Redeemed by Its Ending

SPOILER ALERT! I’m about to describe the entire ending, so if you want to read All the Wrong Places by Joy Fielding, stop reading this blog post now.

For some reason, I’ve been reading books about serial killers lately. Must be all those postpartum hormones. Anyway, this one turned out to be really, really good, even though as I was reading it, I kept rolling my eyes because the characters were so vapid, but it was done in a way that was so ridiculous as to be almost humorous.

The story follows four characters whose lives have been affected by online dating in various ways. Our main character, 33-year-old Paige, has been using online dating sites for a long time and was recently dumped by her live-in boyfriend, causing her to live with her 70-year-old mother, Joan, who was widowed a while back and wants to get into the online dating scene. Heather, Paige’s cousin, has been her rival since she was born and serves only to be the most annoying, reprehensible character in all the books I’ve read so far this year. Finally, we have Chloe, Paige’s best friend, who has two young children and an awful, abusive husband, who has been illicitly meeting women on online dating sites.

All four of our main characters are connected by the villain, whose real name is never revealed, but who goes by “Mr. Right Now” on the many dating sites he frequents. Mr. Right Now’s idea of a fun night out is to take his date to his apartment, where he prepares her a gourmet steak dinner, then ties her up and butchers her, all the while lamenting that she did not enjoy the steak. (Gee, I wonder why??)

What made this book different from other thrillers I’ve read is that there is no mystery surrounding the villain. The reader immediately knows who he is, what he does, and why he does it. As you read, you’re supposed to be hoping that the villain doesn’t get with Paige, who is presumably the most intelligent out of all the women he’s dated (and killed). I did not find her to be particularly intelligent, but I guess all his other victims were pretty stupid… I mean, who the hell goes back to a guy’s apartment to be alone with him after the first date?* Nobody in the universe is that good looking or that persuasive, even though the author portrayed the villain to be incredibly handsome. But still… it’s a pretty dumb decision.

I thought Chloe should have been the heroine of the book instead of Paige because she managed to get herself and her children out of a terrible situation by divorcing her husband. She was the only character who had her priorities straight and didn’t sleep around, but because she had little to do with online dating (other than being on a site very briefly to snoop on her idiot husband), she would not have served the book’s purpose.

Paige annoyed me. She was supposed to be so intelligent, but she was fixated on finding another guy right after her boyfriend broke up with her. She met another guy, Sam, on the dating site, but she ended up being too immature to fully appreciate what a good guy he was. Of course, they ended up together at the end of the book because she had supposedly matured, but I would have told Sam to head for the hills… and keep running.

Joan annoyed me because she was so willing to jump on the online dating bandwagon at 70 years old because she is a “child of the 60s” and therefore very liberal about sex and love and birth control (although at 70 years old, that doesn’t matter) and what have you. I could not sympathize with her at all.

And Heather. Don’t even get me started on Heather. She was probably the true villain of the story, even more of a pain in the rear than Mr. Right Now himself. She was the true reason for the demise of Paige’s relationship with her live-in boyfriend, as she seduced said boyfriend into sleeping with her, then repeatedly rubbed it in Paige’s face. She is the stereotypical female that I personally can’t stand: obsessed with hair, shoes, makeup, and fashion, a slacker at her job, two faced, and completely narcissistic. I wonder if the author knows that if you rearrange the letters in “Heather,” you get “hate her.”

What made this book so great was the ending. Most books I’ve read recently have had disappointing endings, but All the Wrong Places wrapped up so satisfactorily that I was literally laughing out loud. To make a long story short, Paige is about to go out on a date with Mr. Right Now, which would inevitably end in her demise. At the last minute, Joan has some kind of health problem and Paige drops everything to tend to her mother. Heather somehow gets ahold of Paige’s phone, and being the annoying nitwit she is, decides to masquerade as Paige in order to go on the date with Mr. Right Now. She’s seen pictures of how handsome he is and naturally wants to steal him for herself.

The author doesn’t explicitly state it, but the book has Heather going on the date with Mr. Right Now and presumably being murdered by him. Mr. Right Now is on the verge of being caught in the middle of his serial killing activities because he’s getting sloppy out of sheer arrogance. So we can safely assume that both of our villains have been or will be eliminated shortly. Now that’s a satisfying ending, and that, along with the outrageous soap opera elements, made the book five out of five stars. Fast-paced, quality entertainment and another cautionary tale about online dating. The author knocked it out of the park. Seriously.

*Rhetorical question. Apparently many people do this, although it totally goes against common sense.

Reading for Short Attention Spans: Reader’s Digest Select Editions

I never cared much for condensed editions of books. For some reason, it feels like cheating to read the “CliffsNotes” or condensed version when you could put time and effort into reading the entire thing and get a better, more fulfilling reading experience.

Then I started living with a newborn. When you never know when he might wake up and need something, it is much easier to read a short book (like a BookShot, as I mentioned in my previous post) or something like Reader’s Digest Select Editions (known as Reader’s Digest Condensed Books before 1997).

Each volume contains four condensed novels written by popular authors. The four novels are typically of different genres, so there is usually something for everyone. Reader’s Digest has been publishing volumes of these books since the 1950s, so I can’t blame their emergence on people’s shortening attention spans today. I suppose they are a way for people to get a summary, if you will, of what is popular in the current market, kind of like those “Now That’s What I Call Music!” CDs that came out periodically and compiled all the Top 40 hits of the past several months.

So far, I have picked up two volumes of the Reader’s Digest Select Editions and finished one of the condensed books (The Things We Do for Love by Kristin Hannah). It was actually pretty nice to read a novel so quickly (even though that particular book was extremely sad). The book was broken up into very short sections (again, perfect for life with a newborn), so it was easy to put it down when I needed to do something else. Even so, as I finished the book, I wondered exactly what had been taken out of it to get it into its compact form. If I see the complete edition of the book in the library, I may take it out and read it to see just what was missing. Perhaps it was extraneous description or subplots that could have been removed without compromising the main plot.

I also wondered how difficult it is for the editors to condense the books and if the authors read through and give them the “OK” after they’ve been condensed. If someone was going to shorten something I’d written, I’d want to make sure they didn’t take out anything important.

Like BookShots, these condensed editions would be perfect for a plane ride or a quick read when you are missing reading but don’t have time to sit down with something requiring a lot of mental processing. Maybe they will become even more popular in this time of short attention spans. With four books under one cover, they are a little bulky, which might deter some readers, but I’m sure there is a way to read them on an electronic device, and if not, Reader’s Digest better get with the times.

Have you read any shortened novels from Reader’s Digest Select Editions? Did you enjoy them?

Reading for Short Attention Spans: BookShots

James Patterson, one of the most prolific authors writing today, created a series* of books called BookShots, which you’ve probably seen in airports or Walmart. They are very brief, no more than 150 pages each, and they’re designed to be action packed enough to keep you reading. Patterson didn’t write all the books himself; some are romances written by a bunch of different authors.

I recently read one of the BookShots, James Patterson’s Hunted, coauthored with Andrew Holmes. The chapters were super short, only a couple pages each, and that alone kept me turning the pages, even though I don’t normally care much for Patterson’s subject matter. Everything was very condensed, so there wasn’t much room for lots of character or setting development. The plot was actually good, well developed for such a short novel, even though there were a little too many gunshots and dead bodies for my taste.

BookShots would be a good idea for people who want to get into reading but don’t have a whole lot of time or energy to invest in longer novels. They cater well to the shortening attention spans of the American audience.

Personally, if I take the time to sit down and read, I want to be invested in the book, and most of the time, that requires something with complex characters and multiple subplots. Big fat books are very appealing to me, so BookShots seem like cheap shots. Yes, there is a time and a place for them, but they’re not the most satisfying reads in the world.

Have you read any BookShots? What did you think?

*It is not a series in the typical sense; it’s more a “style” of writing or a collection of different books that don’t all take place in the same universe.