Out of curiosity and/or masochism, I’ve skimmed through two James Patterson novels over the past two days at the Salvation Army. (The Salvo featured almost an entire shelf of his hardbacks on sale, either a sign of popularity or of wised-up readers.)
Yesterday (November 8), I entered the world of London Bridges, one of four books he or more likely his assistants churned out in 2004. The book features not one but two recurring Patterson villains: British mercenary-slash-serial killer Geoffrey “the Weasel” Shafer and the Bond-esque (more like Bullwinkle-esque) Russian megalomaniac known only as the Wolf! Hooray. I knew I’d stumbled into a cesspool when, in the opening chapters, the latter baddie kidnaps the former baddie, hangs him upside-down, and tortures him for an hour by shaking him vigorously, with zero permanent damage. The two work together, blowing up lots of buildings and bridges as part of a convoluted extortion scheme that Dr. Evil would find ridiculous. Also, the Wolf employs countless impersonators; by the novel’s clichéd end, when one of them, to conceal his identity for some pointless reason (no one knows what the real Wolf looks like), undergoes plastic surgery sans anesthesia, bleeding profusely, yet has enough stamina afterwards to shoot everyone in the operating room (including the be-awtch doctor) to death, I despaired for humanity.
Just as I continued despairing for humanity today, when I read Roses Are Red, from 2000, a year in which his production-line workers slacked off, manufacturing only one new thriller-style product that unfortunately mentions nothing about Pittsburgh’s own Bobby Vinton. Instead, the novel introduces the ultra-psychotic, ultra-anal-retentive Mastermind (yet another generic name for, uh, a criminal mastermind), who seemingly kills more people than World War Two did, and who has explicit sex with a female flunky he’s just killed with poisoned pizza of the takeout variety (no restaurant specified, an unusual occurrence for the brand-obsessed Patterson). Obviously, if a villain doesn’t commit every crime and perversion imaginable, readers might mistake him for a choirboy, a lesson Stephen King (a writer only slightly less successful than Patterson) has taken to heart.
Does asking for more than one dimension in characterization make me a snob? Does sometimes wishing I could prolifically, Pattersonally, Kingly write best-seller after best-seller, so I could meet my expenses, make me a literary hypocrite and/or a normal person?
Copyright © 2017 by David V. Matthews
November 9, 2017 (revised November 10, 2017)
2 thoughts on “A Literary Salvo, Huh?”
We live in a social culture where the majority of people experience a cognitive form of Munchausen’s by proxy. The “illness” is pervasive and symptoms include: blind acceptance of mediocrity, superficial awareness of authenticity, and decreased drive for self-actualization. We merely have to look at what the best-sellers are among music, literature and television for evidence of this epidemic. You may not develop a following that provides such financial compensation as of the authors you mentioned; however, that does not diminish the quality of your contributions.
For many people, mediocrity, superficiality, and non-self-actualization help them survive dismal lives, though the motive behind not treating those symptoms (as you characterize them) does not justify dishonest, and thus meretricious, cultural products. Of course, deeper art can also dishonestly represent reality by avoiding the horrible in pursuit of the uplifting.