Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown

Like every other sentient being in our galaxy, I had read The Da Vinci Code, and all affected superiority aside, I enjoyed it. It was fun, exciting, and easy to read, and left me with something mildly interesting to think about. One woman I know, however, thought the book was evil and threw it away. Which of us do you think Dan Brown likes more, the one who checked his book out of the library, or the one who paid full price for it before trashing it?

Well, Dan Brown is sure to hate me even more now, because this time I borrowed my mother's copy, and after my wife reads it, we're giving it to my sister. If I were a liberal hack, I'd site "The Great Recession" as my reason, but the truth is I'm just a cheap bastard.

Before my mother's book arrived in the mail, I read reviews on amazon.com. Maybe it's the jaded economist in me, but I can't read online reviews without assuming the good ones are written by people who benefit financially from the product and the bad ones are written by their competitors. I see five one-star reviews and I think, "Wow, their competition must have spent a whole afternoon working on this one." So some of the Dan Brown reviews were legitimate and some were just the work of bitter wannabe thriller writers, and I have no idea which were which. But one of the criticisms that seemed true was that there are flaws in Brown's writing style. Brown's publisher's relatives who wanted to include mild criticisms to appear unbiased said the style was a little strained, while competitors' relatives said it read like a junior-high-schooler wrote it.

To be sure, I opened the book randomly and was amazed by the number of two-word paragraphs I found.

Then silence.

Dead silence.

p. 261

Most writers' editors would probably balk at a preponderance of two-word sentences, but when you're Dan Brown and you're the only reason Doubleday hasn't shuttered the doors for good, you can turn in a manuscript comprised entirely of two-word paragraphs and everything will be fine.

The style criticism, though, is overdone. Sure, turning to page 261 and reading those two paragraphs made them seem foolish, but when I was reading from page 260 to 262, those paragraphs didn't jar me out of the story. And that's the thing about Dan Brown that his critics get wrong. There's more to writing than style. There's also story. Successful writers have both, in varying combinations. What Brown lacks in style he makes up for in story. So reading The Lost Symbol wasn't the exercise in taxing prose that the critics made it seem. The book went quickly (partly thanks to two-sentence paragraphs) and was enjoyable.

The dust jacket promised "Brown's most terrifying villain to date." I'll say. The guy has a thing for looking at himself naked in front of mirrors (pp. 11-12, pp. 268-269), and the narrator has a thing for describing the villain's "massive sex organ" as a "heavy shaft of flesh" (p. 268). Come on, man. There's "terrifying" and then there's just "creepy."

Like every good "thriller," this one has a plot-twist which the dust jacket describes as "an unthinkable finale." I wouldn't call it that, since earlier in the book the idea of the finale came to me as a fleeting notion. But it wasn't the result of the author having given it away, and ultimately, it made the finale less far-fetched because, I mean, if I had thought of it, how crazy could it have been, right?

Rating: 5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

1 comment:

  1. You failed to mention that the book should have ended and then went on and on and on. And during that "on and on and on" part, both Robert Langdon and I fell asleep.

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