Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Detour

In case the innumerable horror books and movies haven't gotten through to you yet, remember: when traveling, never, ever, ever take the detour or the short way around.  Turn around, go home, and binge watch some TV.  This is much preferable to being stalked by a serial killer, eaten by Bigfoot, or kidnapped and tortured by cannibals.


However, as both history and recent events demonstrate, human beings are uniquely prone to repeating deadly mistakes.  It's a bit like those experiments in which a rat is zapped if it pushes a button.  Disliking pain, it soon ceases to provoke the zapping.

We are dumber than rats, because we keep on pushing the stupid button, reasoning, "Maybe this time it won't go off."  Yeah, maybe this time no one will die in a mass shooting, or maybe this time a cop killing an unarmed civilian won't cause rioting.  Maybe this time when you decide to drive drunk, you won't kill someone in a car accident.  Eventually, the worst does happen, no matter how much you try to avoid it.  Call it karma, call it balance, call it the universe shaking things out.

At fifteen, Livvy Flynn sold her YA series to a big publisher and got a mid six-figure deal.  Her books are published all over the world, and everyone knows her name.  For quite a different reason than they did in elementary and middle school.  She's showing everyone that she is a force to be reckoned with: a self-absorbed, snotty, navel-gazing force of narcissism.

Many reviewers have already given this novel lower ratings because they "don't like Livvy."  That's the point.  S.A. Bodeen did a cracking good job of creating a pitch-perfect, self-absorbed, utterly privileged teenager who thinks the world revolves around her.  Personally, I love books that feature characters who are nasty or petty or otherwise people you don't want to root for, because that's real life.  Nobody can be friends with every single person they meet, but for some reason, many readers demand lovable, spunky, charming characters as protagonists.  I mean, I'll take Mia Thermopolis or an Elizabeth Bennet any day (they are on my list of People I'd Invite for A Sleepover If They Were Really Alive), but filling the literary world with aspirational characters isn't exactly diverse.  And it doesn't teach us anything about how to deal with all of the Awful People we meet in real life.

So what you need to know is that you probably won't like anyone in this book.  You'll probably hate most of them, loathe a few of them, and want to give one or two a good shake.  If this bothers you in any way, leave now.  Just go.

Okay?  Everyone here ready to rumble?

Livvy Flynn, super-duper-famous teen author of teen books, is headed to a writer's conference.  Driving her red Audi with vanity plates at twice the speed limit down a rural road, she happens to notice a girl, standing on the shoulder.  The girl is playing a flute.  Her mind hiccups and she loses control of the car, flipping it into the ditch.  But she'll be fine; everything will be fine.  The girl saw it, right?  And she'll go get help, right (despite being of the odd roadside flute performance persuasion)?  Oh, Olivia Flynn.  You were better off in that car.

After a brief interlude of pain and disorientation, hanging upside down in her ruined car, Livvy awakens to a female voice calling her name.  It's not a nurse or a doctor or even her mother.  It's Flute Girl.  Hold up, this is weird.  If someone found her and took the trouble to put her in a room with a comfy bed, wouldn't they have just ... taken her to a hospital instead?  And then a woman, Flute Girl's mother, appears.  She starts demanding apologies from Livvy, saying that Livvy owes her even more after being saved from the car wreck.

Wait!  Who is this woman?  Why does she hate Livvy?  I mean, as far as Olivia is concerned, she's just a rich girl from a privileged past who decided she wanted to be a best-selling novelist before she was twenty and went and did it because she's super smart, duh.  How could you not love someone who thinks that way about themselves?



Peg has a serious beef with Livvy, which is obviously why she's keeping her prisoner and hasn't reset Livvy's dislocated shoulder.  She has all of these sadistic rules that Livvy must obey, as well as a creepy, rapey nephew and, you know, Flute Girl.

Peg and Flute Girl have all the nitty-gritty details about their captive.  They know her books, they know about her online boyfriend, Rory, and they definitely know about her allergy to bees.  Flute Girl takes special pleasure in tormenting Rory, like, for instance, punching her in her dislocated shoulder.  Come to think of it, there is a lot of physical violence in the book, mostly on the part of Peg and Flute Girl just whaling away on Livvy.

And yet, you can't feel entirely sorry for Olivia.  She keeps whingeing about how she, Published Author Olivia Flynn, should not be in such a squalid place.  Why haven't her legions of fans raised the hue and cry?  Why hasn't her agent come looking for her?  Or, for that matter, her parents?  Olivia spends more time worrying about how her hair is greasy than what she had ever done to provoke this psychopathic woman into kidnapping and torturing her.  Bodeen really carries through on the "people are totally awful" theme.

At the end of her ordeal, Olivia really hasn't changed much.  After returning home, she throws a temper tantrum about seeing her online boyfriend.  She rejoices in the fancy shoes and clothes she can now wear, and the fancy soaps and makeup she can buy.  Hooray!  Being a rich girl author person really is the best, especially when you're too blinded by your own hubris to notice that other people have definite reasons to dislike you.

I felt that this ending was actually the most realistic, because as you read Livvy's account of her imprisonment, she frames it like a story.  A twist on Misery that would make excellent news--even a memoir.  Some people really are all about the money and the fame, and no amount of tragedy can change that.

While this was a quick read, the brevity of the story meant that some aspects were weak, and maybe should have been left out altogether.  For example, the subplot with Peg's nephew was just ... there, and I thought that it was a really transparent plot element.  Why did Olivia need an online boyfriend, anyway?  The ending note was creepy enough.  Also, Livvy has this epiphany while imprisoned, realizing that she doesn't want to go to college.  And yet, at the end of the book, there she is.  Is that just her feeling that she needs to play the role of the relatable famous person?  "Celebrities--They're Just Like Us!"

I also didn't buy into Olivia's Tragic Backstory of Bullying.  I'm not sure if it's meant to make the reader empathize with her more, or if Olivia is playing the reader by pulling out the "Woe is me; I was bullied for eight years of my life" card.

The most troubling aspect, for me, was the police officer who saw Olivia being held captive and did not report her because he was sleeping with Peg and he didn't want her to tell his wife.  Wut.  If Bodeen had said, "He was a megalomaniacal, violent person who enjoyed having power over the weak," then I might have bought it.  But later on in the story, he turns out to be a super-nice guy and Olivia calls him after she's rescued and ... no.  Also, if you were planning on kidnapping a high-profile author, why would you have an affair with a police officer?

Bodeen's writing isn't fancy, but the pace is well-set and the story pulls you along, breathless, until the very end.  This was a fun page-turner with characters you'll love to hate, but it's not anything I see myself reading again.

No comments:

Post a Comment