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R&R 128 | Chasing Harry Winston

I'm back. With a vengeance. First review in a while, and it's delightfully snarky.

Lauren Weisberger
Chasing Harry Winston
First published in: 2008
This edition: HarperCollins, 2008 (ISBN 978-0-00-726271-7)
Genre: chick lit
Pages: 278
Cover design by: unknown


As I'm gazing outside the window of my Amsterdam-based windmill home, overlooking the tulip fields while sipping milk from my Delft Blue mug and nibbling on a chunk of Gouda, I find myself applauding Lauren Weisberger's keen knowledge of Dutch people. My wooden shoes are a worthy rival to any female Manhattanite's Manolo's, perfectly matching my milkmaid outfit. A fat joint completes the ensemble. I really should head out soon and stick my finger in a dike, so I will hurry up and continue this book review.

CHASING HARRY WINSTON is about three best "friends" (yes, quote unquote) whom each decide something about their lives should change. Brazilian socialite Adriana figures that at 30, she really should get married. Emmy, recently dumped by longtime boyfriend Duncan, feels the opposite is true for her: she needs to have sex. Lots of it. And Leigh, well… she doesn't really know what needs to change, until she meets author Jesse Chapman, a well-known player and the only person who seems to get Leigh to loosen up a little.

You're probably wondering what's with the intro. Well, suffice it to say that Weisberger's need to throw in THE single most irritating stereotype about my people no later than page 3 is the reason why CHASING HARRY WINSTON is officially the book I felt the need to throw across the room quicker than any other irritating book. "Since everyone knew Dutch people wear clogs," Weisberger insists. Lame.

The only thing that's even more lame about this book is its poor attempt at recreating a successful story: three "close" girlfriends, each very different from the other, discuss their sex lives / relationships with one and other in Manhattan. Sex and the City, anyone? (Candace Bushnell even gets a plug in the end of the book.)

Oh and I say "close" and "friends" quote/unquote, because while Weisberger tries to convince us readers that Leigh, Adriana and Emmy are besties, I'm thinking these women are sooner jealous of one and other, thinking their catty thoughts, rather than super tight. I liked Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. All of them different, all of them with their flaws, but all of them sympathetic – and actually close to one and other. Believable friends, and believable characters. Any woman can relate to one of them (or a combination). I could not relate to any of Weisberger's leading ladies.

– Adriana is vain, shallow and full of herself; Weisberger stresses this by pointing out ad nauseam how every man lusts after her and how fabulous she is. If you thought the Dutch stereotype was annoying: Weisberger does not do the Brazilian woman justice, either. I wonder if Gisele goes around saying "querida" every ten seconds, too.
– Leigh is cold and selfish in a way. There's no personality there. I have nothing to write about her, even.
– Emmy is the only one I felt a remote interest in initially, despite her "Tour de Whore". Which is another problem I have with this book. It seems that either Emmy is a prude for having "slept with ONLY 3 (?!) men in her entire life" (it's just not normal!!! Something must be wrong with her), but when she sleeps with 3 more men in this book, she's prostituting herself. I don't even understand why Weisberger is putting her character through it. It's so obvious that Emmy hates the whole thing, craving a steady relationship, that ring around her finger. It makes her seem rather pathetic and desperate at times, clinging to her one-night stands, becoming whiny and unlikable as a result. Pity. Am I to believe she really changed at all?

None of them really change or grow up. Not in a worthy way. What is the point to this book? I really couldn't find one. CHASING HARRY WINSTON is just a bad book. Not only is it shallow and vapid, but the writing itself is appalling.

It's disjointed and lazy. One moment the characters are enjoying (well…) their vacation in Curacao, and just when it gets a bit interesting, BAM!, we're back to Leigh in New York some time later, where she's waiting for a client. It threw me off. Why not finish the Curacao storyline? Why even bring it up if you're not going to follow through with it? The writing is lazy in other aspects as well, an example being that Leigh is at one point in the book referred to by Weisberger as "Leah". Every character (except Adriana, obviously) favors "sweetheart" over any other term of endearment.

Why did I even finish this book? Because I didn't want to abandon yet another one.

I liked THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and enjoyed EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING, and I'll stand by my reviews of each. But I'm tired of Weisberger's attitude. Hanging out and playing poker with mechanics (p. 156) is somehow beneath the fabulous life of limos and movie stars and fame. Emmy's either a prude or a whore. There's the typical idea that women should spend hours daily blow-drying their locks. (I'm sorry, but ughhhh, the vanity in this book.) Otis the parrot is apparently too fat and needs to have a makeover. (No joke. This is actually in the book.)

And finally, Weisberger completely offends Rosie O'Donnell, stating that in a Who Wore it Better? stand-off, there wasn't even a 0% to 100% outcome when comparing Rosie O'Donnell, who in my opinion is fucking FABULOUS, to Petra Nemcova, a supermodel (Weisberger clearly insinuating that it should have been 0 to 100). See? Shallow. Okay. I got one for you.

Who Wrote it Better?
Candace Bushnell, 100% – Lauren Weisberger, 0%.

>> On a different note, please visit my revived personal blog 🙂

R&R 121 | Running with Scissors

Augusten Burroughs
Running with Scissors
Dutch: N/A
First published in: 2002
This edition: Picador 2002
ISBN: 0-312-42227-X
Genre: memoir
Pages: 304
Cover photograph: Jan Stromme / Photonica
Cover design: Steve Snider


In a nutshell?

RUNNING WITH SCISSORS used to be on my wish list, and then I kind of forgot about it until I found this copy at a book fair, and figured, why not? I was still up for a "hilarious" memoir full of "funny" stories.

Augusten Burroughs recounts his strange late childhood, a period preceded by his parents' nasty divorce. Dad doesn't want anything to do with him and his mom Deirdre is an erratic famous-poet-wannabe regularly trapped in her own narcissistic psychoses, and thus pre-occupied with herself rather than with raising and disciplining her son. So, Augusten finds himself living with the Finch family, the patriarch of which is none other than Deirdre's eccentric psychiatrist, Dr. Finch.

Early on, I developed a feeling of unease when I realized Burroughs was writing this book as his memoir, but it was mostly about other people. And these other people – The Finches, Burroughs's mom – are not painted in a very positive light, and it makes me wonder: are these people all really that horrible? Or did Burroughs use them and embellish their flaws for the sake of providing his readers with interesting reading material? (It's the memoir-debate again: people remember events differently. Is what's true to Burroughs really true to the Finches?)

I don't much mind a book about eccentric and erratic people. I can be amused by this material. But it's hard to be amused by anything or anyone in RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, because this book is full of unsympathetic people doing unsympathetic things.

I didn't like Deirdre or any of the Finches, except for Natalie. Half of them don't know squat about right from wrong (which I will get to shortly), the other would-be-sympathetic half are impossible to really like because Burroughs describes them as filthy, crazy dog food eaters and living room crappers, their dialogue largely consisting of name-calling and cursing.

…and I really couldn't stand Augusten. His teen-aged voice is vain, spoiled, arrogant and emotionally detached. Natalie Finch seems to be the only person Burroughs even liked back then, so it irks me that he can't even spare her, but instead points out regularly how fat she was. This whole book just leaves a bad, unfunny taste in my mouth.

Perhaps it's me. A psychiatrist such as Dr. Finch – here goes – is not funny material to me. Yes, he wears a Santa hat at times and parades around the street covered in balloons. Quirky. Oh, but there's more.
He let's patients live in his own house. He feels the regular need to masturbate in between sessions with patients and has a little "Masturbatorium" available to him to relieve himself. In his office.
Hey, I admit, I kind of think Burroughs just made that one up. But I doubt he made up that Dr. Finch felt it is perfectly fine for thirteen year-olds (Augusten, Natalie – his own daughter) to have sexual relations with adults. Because, says Dr. Finch, kids are "adults" at age 13. Disgusting.

And how about "that time when" (bratty) Augusten didn't want to go to school anymore "because I'm not as popular as the Cosby girl, wa wa wa!" Dr. Finch got him out of school by helping Augusten fake a suicide attempt.

None of the above is ethical behavior for a psych-anything-but-o, and it bothers me tremendously. Ethics notwithstanding, most of you would agree with me that the (borderline) rape and subsequent "love" affair Augusten, aged 13, experiences with Dr. Finch's adopted thirty-three year old son Neil, is not funny. It's not hilarious.

The rape scene in question comes as a total shock: the reader is just starting to enjoy the book, when bam! Out of nowhere, page 111, explicit descriptions of Augusten being violated by Neil. I have nothing against these kinds of scenes in books but I wasn't expecting to find any here. Not like that. In a "funny" book. Was I supposed to have fits of laughter? Something must be awfully wonky with my funny bone for me to not find this hilarious.

…RUNNING WITH SCISSORS is a sad story. Though part of me doesn't know what to believe, I applaud Burroughs for finding a way to deal with his past by writing about in such a manner, light and trying for wit, a guy who rises above it all. I still don't like the guy or the book, but in that sense RUNNING WITH SCISSORS has that strength. Burroughs could have turned it into a crying fest of teen-aged angst and tragedy but didn't.
But some depth would have been nice. Augusten's detachment from the situation doesn't give the book the depth it could have had. It's kind of like, la-di-da he just violated me, now I'm going to dye Neil's hair. Oh! It turned out green, not blond. Giggles! The book falls short in both humor and emotional insight.

When there are moving moments (mostly between Augusten and Natalie), I can barely smile before I am instantly reminded of the fact that the real-life Finches, including real-life Natalie, have sued Burroughs for defamation (the case was settled; a victory, says Burroughs's publisher – a sad, sad ordeal, say I). Suddenly the moment Augusten finds emotionally important enough to include in his memoir is meaningless.

Burroughs did a phenomenally crappy job at obscuring this family's identity, and while I feel no pity whatsoever for the psychiatrist who allowed adults to abuse children, nor do I feel sympathy for Neil, I can imagine how it must have been for the other real-life Finches, having their dirty laundry out for all to see, their personal stories (Natalie's especially) told by someone else.

The reason is bothers me so much, is because Burroughs thanks the family in his author's notes, for "taking him in", only to crap all over them in the subsequent 300 pages. "Thank you", he should have said, "for being there for everyone to laugh at". Maybe then I would have at least respected the guy.

Failed to move, failed to amuse.

In a nutshell

– Is a story about survival; at least Burroughs kept it light.

– And yet, it lacks depth.
– Book is marketed to be funny, hilarious! But it deals with a boy being victimized (parental neglect, rape) and I don't find that funny at all. A light tone does not bring the lolz.
– Book loses flow in narration after about 100 pages: becomes a collection of Fun-Finch-Episodes, a poor man's David Sedaris, instead.
– … I just don't like the guy.

R&R 119 | My Sister's Keeper

Jodi Picoult
My Sister's Keeper
Dutch: Tweede Dochter
First published in: 2004
This edition: Hodder and Stoughton, paperback, 2005
ISBN: 0-340-83546-x
Genre: drama, fiction
Pages: 407
Cover photograph: only Getty Images is credited, not the photographer
Cover design: Tabitha King


In a nutshell?

There was something that always held me back from reading anything by Jodi Picoult. I just didn't think Picoult's books would be interesting to me personally. But when I stumbled on a second hand version of My Sister's Keeper, I couldn't help but take a sneak peek at the description. I ended up getting the book, my first (and only) Jodi Picoult. Why? Because the story, while far-fetched, seemed really thought-provoking.

Anna Fitzgerald is a thirteen year-old girl from Providence, Rhode Island. She loves playing hockey. Her best friend is her older sister Kate. And she's suing her parents for medical emancipation.
Kate, at sixteen, has struggled with a rare form of leukemia for most of her life. If it weren't for Anna, Kate wouldn't be here today. Anna was literally designed and put on this earth as the perfect donor for Kate. With all the right genes. The right parts. It starts with the blood from Anna's umbilical cord. Some bone marrow. Some procedures in between. But now Kate's kidney's are failing. And the Fitzgeralds depend on Anna once again. Where does it end?

The subject is quite loaded, and I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew this book wasn't going to be pleasant. I knew there would be no happy ending.

Picoult persuades most of her readers to be courageous and continue. Because Anna, whom you can't help but side with from the start even though you do understand the motives of everyone involved, is brave too. So I continued, and for the two days I've needed to read this book, it and its characters (mostly Anna and Kate, and their parents) have been in my thoughts. I've had to put it down a few times to take it all in.

Yes, Picoult manages to evoke all kinds of feelings. The emotion that outweighed all others when I finished the book, however, was anger.

You know how sometimes you read people's reviews, stating they had felt the urge to throw a book across the room? Well, let's just say that by the time I reached the final 20 or so pages, My Sister's Keeper got to know a wall of my living room up close and personal.

I'm not the type of reader to fuss over endings; they don't need to be happy to be good. Usually I trust an author's decision to go in a certain direction, because all things considered it's usually the right way to go, as long as the integrity of the rest of the book remains intact.
Jodi Picoult completely failed to take the rest of her book into account when she wrote her ending, and she did not consider her readers, her characters and most importantly her protagonist. I loathed the ending of My Sister's Keeper. It was slightly disappointing around 50 pages to the end: everything that had made this book brave and controversial was already crumbling apart. But that was somewhat understandable, I could accept this turn of events. The plot was still daring enough at this point. But the last 20 pages… Wow. I never felt screwed over by a book before, until then.

This book forced me to think about the subject of life and death – and who decides over either. It's not easy to be confronted with something like this. It's just not easy. Before reaching the end, I applauded the book for being about choices and free will. But Jodi Picoult has taken such an easy way out of this one; free will be damned. It's hard to explain without giving the ending away. I could describe the feeling as such: imagine being part of a debating panel, and having all your arguments figured out after hours and hours of work and energy, and then the debate is canceled. Neither pro or con have a chance to work this one out. End of discussion. Jodi Picoult canceled the debate.

Knowing this book would affect me profoundly, I wanted to be 'brave' and continue it. I wanted Picoult to be brave, too. Writing a shocking ending is one way of definining courage in an author. It isn't my definition, not here. I define a courageous author as someone who takes a stand, who bloody well sticks with it and who trusts her readers to have it in them to accept this. At least that way, it wouldn't have felt as if the rest of those 400 pages don't even matter anymore. I felt cheated out of thinking for myself.

I wouldn't even care so much that MY SISTER'S KEEPER isn't very well written had Picoult not messed up the ending.

MY SISTER'S KEEPER manages to be both simplistic and too perfect, too spelled out – at the same time. Picoult likes to rotate narrators, but they all sound alike. Anna didn't always sound like a thirteen year-old (but too mature). The story itself is far-fetched and highly dramatized.
Picoult included several useless subplots. There's the rekindling of high school sweethearts: Anna's lawyer and guardian ad litem. Anna's lawyer's dog. Jesse's pyromania. Tactics to get a better understanding of the different characters, yes.
But when faced with a subject as loaded as cancer, donation, dying, living – a family being ripped apart at the seams – I don't really care much about whether Campbell and Julia get back together or not.
I didn't care that much about any of the above.

What I did care about, was Anna's right to decide over her own body. Despite all of its flaws, I would have given this book a reasonably positive review had Picoult not ruined that part, the most important part, of the book. Instead, hard decisions and 400 pages are rendered moot by easy solutions. Picoult chickened out.

In a nutshell

– Thought provoking
– the first 350, 375 or so pages of the book, but only if you skip that ending

– Most likely to evoke rage upon finishing
– Ending ruins the entire book
– Irrelevant subplots as filler