review I said about the dialog, “None of these characters ever utters a line that sounds even remotely like something that would come from a human being. Nor are these terrible lines arranged in any way that could be misconstrued as a conversation. Basically everyone spouts random nonsense.”

John Irving on his worst day (or however many days it took to write Until I Find You) can still at least make up coherent dialog.

“Winner”:  Mermaid That Came Between Them

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Championship Round

(1) The Mermaid That Came Between Them vs. (10) The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

That’s right, it’s time for the Big Dance!  We have the #1 overall seed versus a stunning Cinderella team.  Which one wins?  Let’s find out.

I’ve already spent a lot of time on Yiddish explaining why Chabon pissed me off.  All of my anger basically stems from the fact he’s so much more talented than I could ever be and yet he seems intent on wasting these talents doing just about anything else.  Apparently he thinks he’ll live forever.  Or maybe he thought one great novel was enough in a lifetime.  In which case it’d be better if he just went away like other authors.  All this dicking around with children’s books, mysteries, “thrillers,” and essays is far more annoying.

The book probably wasn’t all that terrible if you like Dan Brown-style thrillers.  Though my thought was that the writing would probably be a little too high-brow for those people.  And indeed I don’t think it sold as many copies as The da Vinci Code.  I don’t think anyone sued him about the book either.  So if you weren’t a Chabon aficionado like me and hadn’t read Mysteries of Pittsburgh or Wonder Boys or Kavalier and Clay, then it was probably OK but not great.  Not great enough to get too excited about.

Among my gripes was that Chabon resorted to using the dreaded Plot Twist, wherein it’s revealed that the president (not Bush but some fictional president) was trying to engineer Armageddon by starting up shit in the Middle East.  And since in this alternate history there was no Israel they had to do something else.  I forget what exactly.  Anyway, the Plot Twist is one of many parts where I would just shake my head and say like Randy Jackson, “What are you doing, Mike?  You’re better than this, dawg.”

As for The Mermaid That Came Between Them, I am willing to bet this was Sima’s best effort.  I wouldn’t dare read another book to find this out.  The whole book was a complete mess from top to bottom.  Not only does the mermaid sexually abuse the main character as a child, 40ish years later she goes up on land to seduce him–and his son!  An incestuous threesome is just nasty–unless you’re in Arkansas.  There was also something about Disney and Marilyn Monroe involved.  I could get why you might want to invoke Disney in a book about a mermaid, but what’s Marilyn Monroe got to do with anything?  Did she play a mermaid at some point?  Maybe she dressed up like that for JFK once in the White House bathroom.  Now that would be far more interesting.

Most books I read, even the bad ones, make sense on some level.  This one just didn’t make sense at all.  Everything was so badly done I couldn’t believe it was actually published by a legitimate publisher.  Terrible dialog, choppy sentences, mixed metaphors, and an overall muddled plot are not something that should be published by anyone.  Something that awful should be self-published, though it would give self-publishing a black eye too.

When I finished Sima’s book I literally threw it against the wall.  It was a hardcover so it actually chipped a piece of plaster stuff out of my crappy apartment’s wall!  Before I moved a couple years later I had to spackle over that so they wouldn’t charge that against my security deposit.

At least Chabon’s crappy book didn’t cause any property damage.

So cue up “One Shining Moment,” we have a winner!  Congratulations Carol Ann Sima, you’ve written The Worst Book I’ve Ever Read!  In lieu of a trophy I’d give you back your book with a steaming pile of dog shit heaped on it.

I hope you enjoyed this tournament and probably the last Sunday Smackdown.  Monday we begin the new Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule.  Monday’s entry we’re getting a tip from Captain Kirk himself–not Chris Pine, the real one–Bill Shatner!

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4 Comments
  1. LOL. Your review of Mermaid is so terrible it’s funny. I laughed my ass off. I could totally picture you throwing it at the wall. I checked Amazon’s review and the five star one was like two sentences.

    I hope your advice that comes from “Bill Shatner”‘s Kirk is 1) not to wear a gutsucker cause everyone can tell yo have one on and 2) not to speak in iambic pentameter even if you are a shakespearean-trained actor because its frickin cheezy.

  2. I’ve enjoyed your run to the championship. I have to admit here, for the first time anywhere, that I hated the Yiddish Policeman’s Union. I usually find that books that win all sorts of literary accolades disappoint me, I usually chalk it up to thinking that I’m just not literary enough to ‘get it’. Thanks for at least some validation that I’m capable of making a decision that at least one other person agrees with.

  3. Ethan Cooper permalink

    Hi BJ,

    You’re mighty hard on Chabon. At least, I was able to finish TYPU, which means that, for me, the book wasn’t relentlessly annoying or torturously boring . In contrast, I couldn’t finish BoS, which I found to be excruciating.

    I’ve never read HOUSEKEEPING. But I did try GILEAD, which occasioned one of those GAA! THIS IN UNENDURABLE moments. (I don’t throw books.)

    I also thought that with Robinson, the content of GILEAD was disturbing. After all, she is an eminent creative writing teacher. And, she produced a book that reads as if, at some level, she was trying to eliminate anything that could be challenged in a creative writing class. Yes, Gilead is elegant but it’s beyond cautious and without juice. The book was aggravating in its smallness.

    And if this is what the teacher produces, surely there is a force pushing fiction in this direction in her classes, which occur within the most prestigious creative writing program in the county.

    I’m rambling here. But HOUSEKEEPING should have won because of its author’s subtly destructive effects on fiction.

    Sour grapily yours,

    EC

    • Maybe if I’d looked up all that background on Robinson I would have picked her book to go farther, though I don’t think anything could have beat “Mermaid” in my mind.

      The thing with Chabon and with John Irving’s last couple of books is that if I really admire an author, I get really disappointed when they don’t perform up to snuff. In Chabon’s case it seems like he’s willfully wasting his talent on all these side ventures. I can’t help thinking that deep down he’s afraid he can’t ever reach the same heights as “Kavalier and Clay” again. Or the positive spin would be to say that he thinks he’s gone as far there as he can go, but I’m not a pessimist.

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