Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Room v. Bad Marie

I don't intend to blog all these matches, but this morning after I read Marcy Dermansky's tweet re: the Tournament of Books--"Ouch. Ouch. Ouch."--I thought, Well, okay.

Today, Dermansky's Bad Marie is pitted against Emma Donoghue's Room, making for a matchup of

Two stories about kids in peril, two novels with a microscopic focus on the details that make up a preschooler's life: mac-and-cheese lunches and naptime rituals, insipid kiddie books about anthropomorphized construction machinery, and how to tell if you've breast-fed for too long.

Jennifer Weiner judges, and builds cases for both novels. Despite an imbalance in Room's two halves, she grants it the victory; she finds Bad Marie to be a good read, but pervasively flawed by the obviousness of its construction, by the visible hand of its author in its understated prose and in the plot "plagued by improbable coincidences:"

The author of Marie’s all-time favorite book—the one she found in the prison library which, bien sûr, stocks French fiction in translation—is married to her childhood frenemy, a cardboard-thin workaholic named Ellen. That Ellen and Benoit have no reason to share as much as a cup of coffee, let alone a life, is something even Marie is forced to acknowledge. Wealthy movie stars, flush with cash and with spare bedrooms at the ready, appear at the precise moment the plot requires them.

I read Bad Marie last December and loved it, but I noticed the same things Weiner notices here. The book favors atmosphere, internal and external, over all else, and regularly gets a good mood going at the expense of real credibility. The trade-off feels . . . recognized, though, maybe even intentional, and it makes for a fun, fast story about what happens when we get what we want so regularly that we no longer know what we want, or how to handle it. I, like Weiner, raced through the end to find the conclusion.

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