No time for introductions. Let’s jump in.
So we ended last week with a long rumination on the life that Sunshine will never experience. Last time I didn’t have the energy to say much about it, but I feel refreshed and enthusiastic, and maybe there’s something worthwhile buried in there:
I would probably never again see the ocean from thirty thousand feet above, so far up that you can’t make out the waves or any boats, so that the ocean is a great and endless monolith. I could imagine it. I could remember it. But I couldn’t see it again, and it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.
That is probably true even if you live to be ninety—although I’m jealous of the people who get to find out for sure. Then again, I’d already lived twice as long as Van Houten’s daughter. What he wouldn’t have given to have a kid die at sixteen.
“the voracious ambition of humans is never sated.” Got any more SAT words you’d like to insert seamlessly into your inner monologue, Totally Realistic and Average Teenage Girl?
So she’s sad because she’s going to die at sixt — wait. Sunshine, are you actually dying?
Okay, that sounds bad. But assuming she’s currently sixteen, that means that she expects to kick it within the next 11 months, max. And . . . well, I’m sorry, but she just doesn’t seem that sick. She needs to be hooked up to a breathing machine and went to the hospital once, but she’s been perfectly capable of driving, having sex, and international travel without any complications. Really, only one hospital visit (which was declared fairly minor) in this last . . . um, unspecified period of time is pretty miraculous for someone supposedly on death’s door. I know it’s Magical Plot Cancer, but it’s pretty lenient even on those terms; I’ve met people with menstrual cramps that debilitated them more than her terminal illness.
Look, I’m not trying to imply that cancer seems easy. But Green’s portrayal of Hazel’s illness has made it look . . . inconvenient, with some occasional hospital-worthy flareups. It doesn’t seem like something that’ll knock her down in six months. What’s the big deal?
It’s just . . . aside from the author trying to convince us of it, I’m not seeing any reason why she won’t live another ten years or longer. If you want to illustrate a story about a girl finding love and living life despite her terminal cancer, you need to actually show the terminal cancer.
Sometimes I think Green hated the English teacher who told him “Show, don’t Tell” and has spent his entire writing career getting revenge on that person by becoming fabulously wealthy and respected without ever showing anything, ever.
Suddenly Mom was standing between the TV and me, her hands folded behind her back. “Hazel,” she said. Her voice was so serious I thought something might be wrong.
Don’t worry, it’s just a false alarm. Nothing interesting is going to happen this chapter, I promise.
Some marginally funny back-and-forth later, and it turns out her mother would like to celebrate Bastille Day. Because . . . sure, why not?
How is this book not over? Do you think Green knows that he ran out of ideas 200 pages ago? Does he have a curse where his muscles will atrophy if he stops writing?
She never stopped trying, my mom. I pushed against the couch and stood up. Together, we cobbled together some sandwich makings and found a dusty picnic basket in the hallway utility closet.
Incredible. 189 characters and 156 of them are completely useless. What did we learn of value after that first sentence? Does the plot hinge upon the fact that the picnic basket is dusty? Is this like Chekhov’s Gun or something?
Actually, no, this level is detail now just has me asking more questions. If they went on a picnic earlier in the book — which they totally did — why is the basket dusty? How long has it been since that picnic? Did they wash the basket, and now that I think about it, how does one wash a picnic basket? Also, what utilities are in the utility closet? Does a picnic basket count as a utility?
Christ, I’m starting to sound like Mr. Psycho. The point is that these sentences are unnecessary, and while getting caught up in minor details is common sin of writers, every stupid pointless word of this book is another second I could be doing anything else.
So please: when adding description, as yourself if it’s necessary. If it isn’t, ask yourself if it’s beautiful. If it isn’t that either, delete it and move on to things that matter. Your readers probably won’t notice enough to appreciate it, but they won’t want to tear their eyeballs out and dangle them from their rearview mirror, either, and that’s one of the unsung signs of quality writing.
At the park, Sunshine has a lot to say about . . . well, something:
It was kind of a beautiful day, finally real summer in Indianapolis, warm and humid—the kind of weather that reminds you after a long winter that while the world wasn’t built for humans, we were built for the world. . . .
You could hear the wind in the leaves, and on that wind traveled the screams of the kids on the playground in the distance, the little kids figuring out how to be alive, how to navigate a world that was not built for them by navigating a playground that was. . . .
I was just trying to notice everything: the light on the ruined Ruins, this little kid who could barely walk discovering a stick at the corner of the playground, my indefatigable mother zigzagging mustard across her turkey sandwich, my dad patting his handheld in his pocket and resisting the urge to check it, a guy throwing a Frisbee that his dog kept running under and catching and returning to him.
Who am I to say that these things might not be forever? Who is Peter Van Houten to assert as fact the conjecture that our labor is temporary? All I know of heaven and all I know of death is in this park: an elegant universe in ceaseless motion, teeming with ruined ruins and screaming children.
I swear, I’m not trying to be intentionally obtuse or anti-intellectual, but I have no idea how someone can spend this much time saying this much, and yet communicating so little of value. Paragraphs, upon paragraphs, and what is she actually saying? It’s hot out. Children are innocent. I want to remember everything because it’ll pass someday. Life is what we make of it, and heaven exists on earth. Seize the day, etc.
Basically every cliched trope from every coming-of-age story and every death story ever written.
And it prides itself on being original and not like those “other” Cancer Books! This is like a MadLibs for people halfway through their Philosophy 101 class. These are the things you say when you’re drunk or high and think you’re being really deep, right before you become enthralled with your own hand. This is what happens when you put a bunch of motivational posters into a shredder and directly transcribe what you can still read from the clippings.
TRY HARDER, GREEN.
They go see Gus. Oddly, there’s no musing about life or death or anything, and they just sort of stare at his grave and leave. I’m confused, because this is where all that rambling might’ve made sense . . . but at the same time it’s blissfully short, so I’m not going to complain. Next!
Lidewij finally wrote back just after six P.M.
She replied to you the next day. In what world is that “finally”?
Peter was very intoxicated when we arrived at his house this morning, but this made our job somewhat easier. Bas (my boyfriend) distracted him while I searched through the garbage bag Peter keeps with the fan mail in it, but then I realized that Augustus knew Peter’s address. There was a large pile of mail on his dining room table, where I found the letter very quickly. I opened it and saw that it was addressed to Peter, so I asked him to read it.
At this point, I became very angry, Hazel, but I did not yell at him. Instead, I told him that he owed it to his dead daughter to read this letter from a dead boy, and I gave him the letter and he read the entire thing and said—I quote him directly—“Send it to the girl and tell her I have nothing to add.”
I have not read the letter, although my eyes did fall on some phrases while scanning the pages. I have attached them here and then will mail them to you at your home; your address is the same?
May God bless and keep you, Hazel.
Your friend, Lidewij Vliegenthart
Forgiving the fact that this sounds like it was written by Siri — this isn’t her first language, so we’ll be generous and assume Green meant her to sound like a robot — she broke into her former boss’ house, raided his belongings, forced him to read a letter he had no interest in through emotional manipulation, and then presumably left without another word.
You’re not getting a great recommendation from this guy, Lid. Hope you have some decent savings, because I wouldn’t expect to be employed anytime soon.
So Mr. Psycho wrote Van Houten a letter. This is Green’s Last Statement of the novel, something Very Deep, so we can expect it to be at least 12 times too long and pretentious as fuck.
I’m a good person but a shitty writer.
Come on, Gus, you know that’s not true!
I don’t think anyone here would call you a good person.
You’re a shitty person but a good writer.
Also categorically incorrect. We’ve read his work, Green; you’re not going to fake us out.
We’d make a good team.
You know, I’d actually like to see that. It’d be like if The Odd Couple were terrible people, or if Batman and Robin spent all their time making Gotham worse (oh, wait).
I don’t want to ask you any favors, but if you have time—and from what I saw, you have plenty—
I was wondering if you could write a eulogy for Hazel. I’ve got notes and everything, but if you could just make it into a coherent whole or whatever? Or even just tell me what I should say differently.
I . . . why? He doesn’t like Sunshine, he doesn’t like you, and he doesn’t enjoy writing. What part of this did you expect to appeal to him? Besides, everything we’ve seen suggests he’s a bitter drunk who has nothing nice to say about anyone — why would you consider this a good idea? None of his input is going to be usable!
This may be the first time putting an announcement on Craigslist is a better idea. At least the pictures of genitals won’t insult dead children.
Here’s the thing about Hazel: Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting death.
Wait, so the thing about Hazel is that she’s obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world? Or she isn’t? Nothing in that sentence provided the “thing” that was promised.
I mean, I know he said he was a bad writer, but I assumed he’d at least be coherent.
We all want to be remembered. I do, too. That’s what bothers me most, is being another unremembered casualty in the ancient and inglorious war against disease.
Um . . . are you aware that none of this is about Hazel? This seems a lot more like a eulogy for yourself, Gus.
I want to leave a mark.
Right . . . that’s still about you . . .
But Van Houten: The marks humans leave are too often scars. You build a hideous minimall or start a coup or try to become a rock star and you think, “They’ll remember me now,” but (a) they don’t remember you, and (b) all you leave behind are more scars. Your coup becomes a dictatorship. Your minimall becomes a lesion.
And that’s about nothing at all of substance . . .
(Okay, maybe I’m not such a shitty writer. But I can’t pull my ideas together, Van Houten. My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.)
You know, that sentence is the reason I created Cover to Cover. I’d heard about the Anne Frank thing, and that was pretty bad, but I knew that any book with the words “my thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations” had to be terrible in a way would that be funny to blog about.
And here we are!
We are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants. We poison the groundwater with our toxic piss, marking everything MINE in a ridiculous attempt to survive our deaths. I can’t stop pissing on fire hydrants.
I was seriously tempted to give you that last sentence with absolutely no context and let you figure it out.
Anyway, is he ever going to get to the part of Hazel’s eulogy that’s actually about Hazel?
Hazel is different. She walks lightly, old man. She walks lightly upon the earth. Hazel knows the truth: We’re as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we’re not likely to do either.
People will say it’s sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But it’s not sad, Van Houten. It’s triumphant. It’s heroic. Isn’t that the real heroism? Like the doctors say: First, do no harm.
Yep, that’s our Sunshine. Always thinking of others, careful never to hurt anyone’s feelings, selfless and heroic. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
What else? She is so beautiful. You don’t get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. She is funny without ever being mean. I love her. I am so lucky to love her, Van Houten.
You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man
Stop calling him that!
but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.
I do, Augustus.
I don’t know if people actually click on the Youtube links, but please watch this one. It’s about 30 seconds of pure perfection.
See? She says “I do” like they’re getting married! It’s a metaphor for the beautiful and everlasting love that they share, which is deeper and truer than most people ever experience in much longer lifetimes! (No, I’m not joking. That’s really what he was going for.)
And get it? Van Houten said he has nothing to add, because it’s already perfect! Gus didn’t need it to be edited, because he just needed to be himself! You know, that thing that Green kept trying to push over and over? How delightfully clever!
And . . . that’s it. Wow. I don’t really know what to say, except . . .
Sweet Moses, that sucked.
Post-Reading Discussion Time!
You guys are an intelligent and discerning sort, so I know you’re aware that a lot of the things I’ve said about myself, this book, and John Green have been exaggerated for humor. But . . . a lot of it hasn’t been.
In case it wasn’t abundantly clear, I really, really hate this book, and I kind of hate John Green for writing it.
I don’t hate the people who enjoy it or judge them as inferior in any way. I have liked and will continue to like shit, and often won’t recognize until years later that it was bad. The people I know who love this book are smart and capable of empathy — much unlike the heroes of this book, but that’s okay. Besides, Green has his internet cult of personality to recommend him, and it’s very difficult to separate the author from his work.
But yes, I hate Hazel and Gus and Isaac and Van Houten and literally every character except the parents of both teens. I hate the Anne Frank kissing scene, the magical plot cancer, the way we’re never given a logical time frame, the way things always seem to work out for the main characters at the expense of everyone else and the laws of reality (aside from Gus’ death, but even that’s done in a way to make him seem more heroic), and especially the fact that the entire book drips with a smug, pandering feel, as though Green is complimenting himself and everyone who is brilliant enough to “get” his book.
Well I’m an idiot, then, because I’ll take a nice “cancer book” any day of the week. And it’s reached a point where my lip involuntarily curls when I look at pictures of Green, and words like “nerdfighteria” and “dftba” make my skin crawl.
Wait, that’s kinda mean . . .
First, yes it is. Luckily, Green sleeps on a bed of money and will likely never see this post, so I’m not terribly worried about hurting his feels. Secondly, over the course of writing this blog, I’ve seen way too much evidence suggesting that he’s not just a bad writer who’s created the same book over and over, but an asshole. Like, not Hitler bad, but definitely blind to his privilege and way too pleased with his own intelligence. He’s bought the hype about himself, and his public persona runs the gamut from “relatively entertaining” to “odious.”
Like, that interview I linked earlier? Don’t try to read the whole thing, for that way leads to misery and eyes rolling back into your head, but it can be summed up as follows:
Now, to be clear: I don’t hate Green as a person. I don’t know him as a person. But as a persona, the image he chooses to portray to the world? Yeah, that guy seems like a self-important blowhard.
So . . . what now?
What now indeed . . . besides booze and eating my body weight in sugary snacks? Not really sure.
Hate is exhausting, even when it’s not for “real” things like novels and author personas, so I’m going to spend a few posts chatting about my new favorite shopping site, and how many terrifying things are available for purchase.
It’ll be fun! Also weird and disturbing.
After that, I’d like to do a retrospective on Animorphs, because Lord knows I love it, but I haven’t actually reread it in ~7 years, and I’m curious as to whether it holds up as well as it did in high school. I’m going to make them somewhat extensive: not a chapter-by-chapter review, because there’s just not that much substance to them, but detailed enough that you can follow along without ever having picked up the series before. If I’m lucky (and good), I’ll be able to create a little army of fans that will save it from being completely abandoned and forgotten.
BUT since most people don’t care about Animorphs, I’m also thinking of doing another Cover to Cover at the same time, because I have a lot of fun with it. I’ve been pondering what I’ll do next, and will happily take suggestions.
Anyway, I’ve talked for a LONG time; I’ve spent over a year dedicated to this, so it’s a little melancholy to say goodbye to it.
I appreciate everyone who stopped by and read my little ramblings, and I hope you stick around. We’ve made quite a wee community, and I’ve met some very intelligent and hilarious people.
Next time: Things are getting creepy.