November 14, 2007

Too awful to finish: "New Bedlam," by Bill Flanagan

(Longtime followers of my creative projects know that in general I don't like publishing bad reviews; that for the most part I see it as a waste of both my time and yours, in that I could be spending that time instead pointing out great artists you may have never heard of. However, since one of the things this website is dedicated to is honest artistic criticism, I also feel it's important to acknowledge books that 8I found just too bad to bother finishing, as well as give you an idea of why I found them that bad to begin with. Hence, this series of short essays. Don't forget, the entire list of books I've found too awful to finish can be found on CCLaP's main book review page.)

New Bedlam, by Bill Flanagan

The Accused: New Bedlam, by Bill Flanagan (The Penguin Press / ISBN: 978-1-59420-050-2)

How far I got: 220 pages (75 percent)

Crimes:
1) Being a novel from a real-life television executive (Flanagan is an executive vice president at MTV), concerning wacky television executives, which promises to reveal witty and gossipy secrets about the television industry, but which is neither witty nor wacky nor reveals any gossipy secrets about the television industry.

2) Creating a main character who supposedly grew up in the '80s and is a rising genius in the industry, yet who has the curiously old-fashioned attitudes of a grumpy network veteran in his late fifties, which Flanagan happens to be himself in real life. (The main character hates cable television, lists Billy Joel and Madonna as his favorite "rock" acts, fondly yet inaccurately remembers watching people smoke on-air during the Carson show in his '80s youth, can't understand why someone would want to devote an entire channel to comic books and videogames, thinks the M*A*S*H finale is the great TV moment of all time, plus never references a TV show once that is newer than 1982, out of the hundreds of TV references he ends up making. Seriously, Flanagan? And we're really supposed to believe this guy is 33 and helped usher in reality television?)

3) Inventing outrageous crises within the plot (national game-show scandals, a sudden marriage postponement) in order to rationalize big story jumps, then never following through on the legitimate ongoing messes such crises would actually produce in real life.

4) Not having even a basic handle over the technical aspects of creative writing; jumping from the inner brain of one character to another, for example, on a sentence-by-sentence basis, not understanding where to properly break paragraphs, all kinds of grade-school-grammar stuff like that. Sheesh, no wonder MTV is producing an entire generation of illiterates.

5) Presenting a guy who's supposed to be the book's hero, because of purposely dumbing-down three minor cable networks that happen to be making less than a billion dollars. And for that matter, presenting a world where no one can possibly understand how to create a profit from cable channels full of obscure documentaries, comic-book movies, and talk shows about the arts. Er, aren't those the main premises behind such real cable channels as Discovery, Sci-Fi, Bravo and more? And aren't these consistently the channels with the highest profit margins of the entire industry? Is my logic wrong here, people?

6) Having the gall to base an entire novel on the idea of what a bunch of pretentious, unrealistic asses novel-lovers are. And then compounding the problem by comparing himself to Richard Russo and John Updike on the dust cover. No, seriously, he actually does.

7) Dropping sudden new important information into the story halfway through, in order to rationalize a much-needed scene that is unexpectedly needed. ("Oh, and did I mention that the main character has been driving back to New York every weekend for the last six months, desperately trying to keep his dating life alive? Um, yeah, he has. Sorry I didn't mention that even once in the first 175 pages.")

8) And speaking of which, throwing in a ridiculously contrived scene that requires dropping sudden new important information into the story halfway through, just as a lame excuse for the main character to whine an unconvincing speech in a parking lot in the middle of the night at the end of a blind date about how "important" television is. And not only that, but claiming in that speech that television has made American politics a better thing in the last 40 years, a ridiculous assertion at best.

9) Oh, and did I mention the freakin' gay slur on page 152 of the American hardcover edition (or in other words, the last page of chapter 20)? Or that Flanagan clearly implies that gay people are at fault by being offended by such language, not that the main character is at fault for using such language during a work meeting at a corporate office? Or that as a bisexual male, my immediate response when I first read this was to think to myself: "Go f--k yourself, Bill Flanagan?" Did I mention that?

10) There being even more problems with the book than already mentioned, but me getting tired of devoting this much time to a book I clearly despised.

Verdict: Guilty! GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY!

Sentence: Permanent exile to the horrific world of entertainment-driven cable television...where the poor guy will just have to make due, I guess, with supermodel girlfriends and a million-dollar salary. Sigh.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:04 PM, November 14, 2007. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |