Welcome back to another installment of The Fault in Our Stars! But we really don’t have time to get into introductions, because at the very end of last week our heroine seemed to be on the brink of death, and I’m sure we’re all dying to find out what happened to her.
And it opens with a thrilling and gut-wrenching paragraph:
I screamed to wake up my parents, and they burst into the room, but there was nothing they could do to dim the supernovae exploding inside my brain, an endless chain of intracranial firecrackers that made me think that I was once and for all going, and I told myself—as I’ve told myself before—that the body shuts down when the pain gets too bad, that consciousness is temporary, that this will pass. But just like always, I didn’t slip away. I was left on the shore with the waves washing over me, unable to drown.
I’d kind of expected it to be a little more . . . I don’t know, tense? Invested? Exciting? I mean, it’s got some great imagery, but it reads like a high schooler’s essay: all technique and no heart. (And not even that much in the way of technique.)
Green took such pains to make sure this was all grammatically accurate — odd, considering his bizarre but clearly stylized grammar mistakes. Cancer “makes you not you before it makes you not alive,” anyone?
So what’s the point of making this grammatically accurate? This scene, which should be really gripping and stressful as long as you can ignore how predictably it’s going to turn out, has all the emotional heft of a wet fart (but not as funny).
And the fault lies not in Green’s stars (ha! I’m hilarious), but in his grammar.
If you know me even a little, you know I love grammar. If you don’t, these blogs probably hint at that a little bit. But “loving grammar” doesn’t mean constantly using it well; it means knowing when to use it improperly. It can have an intense dramatic effect on your reader, and even control how they read your sentences. For example, look at the way this incredible author uses improper grammar to create a tense atmosphere:
If Sunshine is supposedly in the worst agony of her life, why does she sound like she’s describing a scene in a movie? It sounds like it’s happening to someone else, because we can’t get into her head. And so the scene is dead on the page and your readers start wishing they were playing GTA.
Wow, I just spent 400+ words talking about grammar. For my readers who are starting to get glassy-eyed, here’s the TL;DR version: Use bad grammar when it makes sense to, John Green sucks, and I am awesome. (Really, those last 2 describe every blog post so far, but truth deserves to be repeated.)
But anyway, she finds herself in the ICU a few days later, and everything’s fine because of course everything’s fine. We all knew it was going to be.
I woke up in the ICU. I could tell I was in the ICU because I didn’t have my own room, and because there was so much beeping, and because I was alone: They don’t let your family stay with you 24/7 in the ICU at Children’s because it’s an infection risk. There was wailing down the hall. Somebody’s kid had died. I was alone. I hit the red call button.
At least we’re back to crappy writing. I’d missed it.
A nurse came in seconds later. “Hi,” I said.
“Hello, Hazel. I’m Alison, your nurse,” she said.
“Hi, Alison My Nurse,” I said.
And now, I present A Conversation with Myself, in the Style of John Green:
“I wish I wasn’t reading this anymore,” I said.
“You have to keep reading it, because otherwise you’ll look bad,” I said.
“But he uses ‘said’ 3 times in a row!” I said.
“Too bad,” I said again.
“Shucks,” I said wearily, and returned to the crappy, crappy book.
Where’s my Los Angeles Times Book Prize?
Mom and Dad told me that I did not have a brain tumor, but that my headache was caused by poor oxygenation, which was caused by my lungs swimming in fluid, a liter and a half (!!!!) of which had been successfully drained from my chest, which was why I might feel a slight discomfort in my side, where there was, hey look at that, a tube that went from my chest into a plastic bladder half full of liquid that for all the world resembled my dad’s favorite amber ale.
How were there no other symptoms? She felt a little tired, a little out of breath, a bit of a headache that didn’t keep her from going online for hours or falling asleep, and then BAM! Insta-near-death. That Magical Plot Cancer was feeling sneaky, I guess.
Also, look at that grammar. It looks like a third grader’s writing . . . which would’ve been great a scene ago, when it would’ve actually made sense, instead of now, when it’s just odd and makes her seem a little slow. Whatever. Green works in mysterious ways.
Mom told me I was going to go home, that I really was, that I would just have to get this drained every now and again and get back on the BiPAP, this nighttime machine that forces air in and out of my crap lungs. But I’d had a total body PET scan on the first night in the hospital, they told me, and the news was good: no tumor growth. No new tumors.
Oh, what a relief; here I’d been worrying that there might be consequences to a several-day hospitalization.
Without worries about her health or future to distract us, we can focus on what’s really at the heart of this book: quirky one-liners smushed together in the semblance of character development!
“So you’ve been gone a couple days,” Alison said. “Hmm, what’d you miss . . . A celebrity did drugs. Politicians disagreed. A different celebrity wore a bikini that revealed a bodily imperfection. A team won a sporting event, but another team lost.” I smiled. “You can’t go disappearing on everybody like this, Hazel. You miss too much.”
Isn’t it nice that she found another personality identical to hers? Or it would be, if it weren’t for the fact that almost everyone in this book sounds exactly the same! Seriously, this could’ve come from Isaac or Mr. Psycho or Kaitlyn (who has yet to sound British despite her fake accent) or her parents or anyone. If I removed the dialogue tag, you’d have no idea who said this.
“More?” I asked, nodding toward the white Styrofoam cup in her hand.
“I shouldn’t,” she said, “but I’m a rebel.” She gave me another plastic spoonful of crushed ice. I mumbled a thank-you. Praise God for good nurses.
Good nurses go against doctors’ orders! I’m not sure what the consequences for having too many ice chips would be, and odds are I’m not going to find out, because that would require something mildly interesting to happen.
Wait, have you noticed a certain something . . . missing?
“You’re not gonna ask about your boyfriend?” she asked.
“Don’t have one,” I told her.
“Well, there’s a kid who has hardly left the waiting room since you got here,” she said.
There he is!
You know, I tried to find a picture of Mr. Psycho that made me want to claw out his eyes and steal his hair gel. Interestingly enough, I had a harder time finding one that didn’t.
But tragically, we don’t get to see Mr. Psycho’s gloriously douchebaggy face just yet.
“He hasn’t seen me like this, has he?”
“No. Family only.”
We sit through some boring medical crap, in which she heals remarkably and there are no complications whatsoever. The only thing that caught my eye is that she’s apparently at a teaching hospital, which makes me want to watch Scrubs.
But finally it’s time for Mr. Psycho to return and fill us all with disgust and irritation again.
He lit up with a real Augustus Waters Goofy Smile when he saw me, and I couldn’t help but smile back.
There’s an Augustus Waters Goofy Smile? I thought all his smiles were smug and crooked and . . . well . . .
I worked hard to meet his eyes, even though they were the kind of pretty that’s hard to look at.
Even though I see these cheesy, semi-nonsensical odes to his hotness coming, it doesn’t make them any less painful to read.
They’re quirky and flirt . . . again, because that’s all they’re capable of doing, and then he makes a move, which she must resist despite his overwhelming perfection due to the poorly-thought-out reasons listed in the last chapter:
He was so beautiful. He reached for my hand but I shook my head. “No,” I said quietly. “If we’re gonna hang out, it has to be, like, not that.”
“Okay,” he said.
He takes it rather well, and they don’t talk about it anymore. I wish I was a John Green character so that everyone around me would acquiesce to my needs without having any of their own, and everything in the universe would work together to remind me of how awesome I am. It seems nice, especially since Magical Plot Cancer sounds way more convenient than real-world cancer.
“The bad news is that we obviously can’t go to Amsterdam until you’re better. The Genies will, however, work their famous magic when you’re well enough.”
See what I mean? It doesn’t even hinder the international transport of deathly-ill minors! Sounds like a good time.
“That’s the good news?”
No, you moron, he just said it was the bad news. Anyway, the good news is that Peter Van Houten, the author so reclusive he moved to another country to make sure no one could contact him, not only read a letter written by Mr. Psycho whining about his girl problems, but sent a hand-written response to him. A response which he immediately hands over to the creator of said girl problems in what is either an extremely stupid move or an extremely passive-aggressive one.
The letter, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is heinous. So bad, in fact, that you need to experience it in its entirety:
Dear Mr. Waters,
I am in receipt of your electronic mail dated the 14th of April and duly impressed by the Shakespearean complexity of your tragedy. Everyone in this tale has a rock-solid hamartia: hers, that she is so sick; yours, that you are so well. Were she better or you sicker, then the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.” Easy enough to say when you’re a Roman nobleman (or Shakespeare!), but there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.
While we’re on the topic of old Will’s insufficiencies, your writing about young Hazel reminds me of the Bard’s Fifty-fifth sonnet, which of course begins, “Not marble, nor the gilded monuments / Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme; / But you shall shine more bright in these contents / Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.” (Off topic, but: What a slut time is. She screws everybody.) It’s a fine poem but a deceitful one: We do indeed remember Shakespeare’s powerful rhyme, but what do we remember about the person it commemorates? Nothing. We’re pretty sure he was male; everything else is guesswork. Shakespeare told us precious little of the man whom he entombed in his linguistic sarcophagus. (Witness also that when we talk about literature, we do so in the present tense. When we speak of the dead, we are not so kind.) You do not immortalize the lost by writing about them. Language buries, but does not resurrect. (Full disclosure: I am not the first to make this observation. cf, the MacLeish poem “Not Marble, Nor the Gilded Monuments,” which contains the heroic line “I shall say you will die and none will remember you.”)
I digress, but here’s the rub: The dead are visible only in the terrible lidless eye of memory. The living, thank heaven, retain the ability to surprise and to disappoint. Your Hazel is alive, Waters, and you mustn’t impose your will upon another’s decision, particularly a decision arrived at thoughtfully. She wishes to spare you pain, and you should let her. You may not find young Hazel’s logic persuasive, but I have trod through this vale of tears longer than you, and from where I’m sitting, she’s not the lunatic.
Peter Van Houten
We’re going to have the break out the old list format, because there’s too much awful here.
- Did John Green seriously just try to tell me that his stupid little romance is on par with Shakespeare? In complexity?
- His analysis of Cassius’s statement is terrible and does not deserve any further mention.
- Fault in our stars? Why, that’s the title of the book!
- “Shakespeare told us precious little of the man whom he entombed in his linguistic sarcophagus.” Yeah, because that would make a pretty boring poem.
- Houten doesn’t have any right to insult other people’s writing.
- WHY ARE YOU SAYING ANY OF THIS?! NO ONE CARES ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT SHAKESPEARE! LITERALLY ONLY THE LAST, SMALLEST PARAGRAPH IN THIS MONSTROSITY ACTUALLY HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH MR. PSYCHO’S LETTER! WHY AM I READING THIS? Ahem. Sorry about that. I lost myself and forgot to turn Caps Lock off.
- Thank you for ending your letter with a reminder that Sunshine is a saint and always right. It was wholly necessary and in-keeping with your character as a cynical jerk who cannot see the good in anything.
Let’s just end this.
Sunshine’s so excited about getting a letter from an old man who cares way too much about some teenagers’ love life that she wants to go meet him in person with the guy who just revealed that he’s hung up on her and doesn’t really want to stop pursuing her. This is a totally normal and safe reaction.
“Can we call Dr. Maria and ask if international travel would kill me?”
It won’t, I’m sure.
Now let’s get out of here before she gets another letter from Creepy Von Preteniousson. See you next chapter!