Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Rumpus Room Reads #4 - "God Told Me To"

                I’ve never been a big fan of fruit.  As a child, there were few fruits I would choose to eat, and many which I actively avoided.  My hatred of bananas reached a phobic level, to the point where my little sisters would, post-banana consumption, chase me around the house with their hands held out in front of them chanting “banana hands, banana hands!”  (two of my four kids have inherited by bananaphobia, which is unfortunate because the other two have caught on and tormented accordingly).  There are some fruits that I tolerate now as an adult.  I like a good melon ball or a rock hard red grape.  I will eat an entire grapefruit, peeled, as preventative medicine.  Blackberries can surprise me with a mild dose of enjoyment. 

In general, though, even with my newfound semi-appreciation for fruit, I still categorically dislike it based on principle.  The thing about fruit is, it’s so hard to get a really good piece.  There’s no good way to gage the quality.  Jerry Seinfeld put it best in the season two episode “The Ex-Girlfriend” when he said “I don’t return fruit.  Fruit’s a gamble.  I know that going in.”  You can’t tell the quality just by looking at it, that’s for sure.  The fruit with the prettiest peel is often flavorless and gross.  The best example of this is the red delicious apples we all used to get in our school lunches – a gorgeous deep ruby red on the outside, uncooked mealy potato texture and no taste inside.

Until today, I thought “God Told Me To” by C.K. Chandler, based on the screenplay by Larry Cohen, was the red delicious apple of Rumpus Room Reads.  The cover seems created specifically to draw me, Abigail Isaacoff, into taking this book home.  First of all, we’ve got a no-pupils Lady Gaga in a man’s nightshirt gazing up at an unspecified deity with orgasmic terror and devotion.  The tagline – “A child is born.  A wave of murder has begun.  Is it the final warning?” promises all my favorite things – reproduction, slaughter, and holy apocalypse.  Next to Gaga – “Now an awesome motion picture experience” from a time (1976) before “awesome” was totally bleached of meaning by a generation of overzealous teenagers.  Awesome in this context most likely literally was meant to convey that the viewer was filled with a sense of divine awe. 

I had some pretty high expectations for this book.  And then I cracked open the skin and the insides were . . . mealy.  The writing – C.K. Chandler, I believe your copy of the screenplay must have somehow gotten lost in the extra-thick shag carpeting you bought with the book advance, and you only found it again 48 hours before the manuscript was due.  This thing reads like a script.  The scenes sound like shot descriptions interspersed with lines.  It’s very visual, very surface level.  Scripts for movies and television have to be like that, they can’t have a bunch of internal monologue and pondering that can’t be shot and translated on the screen.  Also, the movie upon which this book was based was from 1976.  As someone born in the 1980s who came of age in the 1990s, seventies movies are, for the most part, like a slow form of torture.  They seem to meander avocado-and-brownly through dull vague wandering plots that my Oregon Trail Generation mind has trouble following.  Every scene is three years long and goes nowhere, and everybody has yellow teeth because they smoked constantly and SAG didn’t have regular teeth whitening as a requirement of membership yet.

I was so put off by the writing style that I only got two chapters in before giving up.  The first chapter was a cinematic description of this blandly religious detective watching news coverage of himself and his colleagues after he unsuccessfully tried to get a teenage sniper on top of a skyscraper in NYC to surrender.  Then there was this whole offputtingly misogynistic thing where he had this young hot girlfriend waiting on him.  In the second chapter he goes out to the suburbs to visit his wife at their old rundown (because a man doesn’t live there anymore, duh) marital home.  She’s still his wife because he doesn’t want to get divorced because Catholicism?  They had no kids so since her life is clearly empty she just drinks all day and waits for him to come hang out.  It was all just so gross that when I found this cool book

 at one of the many cute little free libraries you see all over town here, I found it hard to return to “God Told Me To.”  In my defense, my sister recently got into a graduate program in Copenhagen and is moving to Denmark next year, so I was very excited by this random free library score.

After several failed attempts to get back into this book (thwarted by library books, actual homework, and a mountain of magazines at jury duty), I decided to write about just how impossible it was to get into this book instead.  For curiosity’s sake, I looked up what actually happens in the movie, and hence also the book.  To my extreme shock and horror, this is what I missed out on: As Nicholas pries deeper into the mysterious crimes, what he uncovers is a secret cabal of corporate bigwigs working at the behest of a glowing hermaphroditic deity named Bernard who seems to have been the product of an artificially inseminated virgin birth orchestrated by space invaders – an origin shared by none other than Nicholas himself!”  What the holy alien murder messiah?!  I feel like I just discovered the flavorless mealy apple had a winning Powerball ticket embedded in its core.  I am now resolved to power through the rest of this garbage tome for at least a few more chapters, and will post a brief epilogue review in the comments section here.  It just goes to show you, though – bad writing can make even the most appealing concepts so offputting as to turn into the literary equivalent of banana hands.  See what I did there?  Appealing?  Peel?  Wait, where are you going?  Put down that magazine!  Read meeeeee!!!!


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Fruit IS a gamble. My grandma would return fruit, though. Old lady things.
Some books don't stand the test of time.
Awesome blog post for so many reasons.

Cheryl Oreglia said...

I absolutely love this post for a variety of reasons but let's not peel then entire apple at one time! I keep coming back to it because it makes me laugh, pause, and check amazon for availability. The title alone is worthy, I majored in God, and look where it's taken me? I really enjoy your writing style, looking forward to your next post Abigail.

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