If you’ve missed the original post, check this out first: https://victoriarmendes.wordpress.com/2020/08/30/the-worst-book-ive-read-in-2020/
Also here’s Update 1: https://victoriarmendes.wordpress.com/2020/08/31/update-1-the-worst-book-ive-read-in-2020/ and 2: https://victoriarmendes.wordpress.com/2020/09/01/update-2-the-worst-book-ive-read-in-2020/
So yesterday I decided to organize my notes a little better so I could guestimate how many more updates I’ll be making … I have 20 pages of Arial size 10 notes and we’re starting on page 6 today. I have a feeling this series is going to be longer than I originally anticipated. The good news is: setting a 20-30 minute working timer for this makes it seem doable and keeps me motivated.
Now let’s move on to Chapter E. This is the chapter where I really started noticing parallels with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.
“What about the planet Daanjurz?” a female student queried. “It is rumored that it is a land of no sound whatsoever.” “This is true,” Madame Stringent agreed flatly. “It is an incredibly formidable place and potentially fatal to any sound that would travel in the vicinity. The Queen has banned any and all sound in the area of Daanjurz. Its residents communicate by means of visual streams of words that come out of the speaker’s mouth and float over to the recipient, where they can be read.”
By itself, this is an interesting concept, but it broke my willing suspension of disbelief because this is a concept being studied that is supposed to have scientific/space magic reasons to back it up. It’s like the world is supposed to be made with a hard magic system, but that system isn’t explained well enough. The reason The Phantom Tollbooth works for me is because it uses a soft magic system in a completely nonsensical world and is made for and told from a child’s perspective.
Next we start to learn more about the teacher for this class, Madame Stringent, and her groupies:
The women even made up a song—a theme song, as it were, for their group parties. The song was sung to the tune of a haunting dirge and went like this: We are the Grievers; we grieve day and night For clothes that are either too short or too tight. For necklines, and hemlines, and shirts with no sleeve, We grieve. Blouses that cling and that show off some cleavage— These evils provide ample cause for more grievage; Men with their V-necks that sport so much meavage* And shorts that are so short you wouldn’t believage! We grieve, we grieve, we grieve. We are the Grievers; we grieve night and day For fabrics that are just a little too gay. For colors worn proudly by heathens named Steve, We grieve. *meavage = man cleavage
Remember in Chapter DD where world rules about clothing were established? Throw that out the window. Now we have a bunch of prudes wearing grey/muted toned cloth from head to toe, and practically everyone else in this book is described as wearing clothes except the Queen. It’s like this passage starts to bring up social commentary around clothing again then just stops; it’s not executed well. It doesn’t even make much sense for the established world. It feels like a concept that was shoehorned in. Later on MC refers to Stringent as a bitch – which, again, fits with the character but is not necessary. I’m so tired of the women in the book being referred to for only their looks or how much of a slut/bitch they are. I could maybe understand it a bit if the author also referred to his male characters this way (though I would still find it problematic – just more understandable), but he doesn’t.
While a bit apprehensive at subjecting myself willingly to her chilling demeanor, I was confident that I could handle the bitch if I needed to. … Madame Stringent was a tall bony woman with a beaky nose and a jutting chin that probably could’ve been used as a weapon if needed. Her favorite colors vacillated between gray, brown, and black, and she always dressed in a draping gown of one of those hues. Now, mind you, these gowns didn’t drape in any sort of attractive way. No, they draped in more of a gunnysack, “can’t quite tell the shape of the thing they’re covering” kind of way. The only skin that these garments permitted showing was her hands and her face. Not even her neck and wrists escaped the dark folds of cloth
My direct notes after reading this passage was, “Wowwwww this is terrible.” There is one male alien described in some detail, but even his description isn’t quite as bad as this. After this some more word salad happens which brings us to this quote:
Here she was interrupted by the door at the end of the hall banging open.
This sentence is fine I guess, but at that point I must have been annoyed because I wrote that it needed edited down to “The door banged open” — which would have been more effective in this scene. I’m somewhat of a stickler for big scenes needing active voice instead of passive voice. Now let’s get back to the weird obsession with clothing or lack thereof:
Greta and Gretchen nodded in agreement but kept their eyes averted. I couldn’t tell if their downturned gazes were out of deference, fear, or discomfort at being so close to nudity, something their conservative selves generally preferred not to see.
Literally one chapter ago we established that the world rules say female nudity is normal and now we have other female characters feeling abashed because of normal nudity?!?!?! It would make more sense to subvert their eyes because they have strong beliefs that nudity in general is wrong — as a sense of trying to shame the Queen, but they’re described as just being uncomfortable because they’re conservative. Hell, as a child I was raised from birth in a Southern Baptist church and was a prude in my younger days, and I don’t think this passage would have made sense to old, prude me either. (Now I’m an agnostic and married to an atheist, but we’re not here to discuss any of that.)
The characters come up with a plan to go save the world, and we’re introduced to our accomplished pilot who will get us there, Gurgatron. He’s the only male character that’s introduced with almost as much terrible details as Madame Stringent — oh and I’m pretty sure he’s the only fat character representation that we have too.
He was a short, heavyset alien, shaped rather like a big brown egg. His narrow eyes sat far apart from each other on either side of his thick nose. His long arms and stumpy legs were covered with lumps, and his crusty brown skin had more folds than an accordion. I wouldn’t have been surprised if his parents had turned out to be a potato and a toad.
As Gurgatron talks, his expression is described as “as serious pout”; he speaks a few more words then he’s described as “resuming his sour expression”. I don’t know about you, but to me pouting and being sour faced are two completely different expressions. MAKE IT MAKE SENSE. My willing suspension of disbelief is CONSTANTLY being broken in this chapter.
And with that ends Chapter E. Check back tomorrow for more updates!