Cover to Cover: The Fault in Our Stars, Ch. 19

WE’RE BACK, BITCHES!

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This is a long gif. I’m not complaining.

So in case you didn’t notice, I wasn’t here last week. I wish I could say it was because I was horribly ill or my pet cockroach died or something, but . . . I was just lazy.

In my defense, I wrote a paper about social classification as opposed to controlled vocabularies for use in thesauri to organize metadata, so hopefully you’ll forgive me for not having much brainpower to spare for The Fault in Our Stars.

This was me all last weekend.
This was me all last weekend. Actually, this is me right now, but I’m trying to push past it.

So Chapter 18 was . . . the worst. Green basically admitted that he wrote this book to show how much better he is than other writers — and no, I’m not kidding. Remember that interview I linked to last time? Well, I read a bit more of it, and I’m willing to give Green credit, because he thought more about stuff than I originally assumed, and sometimes I accused him of being stupid when he was intentionally setting things up to look dumb. (That doesn’t mean they weren’t poorly executed, but at least he was trying, and I suppose that counts for something.)

But then we come to this bit:

More generally, I wrote this book partly because I was tired of reading stories in which dying or chronically sick people served no purpose in the world except to teach the rest of us to be Grateful For Every Moment or whatever. Making the lives of the dying about the betterment of the social order for the well really offends me, because it implies that the dying are already dead, and that their lives have less intrinsic meaning than other lives.

giphyWell thank you, Green. Whatever would we do without your insightful understanding of the human psyche and your capturing it so beautifully? Literally no one is as talented a writer as you are. You are the best. You are God.

Well, why don’t we start reading The Best Book Ever Written, huh?

He came home from the hospital a few days later, finally and irrevocably robbed of his ambitions. It took more medication to remove him from the pain. He moved upstairs permanently, into a hospital bed near the living room window.

These were days of pajamas and beard scruff, of mumblings and requests and him endlessly thanking everyone for all they were doing on his behalf. One afternoon, he pointed vaguely toward a laundry basket in a corner of the room and asked me, “What’s that?”

“That laundry basket?”

“No, next to it.”

“I don’t see anything next to it.”

“It’s my last shred of dignity. It’s very small.”

Oh the heartrending melodrama.

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Does it make me a bad person that I don’t care? These are all bad people and I’m just sick of dealing with their bullshit.

 

But his sisters decide to show up because, you know, he’s dying, and Sunshine considers it invasive. Because of course she’s the only one who loves him enough to be with him in his time of need. They’ve been dating for at least a week, after all.

His sisters were there with their banker husbands and three kids.

Banker husbands?! That can only mean one thing . . . CONFORMISTS!

Dramatic+cat+2013+gif+animated+gif+from+the+video+dramatic_32903d_4554991We can tell immediately that we’re supposed to dislike these people, because they are a monolithic being, with identical husbands and spouses . . . and worst of all, the identi-husbands are bankers.

BANKERS!

wall-street-bankers-690x389So they’ve set us up immediately to hate these intruders, but Green isn’t so cruel to make us loathe their children — though they don’t get separate personalities, because they’re just going to grow up to be accountants or real estate agents or something equally horrible:

all boys, who ran up to me and chanted who are you who are you who are you, running circles around the entryway like lung capacity was a renewable resource. I’d met the sisters before, but never the kids or their dads.

“I’m Hazel,” I said.

“Gus has a girlfriend,” one of the kids said.

“I am aware that Gus has a girlfriend,” I said.

“She’s got boobies,” another said.

“Is that so?”

“Why do you have that?” the first one asked, pointing at my oxygen cart.

“It helps me breathe,” I said.

“Is Gus awake?”

“No, he’s sleeping.”

“He’s dying,” said another.

“He’s dying,” the third one confirmed, suddenly serious. It was quiet for a moment, and I wondered what I was supposed to say, but then one of them kicked another and they were off to the races again, falling all over each other in a scrum that migrated toward the kitchen.

It occurs to me that this isn't the best gif to go with a description of children. But at least she isn't a banker, right?

Kids don’t talk like that. They will never talk like that, and this kind of cutesy-wutesy thing — mixed with the “sudden sage wisdom that can only come from the innocence of children” — is the hallmark of most poorly-written kids.

Besides, enjoy that parade of “said”s? 6 times in 11 paragraphs is something you almost can’t accomplish without trying.

Anyway, she gets past the darling children into the arms of the evil sisters:

I hadn’t gotten to know his half sisters, really, but they both hugged me anyway.

How dare they? It’s not like they know you’re important to the brother they dearly love, and therefore want to have a good relationship with you in order to make things happier for everyone before their brother’s death.

barney stinson youre a jerkJulie was sitting on the edge of the bed, talking to a sleeping Gus in precisely the same voice that one would use to tell an infant he was adorable, saying, “Oh, Gussy Gussy, our little Gussy Gussy.” Our Gussy? Had they acquired him?

They have more claim over him than you do, you hateful little monster. They’re actually his family! They’ve known him longer than an episode of Buffy!

“What’s up, Augustus?” I said, trying to model appropriate behavior.

giphy

“Our beautiful Gussy,” Martha said, leaning in toward him. I began to wonder if he was actually asleep or if he’d just laid a heavy finger on the pain pump to avoid the Attack of the Well-Meaning Sisters.

You know, I’m struggling to come up with funny things to say, because all I can hear in my mind is this high-pitched ringing and it’s kinda hard to concentrate. I wonder if that’s healthy?

He woke up after a while and the first thing he said was, “Hazel,” which I have to admit made me kind of happy, like maybe I was part of his family, too.

You literally just claimed to have more right to him than his sisters. I’d complain about inconsistency, but it’s not exactly new, is it?

Well, he wants to go outside, so we do.

It was a cloudy day, still and hot as summer settled in. He wore a long-sleeve navy T-shirt and fleece sweatpants. He was cold all the time for some reason.

Some reason. Intellectually-curious Sunshine doesn’t bother to come up with reasons for anything, despite the fact that it’s always completely obvious. Off the top of my head . . . losing fat, losing muscle, not moving around much, fucking CANCER?!

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Since his whole family is together, she’ll probably feel like an outsider and want to let him get reconnected with his siblings, take a moment to get to know the people he loves and learn to love them too . . .

Martha tried to engage Gus in conversation, kneeling down next to him and saying, “You’ve always had such beautiful eyes.” He nodded a little.

One of the husbands put an arm on Gus’s shoulder and said, “How’s that fresh air feel?” Gus shrugged.

“Do you want meds?” his mom asked, joining the circle kneeling around him. I took a step back

Because Saint Hazel always knows the right thing to do. Unlike the family, who doesn’t know a thing about him, because they’re not special.

“Kids!” Julie shouted vaguely.

“I can only hope,” Julie said, turning back to Gus, “they grow into the kind of thoughtful, intelligent young men you’ve become.”

I resisted the urge to audibly gag.

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Why are these two separate paragraphs? More importantly, when is she going to cut these poor people some slack, especially considering she’s said way more vomit-inducing things over the course of this book?

A Short List of Things Sunshine Has Said that are More Fawning and Cheesy than His Sister’s Polite Comment:

  1. “Still athletic, in spite of it all, blessed with balance and quick reflexes that even the abundant narcotics could not fully mask” (Ch. 16)
  2. “I couldn’t unlove Augustus Waters. And I didn’t want to” (Ch. 13)
  3. “I present to you Augustus Waters, whose existential curiosity dwarfed that of his well-fed, well-loved, healthy brethren” (Ch. 13)
  4. “While the mass of men went on leading thoroughly unexamined lives of monstrous consumption, Augustus Waters examined the collection of the Rijksmuseum from afar” (Ch. 13)
  5. They were applauded for making out at the Anne Frank Museum. I know that’s not a quote, but I just want everyone to remember that that happened.
  6. “I worked hard to meet his eyes, even though they were the kind of pretty that’s hard to look at” (Ch. 7)
  7. “I liked his voice. I liked that he took existentially fraught free throws. I liked that he was a tenured professor in the Department of Slightly Crooked Smiles with a dual appointment in the Department of Having a Voice That Made My Skin Feel More Like Skin. And I liked that he had two names” (Ch. 2)
  8. “I could feel the muscle right beneath the skin, all tense and amazing” (Ch. 2)
  9. “Long and leanly muscular, he dwarfed the molded plastic elementary school chair he was sitting in. Mahogany hair, straight and short. He looked my age, maybe a year older, and he sat with his tailbone against the edge of the chair, his posture aggressively poor, one hand half in a pocket of dark jeans” (Ch. 1)
  10. “His voice was low, smoky, and dead sexy” (Ch. 1)

And that’s not even mentioning all the pretentious nonsense that Mr. Psycho says that gets a free pass!

giphyWell, Sunshine and Mr. Psycho have a little back-and-forth, and it’s kinda charming:

“He’s not that smart,” I said to Julie.

“She’s right. It’s just that most really good-looking people are stupid, so I exceed expectations.”

“Right, it’s primarily his hotness,” I said.

“It can be sort of blinding,” he said.

“It actually did blind our friend Isaac,” I said.

“Terrible tragedy, that. But can I help my own deadly beauty?”

“You cannot.”

“It is my burden, this beautiful face.”

“Not to mention your body.”

“Seriously, don’t even get me started on my hot bod. You don’t want to see me naked, Dave. Seeing me naked actually took Hazel Grace’s breath away,” he said, nodding toward the oxygen tank.

Despite the fact that talking about all the sex you’ve had in front of your family is pretty weird, I can’t pretend that didn’t make me smile a little bit, so Green deserves a point there.

He doesn't get many points, so I feel like I have to give him something.
He doesn’t earn many points, so I feel like I have to give him something.

But then it immediately gets annoying again, because this book is almost as painful as the cancer they’re suffering from:

his dad put an arm around me and kissed the side of my head and whispered, “I thank God for you every day, kid.”

Oh, why bother praying? You could just thank Her yourself every time She comes over. She did die for our sins, after all.

UntitledOkay, we’re basically done here. Play us out, Sunshine:

Anyway, that was the last good day I had with Gus until the Last Good Day.

Ooooh, cryptic. I bet those caps totally have a purpose and aren’t pretentious bullshit, right? Some sort of scaaaary foreshadowing?

Well, this is getting too intense, so I’ll have to see you guys again next week. Bye!

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9 thoughts on “Cover to Cover: The Fault in Our Stars, Ch. 19

  1. Omg Kuzco gif! And I laughed so hard at “Conformists!” and the 2 points on the basketball court. XD

    Anyway, good to have you and your brain back in proper working over. I thought it had melted either from grad school or the creepy ass shit Green pulled on tumblr last week, or both.

    Anyway, if you need a break I decided that Jurassic World hurt my soul more than John Green’s work ever could, so I’m working on an au Jurassic World comic: http://aujuassicworld.tumblr.com

    See you next week!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww, I’m glad it made you laugh! My pain has to entertain somebody. XD And grad school is brain-melting, but the 6-week semester is almost over, so soon there will be a bit more brainpower at my disposal.

      Wait wait wait wait wait wait WAIT what did Green do this time?! I never heard about this!

      And I never saw JW, but I’ll have to check out that comic. 🙂

      Like

      • Make sure you have a stiff drink at the ready: http://fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com/post/121316109713/mattcatashpole-astro1995

        I’ve fucking had it with this creep. No one implies that he sexual abused children, yet that’s the first thing he “defends” himself from? Then he fucking mansplains the OP’s feelings until he paints a big red target on OP’s back by saying he’ll be reblogging less stuff. Oh sure, he asks that no one harass the OP in a FUCKING POST SCRIPT EDIT, but fuck this guy. He cared more about his bruised ego than the person on the other side of the screen with far less power than he. Fuck. This. Creep.

        Like

        • Ugh . . . that makes me feel all icky and twingy. I don’t think it’s fair to imply that he’s the creepy dad at a pool party, but I’d be lying if I didn’t think he was pandering to teens because teens are stupid and want to feel special, and he tells them that they’re the specialist.

          Really though, most of that response didn’t seem to have anything to do with anything, just self-righteous whining trying to pass itself off as moral superiority (also, big words. We know you know big words, John. It doesn’t make up for the fact that you’re a terrible writer).

          But it’s the people defending the poor baby that make me the most disgusted. They’re saying he’s being BULLIED. Because of course he’s being bullied. The poor baby. He has enough money to buy a small nation, but HE’S the victim here. Poor, poor little thing.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. In a way, I can understand his reaction, as there is a pretty unpleasant implication in what is said. On the other hand, it is not stated explicitly, and you could read it as something quite different, and legitimate.

    After all, his work really does use the same bag of tricks internet stalkers use, making young girls feel special and all that, everything of which it accused him. Then again the same could be said of Twilight, The Hunger Games, and, if we don’t focus on purely young females, every romance novel, every boy’s adventure tale, any story of a “chosen one” (so everyone for George Lucas to J K Rowling), all could be open to such an accusation. I suppose it is a matter of degree (and the talent to make something better out of a cliche approach).

    Most fiction, at least popular fiction, succeeds by becoming a form of wish fulfillment, and wish fulfillment is also the primary tool of those who wish to seduce someone, or con them, or otherwise mislead them. So, in a way this is a fair criticism, but in another, it is also a criticism that could be aimed at quite a broad spectrum of writers.

    None of which makes his response any better, or his writing, for that matter. Nor does it make it any more acceptable for one to be too closely involved with a rather young and immature fan base of mostly younger teen girls. (Not that being too closely involved with young and immature boys would be any better. Just to be clear.) But that is another matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good points, and I agree that the original comments certainly have an implication of pedophilia, but the fact that he automatically assumes that as the only possible reading — perhaps to spare himself from having to face the other, more reasonable implications of the criticism — strikes me as a rather pathetic straw man, and a great way to gaslight and delegitimize the very-real feelings of discomfort some fans have with his attitude. Besides, making it public was just awful regardless; he had to know he was going to set his fans as a mini lynch-mob, and that half-assed “oh, don’t attack them please, we’re too good for that” at the end did NOT help matters.

      I suppose the difference between magical boy narratives and this kind of pandering – in my mind, anyway — lies in the way it treats its protagonists, who are of course the audience surrogates. Look at Harry Potter, for example: Harry is super special and the only one to defeat Voldemort, sure, and there’s a lot of wish fulfillment there (especially a sport existing that favors geeky shrimps with no athletic ability and poor vision). But Harry is . . . kind of a jerk sometimes. He acts like an ass, makes MASSIVE mistakes, and in general is an obnoxious teenage boy with a Messiah complex — which is exactly what you’d expect from the upbringing he’s had. (Though I would expect him to be less trusting of adults, considering how abusive his own were, but maybe he’s just so desperate for a loving parental figure that he’ll trust everyone.) But the important thing is that those actions have consequences: when he’s an ass, he’s called an ass and alienates people; when he fucks up, there are consequences, sometimes disastrous ones. Rowling never tries to hand-wave Harry’s douchey behavior as right, though it’s often sympathetic.

      Green’s books, on the other hand, always seem to push that narrative that everything you do is right, and you are a special snowflake, you beautiful creature you. All Gus does (all everyone does, in fact, hence the Hazel Jesus image) is tell our heroine how perfect and special and amazing she is, and no matter what kind of awful behavior she engages in, she never suffers any serious consequences, or is forced to acknowledge that she is anything less than a perfect snowflake. It’s what bugged me about twilight as well, but I find it worse — and creepier — here, for reasons that . . . might be a little sexist on my part: it’s just creepier when an adult male panders to young women than when an adult woman does it. Furthermore, it’s incessant; even in the novels starring young men, it seems like the teenage girl is perfect and full of manic pixie dreams, and changes the life of the dopey guy who I never remember because he’s just a conduit for expressing how perfect the female characters are. (Even when they’re flawed, it’s in such a beautiful, poetic, snowflakey way.)

      Thank you for your comments, by the way. They give me a lot to think about, and I appreciate your reading these blogs and giving your thoughts on them. 🙂

      Like

      • Oh, I agree completely there are differences in how wish fulfillment is handled, how unrealistic it is, how far it drifts from reality, how much the quality writing distracts us from the wish fulfillment, and so on. It is why I always groan when I hear the term “Mary Sue”. Let’s face it, all writers are creating their Mary Sue. Bill Lee, despicable as he is, is Wm Burrough’s Mary Sue. Prince Mishkin is Dostoyevsky’s. (Though at times I think he wishes he could admire Rogozhin, but his faith tells him he has to adore Mishkin.) As a mostly unpublished, and clearly unknown, writer I can say that, even when writing nothing close to autobiographical, there are still bits of each protagonist that represent some sort of idealized self, or some wish fulfillment, some idol, some dream. Which is why it makes me cringe to hear “Mary Sue”, as, taken literally, it is meaningless, as it is in some sense, true of every protagonist I can name, maybe even a few antagonists.

        But, again, I am getting side tracked. I wanted to quickly agree and end up writing a paragraph.

        I think the best analogy, at least in contemporary writing, is Twilight’s Bella (or her near clone in 50 Shades). A callow, rather uninteresting, not too bright girl, who fits the stereotype of the porn librarian, except that she doesn’t turn sexy when she pulls off her glasses. In other words, withdrawn, clumsy, socially awkward, introverted and rather plain (or at least the less attractive end of “Hollywood plain”). And yet, she is adored by everyone she meets, she is fought over by men who have just met her (or, even more strangely, by men she has repeatedly offended with her awkward ways), and, no matter how peculiar her behavior, how shallow her decisions, the writer (I can’t say “author”) expects us to see her as not just the protagonist, but the heroine, someone we too should adore.

        I think that is quite similar to what Green is trying to pull off, and, sadly, something that seems all too common in contemporary YA writing. I have a few theories why that has happened (in part, at least, because YA moved on from the dull, dusty “morally uplifting” works that sold 10 copies* a month, borrowed plot devices from romance novels and, to a lesser degree, pulp horror/scifi/action novels, and became the,… well, whatever it is today), but regardless of why or how, it has happened, and it seems this sort of thing is becoming part of more YA writing all the time.

        * Not all YA writing was of the “After School Special” genre, though for many decades that type of book definitely predominated. Though, there were exceptions, from Lloyd Alexander to Judy Bloom (well, she can be a bit moralizing, but in a different way, so I’ll give her a pass) to, well CS Elliot and Lewis Carroll were sold as YA in some eras, so obviously there was once much better YA material available as well.

        PS Sorry for the second mention of The Idiot in as many posts, I was re-reading that and “At Swim-Two-Birds” on vacation, and it stuck in my mind. If I can find a way to use an argument about whether the Pooka’s wife is a kangaroo to make a point, I will be sure to cite the other book.

        Liked by 1 person

        • “I wanted to quickly agree and end up writing a paragraph.”

          Oh, that sounds like the story of my life. Only in my version, there’s a lot less literary references and a lot more incoherent babbling.

          Anyway, I think you have a point, especially about what Green’s trying to do. “Mary Sue” doesn’t really bother me, but maybe that’s just because I don’t use it to describe an idealized version of the author, but just a really bad version. But anyway, thank you as always for the food for thought! 🙂

          Like

  3. I know it is pointless to correct insignificant typos, especially when the internet is full of “where u B @?” conversations, but “for George Lucas to” should read “from George Lucas to”. I just cannot stand to ignore my own mistakes.

    Like

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