Cover to Cover: The “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me” Edition!
I mean . . . what are the odds that this chapter is just an extremely elaborate (and belated) April Fools’ joke? Because I literally don’t understand how a group of educated human beings read this chapter and didn’t immediately light themselves on fire.
Were the editors on crack? Was Green on crack? Was crack sprinkled into the lining of every page so that people were somehow convinced that anything in this heinous chapter was a good idea?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. As you may remember —
— last week we finished the most painfully boring bit of nothing Green has put on paper to date, which is saying something. This chapter is . . . less boring, but twice as long and harder to get through. I’m not even sure where to begin, because there’s just too much wrong to address that it overwhelms my brain and sends me in anaphylactic shock (seriously, what do they put in this book?).
This might end up being the first ever three-parter.
I guess I’ve stalled enough, and as it is 2 in the American afternoon we should get moving!
I woke up at four in the Dutch morning ready for the day.
See what I did up there? That’s what we in the blogging business call “foreshadowing.” And yes, this is the first sentence, yes, it’s stupid, and no, this can’t bode well for the rest of the chapter.
“All attempts to go back to sleep failed,” whatever that means, so she angsts about cancer some before deciding to get up for the day:
I reread An Imperial Affliction
Enough. We know you like the damn book. At this point I’m starting to worry that you have an unhealthy relationship with it.
The hotel brought a breakfast to our room that, much to my delight, featured deli meat among many other denials of American breakfast constructions.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha kill me.
But today is the day that they finally meet the illustrious Peter Van Whatever, and you know what that means: at least a paragraph about clothes! Because that’s what girls do.
I spent like thirty minutes debating with Mom the various benefits and drawbacks of the available outfits before deciding to dress as much like Anna in AIA as possible: Chuck Taylors and dark jeans like she always wore, and a light blue T-shirt.
Well that’s creepy. Also, a word of advice to authors everywhere: If you’ve described your characters’ clothes to the point that someone can cosplay them just from reading, that is too much description. Literally no one cares what your characters are wearing every single day, and unless it’s essential to plot or character development, leave it out.
Seriously. Whoever you think will care about the clothes, they don’t. At all.
Green once again refuses to take my advice, so we have more about her lovely outfit:
The shirt was a screen print of a famous Surrealist artwork by René Magritte in which he drew a pipe and then beneath it wrote in cursive Ceci n’est pas une pipe. (“This is not a pipe.”)
“I just don’t get that shirt,” Mom said.
“Peter Van Houten will get it, trust me. There are like seven thousand Magritte references in An Imperial Affliction.”
Another reason to never read this book.
“But it is a pipe.”
“No, it’s not,” I said. “It’s a drawing of a pipe. Get it? All representations of a thing are inherently abstract. It’s very clever.”
If you have to tell us that it’s clever, it definitely isn’t. You know what is clever? Lemony Snicket buried hundreds of literary references in his books: names, plot points, little one-off comments that only make sense if you know what he’s referencing; in the All the Wrong Questions series he constantly has the narrator reading and talking about books, but instead of giving the names he only describes the plot and other key identifiers. Seriously, check these out:
- A bunch of elves and things get into a huge war over a piece of jewelry that everybody wants but nobody can wear . . . a wizard who’s very powerful but not very helpful.
- The story took place in some big woods where a little house was home to a medium-sized family who liked to make things. First they made maple syrup. Then they made butter. Then they made cheese, and I shut the book.
It’s so much fun when you recognize them; you feel smart and you appreciate how brilliant and well-read Snicket is.
You know how many times he explains his references like he’s reading off its Wikipedia page? Zero. Because he’s a good writer.
“How did you get so grown up that you understand things that confuse your ancient mother?” Mom asked.
What did I just say about not needing to state the obvious all the time?! She just proved she’s smart — or that she can read off Wikipedia with the best of them — so why do you need her mother to metaphorically suck her metaphorical dick?
Speaking of . . . Green, you could use more metaphors. Your poetic language is seriously lacking.
On second thought, let’s just move on.
Sunshine is nervous about all sorts of things. We know this because she tells us and then doesn’t act even remotely nervous.
nervous that my outfit was not a good outfit
Gus is here!
He looked down at the shirt and smiled. “Funny,” he said.
“Don’t call my boobs funny,” I answered.
All right, that’s kinda clever.
“Right here,” Mom said behind us. But I’d made Augustus blush and put him enough off his gamethat I could finally bear to look up at him.
Wait, that unnerved him? It was a dumb joke; he’s made those exact kinds of jokes (albeit much creepier) throughout the novel, so this makes no sense. Also, we got more than enough of the “he’s so perfect I can’t look at him” nonsense from Twilight.
So now it’s time for Mom, Sunshine, and Mr. Psycho to go off into a strange part of Amsterdam and meet Mr. Peter Van —
“You sure you don’t want to come?” I asked Mom.
“I’m going to the Rijksmuseum and the Vondelpark today,” she said. “Plus, I just don’t get his book. No offense. Thank him and Lidewij for us, okay?”
WHAT WAS THE POINT OF BRINGING YOU?!
I guess it is silly to expect a mother to follow her child around to places the latter is interested in; that’s why parents take their kids to Disneyland and then abandon them on the Dumbo ride to go drink schnapps in the hotel.
Let’s just get to this guy’s house:
A potbellied man with thin hair, sagging jowls, and a week-old beard squinted into the sunlight. He wore baby-blue man pajamas like guys in old movies. His face and belly were so round, and his arms so skinny, that he looked like a dough ball with four sticks stuck into it.
Oh, I get it! Green’s expressing how sometimes those you idolize don’t live up to your expectations, and the author doesn’t really matter as long as you enjoy the story. Wow, that’s kind of deep; I sure hope he doesn’t run it into the ground for several pages —
And this is the guy who claims people don’t give teenagers enough credit for being intelligent. (Also, that link is hilarious. “Adults ask those questions under 72 layers of irony for fear of appearing unsophisticated”? Um, Pot, I think there’s a Mr. Kettle I’d like you to meet.)
Well, this guy invited them, so presumably he’s going to be happy to see them:
“They are Augustus and Hazel, the young fans with whom you have been corresponding.”
“They are—what? They—I thought they were in America!”
“Yes, but you invited them here, you will remember.”
“Do you know why I left America, Lidewij? So that I would never again have to encounter Americans.”
“But you are an American.”
“Incurably so, it seems. But as to these Americans, you must tell them to leave at once, that there has been a terrible mistake, that the blessed Van Houten was making a rhetorical offer to meet, not an actual one, that such offers must be read symbolically.”
I WAS RIGHT!
I knew this asshole wouldn’t invite you guys here and it was stupid to assume he would! I knew you weren’t such special snowflakes that he’d suddenly love you and change his entire personality! I — wait, am I complimenting Green?
Fine. You win this one. Though . . . how did Lidewij never warn him they were coming? That seems like a rather dramatic oversight . . .
“You must meet them. You must. You need to see them. You need to see how your work matters.”
“Lidewij, did you knowingly deceive me to arrange this?”
A long silence ensued, and then finally the door opened again.
Well how did you expect that to work out, Lid? (We’re calling her “Lid” because I’m a dumb American and that’s a hell of a name.) You thought that you’d invite some asshole teenagers to this misanthrope’s house, force him into a surprise interaction with people he has no interest in getting to know — who are going to interrogate him about a book he wrote years ago — and that he’d be . . . happy about it? How do you not fall down more?
Well, let’s meet our author properly:
He turned his head metronomically from Augustus to me, still squinting. “Which of you is Augustus Waters?” he asked.
Now that should be obvious; it’s the one who looks like a guy. How could you —
I think we’re going to get along, Mr. Van Houten. Please ignore the constant insults I’ve made about your work and let’s get cocktails.
“This boy appears to have some kind of developmental delay,” Peter Van Houten said to Lidewij.
“Peter,” she scolded.
I love this man. I would’ve loved him just for not worshipping these 2, but he’s such a wonderfully crochety person that it delights me every time he opens his mouth. Also, I really want to read about their relationship now. She’s stupid, he’s grinchy . . . and yet they seem to work together. Another missed opportunity, Green.
“Well,” Peter Van Houten said, extending his hand to me. “It is at any rate a pleasure to meet such ontologically improbable creatures.”
Ugh, now you sound like everyone else in this book. Go back to being nasty and hilarious!
“Fan mail,” Van Houten answered as he sat down in the lounge chair. “Eighteen years’ worth of it. Can’t open it. Terrifying. Yours are the first missives to which I have replied, and look where that got me. I frankly find the reality of readers wholly unappetizing.”
Hmm . . . I’m torn between delighting in his open disdain for everyone and everything, annoyed that these guys are so special they’re the only ones to get a reply, and baffled at the idea that a writer wouldn’t care about his readers. I mean . . . you’re writing for the reader (King calls it a Constant Reader, and his Forewards or Afterwards read like love letters to his fans. That’s one of the many ways in which he is awesome).
Geez, no wonder your book sucks so much.
Augustus and I sat down next to each other, but not too next.
No, none of this teen drama bullshit. We have an interesting character onscreen, and let’s just focus on him, okay?
So Peter and Lid are cute and I still want to know what their relationship is, and then Sunshine finally admits why she’s here (though Peter doesn’t look like he cares even a little bit).
“And yes, we—well, Augustus, he made meeting you his Wish so that we could come here, so that you could tell us what happens after the end of An Imperial Affliction.”
Hope you don’t mind that extreme, unexpected, and unwanted invasion of your physical and intellectual privacy, sir!
I mean, I know they didn’t know what an imposition it is, but how dumb are you to take that invitation seriously? I have little pity, especially when Sunshine is coming across like a psycho:
Now he turned to me. “Did you dress like her on purpose?”
“Anna?” I asked.
He just kept staring at me.
“Kind of,” I said.
Yikes. (Also, those last 3 lines should be one paragraph. This is middle-school-level grammar.)
He had really ugly feet. He was rather ruining the whole business of authorial genius for me.
Gee, I wonder if that’s the entire point of this scene that’s already running way too long?
“Well, um,” I said, “first, we do want to say thank you for dinner last night and—”
“We bought them dinner last night?” Van Houten asked Lidewij.
I KNEW IT!
“Yes, at Oranjee.”
“Ah, yes. Well, believe me when I say that you do not have me to thank but rather Lidewij, who is exceptionally talented in the field of spending my money.”
“It was our pleasure,” Lidewij said.
“Well, thanks, at any rate,” Augustus said. I could hear annoyance in his voice.
Dude, you got a free dinner and trip to Europe. He got taken advantage of by his assistant/possible lover, lost what seems to have been a lot of money, judging by the extravagance of that meal, and had his home invaded by awkward, fawning strangers. If anyone has the right to be annoyed, it ain’t you.
Wait . . . guys, I’m starting to get the feeling that we’re not supposed to like this guy. I know it sounds ridiculous, considering how entertaining he is, but I . . . no, no, that’s silly. Who would write a character with such understandable motives, in this situation, and then expect us not to be on his side?
there was something pleasant about a guy so despicable that he wouldn’t treat us deferentially.
Seriously? Green, I take back any compliments, pseudo-compliments, reluctant compliments . . . look, just ignore everything I’ve said to you except the following: YOU ARE A MORON.
Why should this guy treat you special? You showed up against his will and without warning to demand answers that he deliberately chose to withhold from his readers. Also, you’re dressed like his character and acting freaky. He is 100% in the right here, and I refuse to believe that even John Green would be so dumb as to actually frame this guy like he’s a massive douchebag.
Wow, I’m only a third of the way through this. The next two-thirds better be so uninteresting that I can finish them in 1 blog or I just might explode from rage.