Yeah. Another one star this year from me, because talk about books I really suffered through.
This is a terrible book wearing the husk of a much better book, and that better book is Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Detective Agency, which, I might as well mention, is one of my favorite books of all time. So it's trying to live up to what is an expertly crafted series of plotholes with philosophies on mathematics, extinction, written in the sprezzatura-ian way that Adams became the master of. And "trying" is the main word here. It's trying so hard
. And it fails in a spectacularly miserable and unfun way. There were so many lines in this book that I was very tempted to just DNF at, and not just DNF, but throw it out into the street and rain. I cannot describe the joy I felt when I realized that the copy I had had major printing errors for the last 50 pages of the book - suspiciously almost as if no one expected to read that far - but it meant that I could send it back to the publisher and not have to shelve it in my bookstore.
Let's talk about the writing. The writing is bad because it's a Adams-wannabe book written in the notebook of a 14 year old - I know because it reads remarkably similarly to stuff I wrote as a 14 year old. An obsession with needing to make a joke out of everything, to the point that an entire paragraph gets eclipsed by the need to be witty. An extra sentence, an extra continuation of the joke where it was unneeded, because of this "oh, did you get it? Did you really get the joke I just made" obsession. Nothing can exist on its own terms in the book - they are all commented on, made similes out of, there is no point where it naturally lets it go. The fact that there's a plot and things must happen wrench the writing out of its self-backpatting "humor" and is the only thing that keeps the book from devolving into a pointless mess. None of it is even that funny, just a persistent harping on normal things in life like people who work in not-Starbucks and dare to work under their company policies. If continuing with the Adams comparisons (and it is impossible not to), Adams didn't constantly fester in unhappiness and miseries. He also had the guts to write characters that aren't perfect and aren't likeable, or even liked.
That's the main problem of Wil. Wil is the hapless hero sort whose magnetism is entirely inexplicable. He is self-absorbed, a dick to strangers, and is a distinctly average person who is only elevated in importance because of his throne as "Main Character of Book." But because of that throne, he ends the book being the only person who could do the Thing, in love with the One, and saved the Day for Everyone. The book starts with Wil going to not-Starbucks and being a jerk to the teenager who is working the counter. Now, even with the normal defense of Starbucks' naming policies (well, more the fact that employees are more or less forced to comply with it, not to mention because of naming policies, if you don't specify correctly, they could get the order wrong and who do you think suffers the drawbacks from that the most, really), Wil is acting an indubitable prick. It's such a cheap ploy to get the reader to empathize with his stupid arse of an existence that I was thrown out of the book almost immediately. He isn't being witty, he isn't standing up to any concept of a Man. Wil is being a dick, and the book refuses to call him out on it.
Because he's the main character! He's the author's main character, and he's your
presumably white, male main character, dear reader! He's you, if you are a specific type of person who all of media already circles around. He's just like you, an underappreciated funny genius, with qualities that have been laying dormant until the day where the perfect series of events that perfectly tell you how amazing you are! That day is just around the corner, and here's a book that reaffirms this tired old message just one more time because God knows we haven't heard it enough. And he's had a sad and tragic past because his mother died! His mother, who might as well have been Jesus in the sense of how little she could possibly have done wrong.
Speaking of one-dimensional female characters, let's look at all the female-characters of this book and how terrible they are. The female characters themselves aren't terrible, but they're written terribly and with about as much depth as a puddle in the Sahara. Wil being a terrible character sent off warning alarms in my brain, but it was how this book wrote female characters that promoted it to "I would watch this book be engulfed by flames and feel only relief." Wil's mother is mostly told through flashbacks, and as I mentioned before, has little to nothing in the way of faults. And neither, when it comes down to it, does Lucy, other than her wild driving habits, which only add more fuel to her loveable free-spirited quirkiness! It's not exactly the Madonna-whore complex, but worth mentioning that of three major female characters in this book, one is the dead saintly mother and one is his girlfriend. The third barely talks at all.
This all comes to a head, I think when Wil goes to dinner with Lucy, who is described in no uncertain terms that she is "pretty." Or gorgeous. Or attractive. Is there a point at which this book gives me her goddamn hair color or whether she's tall, fat, skinny, whatever? There might have been, but I wouldn't want to detract from the most important descriptor: that she is attractive. Because there's a universal marker on that one (especially if you're an entitled white dude, which works out because this book is for you and only you, buddy!). So Lucy, who is pretty and attractive and gorgeous (and if you think I'm mentioning that too many times it's only because the book is ten times worse) is a wacky manic pixie dream girl, and you can tell, because she walks barefoot around her shop. After making some pointless, vaguely xenophobic remarks about Korean food, Wil spends the entirety of their dinner date talking about himself; his problems, his life, his dad, his mother, his Monday, etc etc etc.
At which point the book loses any credibility it has left by forcing Lucy to tell Wil that he is the anti-boyfriend because he is not selfish like her previous boyfriends!
I. Couldn't. Even.
On his first date with this woman who he has already decided he is in love with, he has spent the entirety of it either complaining about his food or complaining about his life, and the book gives him a slap on the back for selflessness? If there was one scene that could really sum up what a worthless combination of thousands of words this was, it was this scene. It should have this scene on its cover, so that people know what they're in for. It sums up every fault of this book in a couple of pages. For heaven's sake, does Lucy even have
parents? Where did the shop come from? Is there even a reason she walks the shop barefeet other than to exhibit her free-spirited, "groovy," nature? Who knows! Who cares! WE ARE WIL AND WIL IS US AND WE ARE ALL TOGETHER.
And wrapping up, there's nothing to be said for the plot that isn't overshadowed by its miserable writing and characters. It continues to attempt to be Adams-ian, but the "un-see" aspect of the book is haphazard and makes little to no sense. It's magic but not. It's science but not. The novel's inability to understand or elaborate on its in-universe physics continue to demonstrate its flimsiness for the sake of what the author clearly believes is his hilarious prose. Its time-looping is an unhappy callback to gimmicky bland episodes of Doctor Who as Written by Steven Moffat and only adds to its belying how really very hard its trying to be witty and smart.
The best thing I can say about this book is at least I know now to not read this author or this book's sequels.
Whoever wrote on the back that this is the happy union of Lewis Carroll and Douglas Adams is on my revenge list now because you convinced me I'd like this book and to give it a shot.