Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, by Yann Martel

If Thursday’s Grandma Next had to read the ten most boring books on earth before she could die, perhaps I’ve been sentenced to reading the ten worst books. I’d better take it easy, however, because I’ve recently read two of them, and when combined with my junior high school English classes (Farewell to Manzanar, The House on Mango Street, and The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson all come to mind), I must be halfway to dying. I wanted to move beyond these crap books, and I was excited to do so, but then I realized just how much God hates me when I started reading The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel.

The book is four short stories, taking its title from the first and longest. When I finished the first, I thought perhaps finishing the entire book was something like going on a snipe hunt: no one really expects you to do it, because it can’t actually be done. Everything about Martel’s book screams “hack,” from the “Ain’t it cute?” title to the writing group prompt premises of the plots to the uninterrupted navel gazing of the actual text itself. The narrator is so ego-centric as to assume that the terminal illness of a recent acquaintance somehow revolves around him. He invents a game that “is the only thing that matters” in the acquaintance’s life. Excuse me? “The only thing that matters”? This guy is 19 and going to die, and you think you and your idea is so important that it’s somehow going to give meaning to his remaining existence? The game turns out to be telling each other stories, but THE STORY WE’RE READING DOESN’T TELL US THE STORIES THEY TOLD EACH OTHER. We’re reading the fact that stories were told, not the actual stories. Again with the navel gazing. The story is that a story exists.

It's all downhill from there. Next comes a story about listening to Vietnam veterans play orchestral music, but the narrator again manages to turn it into something about him in an attention-whore sort of way. Then comes a series of letters from a prison warden telling conflicting stories of how a condemned man died. I understand being proud of your English 201 assignments, but I think they should probably stay in the filing cabinet where they belong. By the time I got to some story ostensibly about the narrator's grandmother (but again, really about the narrator in some poorly defined way), I was thrilled that, five years ago I fought off that initial post-Life of Pi impulse to buy this book.

Let me just finish by saying The Facts Behind the Blah Blah Blah proves that, just because an author can write one really good book doesn’t mean to expect to like anything else he commits to paper.

Rating: 0 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

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