Down With OPB: Why “Nervous” Makes Me Nervous, Part 3: Contrived BullshitPosted: June 3, 2012
So far I’ve covered how the sex scenes and romance plot in Zane’s novel, Nervous, make for a poorly-executed read. Now, I’m going to discuss the contrivances in the novel, some which also include the aforementioned themes I discussed in the first two posts. Just getting that out of the way so it doesn’t seem like I’m repeating myself.
It’s that I don’t expect any part in any novel not to be contrived; it’s very hard to emulate real life without boring the reader or stalling the plot. That being said, these contrivances shouldn’t be as frequent and as glaring as they are in this book. They’re obviously in place to rush the plot along, but they much too quickly, and tend to suck up the realism and authenticity one is looking for when they’re reading
porn erotic fiction.
The Sex, Redux
No man, no man, can refuse Jude’s sexual advances, even when she propositions them literally five minutes after meeting them. She may have to virtually bully some of them into acquiescence, but eventually they’re all game. In my first post about Nervous, I covered every one of these sexual encounters, but forgot to point out some really ridiculous points in two of them.
The first one I missed is during Jude’s encounter with a butcher at the supermarket. She thinks he’s cute, so she chats him up under the pretext of complaining about the quality of their meat. Butcher tells her ”I keep telling the manager that some of this meat is bad, but he continues to sell it anyway.'” Then Jude asks Butcher to see where he “‘butcher[s] [his] meat.'” I’m sure this is meant to be a double-entendre, even if it’s a bad one. He tells her, of course, that customers aren’t allowed back there. “‘So, you’d risk losing your job over bad meat, but you won’t risk it over me?’ I stuck out my bottom lip. “‘I’m hurt.'”
DUDE. He just met you thirty. seconds. ago. He has no obligation to you whatsoever. BTW: you ARE bad meat.
The second ridiculous moment that I missed happens at the mattress store, where Jude manages to convince a so-called “happily married” store employee to lock the door and fuck her.
‘Look, are you sure you’re clean?’ He started looking me up and down, like he was doing an examination. ‘I don’t have a condom.’
‘Jerry, either we’re going to shit or get off the pot. Know what I’m saying?’ I asked. ‘I don’t believe in condoms. When it’s my time, it’s my time. But, for the record, yes, I am clean.’
So I’m supposed to believe that not only is a self-professed happily married man going to fuck a random woman off the street, but he’ll do so without a condom? Sorry, but dude is already so hesitant – and even mentions aloud that he thinks Jude is unstable – that we’re supposed to believe that he’ll have unprotected sex, now not only with a random woman on the street, but one who is a self-professed whore who says they don’t believe in condoms? Who spouts head-exploding garbage like “When it’s my time, it’s my time” not factoring in that if they do it, it may be his time too? Who says she’s “clean”, just because, and he’s just to believe her? I guess if you can believe that, you can also believe the emails that tell you that your rich and recently deceased distant relative in Nigeria left you a killion dollars in their will.
Also: Jude’s reason for being in this mattress store in the first place? I pointed it out in the first post about this book, but it bears repeating because it’s so ridiculous: she’s bored, so she wants to pretend to buy something, have an employee fill out fake paperwork, then take off.
The Romance, Redux
Jonquinette meets Mason as soon as he moves into the same apartment building where she lives. She is somewhat attracted to him while he’s immediately into her, brandishing an aluminium bat with the words I’M SINGLE painted in big red letters and beating her over the head with it. From there on in he pursues her rather aggressively. It’s understandable if he was initially attracted to her looks, at first, and on the basis of physical attraction, went on a date with her, got to know her and went from there. But they don’t actually have many interactions – or, at least, any of substance – to see if they have similar interests or if their personalities actually truly click; nothing to make his rampant pursuit of her believable. He doesn’t know where she works, anything about her family, or any of her interests, but before their first date even begins he already thinks that she could be his soulmate. The romance is basically fast-tracked to ensure a fairy-tale ending for Jonny, and it has to be with a “perfect” man who says all the right things, does all the right things – and tells her he loves her on their second date.
But what I find even sketchier about this situation is that Jonny used to be scared of men. Even though Jude is promiscuous, Jonny herself has never technically been with a man. So then why all of a sudden is she attracted to and willing to date someone who presses his erection against her as they’re slow-dancing for the first time and keeps touching her intimately even though it clearly makes her uncomfortable? She never really gets into what kind of breakthrough has lead her to finally let a man into her life, other than the fact the he keeps acting according to The Romantic Comedy Manual.
That aside, I actually think that this romance could’ve rung true – that is, if it happened more organically. Instead, thanks to the author putting it on the express lane, it just looks like the coupling of a desperate, creepy man, a.k.a. ‘Nice Guy’, and a woman who is so messed up that she lets him take advantage of her vulnerability, because a happy ending for a woman in a novel (at least, most contemporary fiction) is not complete without her having a man, regardless of her Multiple Personality Disorder!
Darnetta must be related to Mason, because she too is desperate to have Jonny in her life. They’re co-workers, and even though “We…rarely spoke more than two words to each other”, and you get the feeling that Darnetta grates on Jonny’s nerves, Darnetta begs Jonny, via voice mail, to join her at a club “even though we don’t flow like that and everyone else I know has plans already.” How…sweet? But Jonny doesn’t want to do that, because she’s worried that Jude might make her appearance during the night and screw all the men at the club. So she erases the message and continues on with her evening. Or tries to, because guess who calls back? I’m not even joking when I say I think Darnetta and Mason must be related. Actually, she could really give him a run for his money, because she begs and begs Jonny for TWO PAGES to come out with her – a woman she barely knows – and only lets Jonny beg off if she promises to go to the next outing with her.
Darnetta sighed into the phone. I could tell she was disgusted. ‘Fine, Jon. [Blogger’s Note – They barely know each other, but already Darnetta has given Jonquinette a nickname. My hinky meter just blew the fuck up.] I’m going to let you off the hook this time, but there’s one condition…the next time I ask you to hang out with me, no matter where it is or when, you have to agree right this second that you’ll go…Agree to go with me or I’m going to be highly offended and get an emotional complex thinking I really do stink or something.’
Hey, way to put your issues on someone you just met, buddy. If you’re fucked in the head, look in the mirror to see who’s responsible. And please don’t talk to Jonny about complexes: she’s got 99 problems, and a bitch IS one.
Anyway, I can see wanting to get to know someone at work and wanting to make new friends, but forcing people into doing so isn’t exactly a good way to get people to like you. They’ll just think you’re desperate. (But then Jonny ends up with Mason, so I guess she likes the desperate type. By the way, all of this occurs at the beginning of the novel before we’re introduced to Mason). Just say “Hey, you wanna see a movie/grab a drink?” and if they say no, shrug and say, “Okay, maybe next time.” But making someone you don’t know practically do a blood oath and blaming the potential ruin of your emotional health on them isn’t a way to win friends and influence people. More like lose friends and frighten people. BAZINGA!
But there’s a reason why Darnetta is so persistent. Of course, it’s a stupid one. Jonny can’t have any friends, so she can protect anyone she brings in her life from Jude. Therefore, a pushy co-worker must be introduced so a.) Jonny can end up going to the club after all – as Jude – and fuck a random guy, and, b.) Darnetta can invite her to her boyfriend’s friend wedding where Jonny’s new love interest happens to be the best man. Oh: and so Jonny can turn into Jude and fuck Darnetta’s man, who is also really resistant to do so but ends up doing anyway, and after which he is really remorseful. Kinda sad.
What’s funny – yet not really related to the point – is how Jonny reacts when Darnetta finds out that she (well, Jude) had sex with her boyfriend at the wedding.
Before my reflexes could kick in, Darnetta had punched me in the face. Instantly, I grabbed my nose and came back with a palm full of blood.
‘You bitch!’ she screamed out, storming my place. ‘How could you? I thought we were friends.’ [Blogger’s Note- Of course YOU did, since you emotionally blackmailed Jonny into doing as much!]
‘I’ll be right back.’ I went to the kitchen to get a dish towel to cover my nose.
“I’ll be right back?” Someone comes into your house, punches you in the face and your reaction is “I’ll be right back?” Kinda calm there, Jonny. Also, do you really want to come back? I guess you like being punched in the face. Cool beans! Then, in strange expository dialogue, Darnetta lets Jonny know how she can fix things:
‘The only thing you can do for me is to never speak to me again. I’m not quitting my job; I need it too damn much and the economy ‘s too bad to risk leaving before I find another one. I do intend to start an immediate search for something else, though.’
Who speaks like that? The first line is okay, but why all the rest of the stuff about quitting and job searching and blah-blah-blah? In the heat of the moment – especially when you’ve just punched someone in the face, would you really be speaking like that? Or maybe it’s perfectly okay and I’m biased because I hate overly expository dialogue with a passion. Still, in my opinion, it just goes to show that Zane is not a natural writer because she can’t let anything happen organically. Hence, these contrivances.
You kinda wanna feel sorry for Jonny. But then she starts being a jerk about the situation, evidenced when she tells her psychiatrist about what went down.
‘…I apologized for Jude’s behaviour – my behaviour.’
‘Did she accept your apology?’
‘Absolutely not. In fact, I still need to go through the want ads so I can start applying for other jobs in the morning…Darnetta is a drama queen and she’s going to do everything within her power to make me out to be the devil’s incarnate at the office.’
Drama queen? Yeah, Darnetta’s definitely overreacting, being angry at someone who slept with her man. When you said “sorry”, Jonny, she definitely should have said “No problem,” rolled over and gotten the fuck over it. What a bastard.
By the end of the novel, things between Jonny and Darnetta are still unresolved; their oh-so-precious friendship – totalling that one time they went to that stupid godforsaken wedding together – has fallen apart completely. And Jonny’s still being a jerk-ass about it.
Darnetta is still mad at me and not speaking but that’s her prerogative. There will be no more apologies coming from me and I refuse to allow her to make me find another job. If she truly hates me, she can find one because times are hard.
While Jonny’s dalliance with Darnetta’s boyfriend isn’t technically her fault, Darnetta does not know about Jonny’s other personality, so it’s not her fault, either. Therefore she has a right to still be mad at Jude, and Jonny shouldn’t expect otherwise. I wonder how she’d react if Darnetta did the same to her with Mason? Would she say “Well, since you apologized x amount of times, you’re so forgiven!” And the fact that she should go find another job, because, as far as she knows, you slept with her man? If you want her to stop being mad at you to recover a friendship that wasn’t, then tell her about Jude. If not, don’t be a bitch about it. I almost hope that Darnetta has sex with Mason, just so you can see what it feels like. And it would kill two birds with one stone, because I really hate Mason.
Oh, and I’m aware this last point isn’t exactly a contrivance. I just had to include it ’cause Jonny’s attitude is really off-putting here.
The One Where
Jonquinette Jude Hires A Prostitute
Of all of the contrivances in this novel, this one pretty much takes the cake, icing and candles.
As we learn at the beginning of the novel, Jude has been with Jonny since at least the age of seven. But initially, she’s violent rather than sexual. In second grade, she confronts three of her bullies in the school washroom, felling them with a broken off toilet lid (one of them ends up losing three teeth); two years later, she poisons the dog of a nasty neighbour; and, in junior high, she puts hair removal lotion in the shampoo bottles of some mean girls. Just as with the sexual encounters to come, Jonny has no memory of doing this horrific acts, though she knows that not everything is kosher. Two thumbs up, Ebert and Roeper.
By the time Jonny is fifteen, her father gets fed up and tries to tell her mother that she (Jonny) needs psychological help, but Mrs. Pierce – Meredith – is in denial and refuses to help him, so Mr. Pierce – Henry – decides to do it without her. “‘I still plan to call someone on Monday…I’ll guess I’ll start with the Health and Human Services Department. They should be able to recommend someone.'” Too bad Jonquinette hears their every word, turns into to Jude, and pays a hooker two hundred dollars to barge in on the Pierce family Thanksgiving – extended family included – claim she’s been having an affair with Henry, and is knocked up with his child. Meredith is humiliated and furious, and despite Henry’s protests of innocence – ends the marriage. (But don’t feel too sorry for him; if you recall my most recent post about this book, he’s a BAD MAN.)
Do I really need to explain how horribly contrived and implausible this is? No? Okay. Thought so.
Reunited and It Feels Contrived!
While not initially knowing that Jude was responsible for the breakup of her parents’ marriage, Jonquinette has always had an inkling that her father was innocent and unfairly ejected from the Pierce household. So she secretly goes to North Carolina – where he’s now living – and reunites with him. Jonny decides not to tell her still-bitter mother Meredith about this reunion until she has a breakthrough in therapy, during a session where Jude finally comes out. It takes a while to convince Meredith that Jonquinette has Multiple Personality Disorder. But once she accepts that her daughter has such a diagnosis, Meredith allows herself to hear all about Jude, and how she had come out during therapy, specifically because Jonny had mentioned her reunion with Henry. It’s during this discussion about her therapy session with Meredith that they figure out the whole my-alternate-personality-paid-a-hooker-to-break-up-my-parents’-marriage thing.
‘It seems that she hates Daddy for some reason and that was the trigger that made her show herself.’
Momma looked confused. ‘Why would she hate Henry?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe because he wanted to get help for me when I was younger and she was all about self-preservation.’
‘So how long has this Jude person been around?’
‘According to her, since damn near the beginning.’
A look of revelation shot across Momma’s face. ‘Then since she hates Henry so much, do you think it’s possible…’
It suddenly hit me at the same time it hit Momma. ‘She could’ve been the one who set him up….That’s it! That’s why I don’t remember anything about Thanksgiving Day! Jude was in control and somehow, she did it. She planned the entire thing. Now that I think about it, I had some money stashed away in my sock drawer and when I searched for it the following weekend to go clothes shopping, it was gone, That must have been what she used to pay the woman.’
‘She probably paid that whore money to show up and say she was screwing Henry….Oh my God, that means our marriage ended for nothing. All these years wasted. ‘
Momma broke down in tears. I held her tightly in an embrace…
She looked at me with glazed-over eyes. ‘So what do we do now?’
‘We get help. All of us.’
That’s not the contrived part, not really (though the way this conversation is written – ugh); I’m just setting you up for the actual contrivance. This occurs when Jonny arranges a picnic where her parents can reunite for the first time in almost ten years, and offer each other forgiveness. At first, both are understandably nervous, and Meredith even worries about if she’s aged badly, but eventually they start talking, even to the point where they both compliment each other on aging well and share a laugh when they say “‘That’s fine'” at the same time when Jonny makes a suggestion, Then they start feasting on a menu Jonny describes using the expository dialogue that I hate hate hate and did I mention hate? No one talks this way, absolutely no one, but if there’s a chance that you do, I will punch you. I will punch you HARD.
‘Let’s see. We have an array of fresh fruit: strawberries, grapes, and assorted melons. Then we have some panini sandwiches with roasted chicken, peppers and chipotle mayo along with macaroni salad and freshly baked oatmeal raisin cookies.’
Obviously, Jonny has snuck some mind-altering drugs into their lunch, because, BLAMMO. Everyone is suddenly holding hands and singing Kumbaya. I mean, if my wife assumed I cheated on her and knocked up a hooker, despite my heartfelt denial that I didn’t, it would take a little more than a delicious picnic to suddenly be her best friend all over again. But it gets all wrapped up in one afternoon, or at least, paragraph.
We all sat down and got reacquainted as a family. It was a good and bad experience. It was all good until we got to the part about Jude, which led to the Thanksgiving Day episode, which let [sic] to bad memories about the divorce and everything that came with it and after it.
Okay, so they’re not exactly holding hands and singing Kumbaya, but I still think this family reunion was simply glossed over. One paragraph and that’s it? If a serious issue such as Multiple Personality Disorder is going to be introduced – plus its consequences, in this case, as the breakdown of a marriage – the author should do a lot more work ensuring it’s authenticity, or otherwise, not even bother. It just looks like lazy writing.
A lot of the contrivances here – and not just this one – would be avoided if Zane would take the time to make things seem more realistic. If this novel was purely about sex, i.e.. Jude tomcatting her way through Atlanta, I could suspend my belief more willingly. But it’s not. And frankly, it would have been more believable if the Pierce marriage broke down over a disagreement of getting treatment for Jonny, so when Jonny revealed to Meredith she had MPD, Meredith would in turn realize Henry was right and wish she’d handled things differently (though not necessarily needing a Happy Family Reunion). But instead there’s this hooker plot which sounds like something ripped from Melrose Place (look it up, youngins) and a family reuniting after almost a decade of bitterness and hatred and misunderstanding in a paragraph. So much time is spent describing Jude’s many sexual escapades, and an entire chapter is spent on a date between Mason and Jonny that doesn’t do anything to push the plot forward, but, in a paragraph, a long time family feud is forgiven.
The afternoon ended with Momma and Daddy both in tears. For a change, I was the only one who was acting strong. I comforted both of them; one in one arm and one in the other.
Really, really forgiven.
There was a shocker, though. Momma asked if she could take Daddy back to his hotel to cheek in instead of me. He had left his car at my place and she said that she would bring him to get it after he’d gotten his key and was settled in. The next morning, Daddy’s car was still out in front of my apartment building, which made me wonder. When I came back from the eight o’clock church service, it was gone.
“See, baby? I didn’t cheat on you with a prostitute and get her pregnant! Our daughter’s second personality hired her to say I did.”
“I’m so sorry! I should’ve believed you even though you repeatedly told me you didn’t do it. I should have actually gotten some proof that you were having an affair. You would think during the divorce hearing, the truth would have come out. Strange business, that. Anyway, wanna fuck?”
“Sure, why not! Even though you gave me a really hard time about cheating on you when I didn’t and showed your lack of faith and trust in me. Let’s just hop into bed right away. So what if it’s been years and years of estrangement and I was humiliated in front of your family, and didn’t get a chance to defend myself?”
“Great! Let’s make plans to get remarried right away! And I’m just going to relocate to North Carolina, even though it means leaving our mentally ill daughter behind! Too bad she can’t come with us. Shoot. Now, let’s bake some cookies with the six-year-old daughter you had while we were separated, because it’s totally cool to introduce your children to other women the moment you start seeing them.”
Now how’s that for expository dialogue?
Jude’s Treatment of Flower
When Jonny goes to North Carolina to visit her father for the first time in almost a decade, she discovers that he has a six-year-old child named Flower from a previous relationship. Jonny instantly falls in love with the child, but Jude isn’t as thrilled with her new sibling, who she encounters upon a visit to her newly reunited parents. Jude goes over there, prepared to rip her parents a new one, but the appearance of Flower stops her dead in her tracks. She decides to play nice instead – taking on Jonquinette’s personality (does it even work that way?) so not to scare off the kid.
She ends up forced to keep up the act all afternoon as the Pierce’s dump Flower off on her so they can go to some play. So she takes her half-sister to the park “and hated every minute of it.” She complains about the brats she sees, but then she “tried to pick out the ones that looked sad – the ones who looked like they were mistreated, abused, or just had issues to deal with period.” She also notices a child who seems to have been left neglected and who does not interact with the rest of the children.
Then she starts to warm up to Flower, and here is where I have a problem with this scene. Because Jude is ultimately in place to protect Jonquinette – and, as it’s revealed, is manifested from the abuse she suffered as a child – it’s kind of realistic that she observes things the was way she does here, and it makes her endeared to Flower just a little bit. But then the author takes it too far; Jude warms up to Flower so much she starts to adopt a different narrative tone, one that sounds a lot like Jonny’s.
Flower was mighty talkative and I have to admit that she began to grow on me…she was inquisitive, asking me about everything under the sun. She was good-humoured and in high spirited and had good manners…
This is not the way Jude speaks. She is crude and colloquial and doesn’t use words like “inquisitive.” And I doubt she’d take Flower on a bunch of kiddie rides and play two rounds of “putt-putt” with her. Jude is a sociopath. She cares for no one but herself. She’s not so deep that she would suddenly turn into the perfect babysitter. Even when she was being protective of Jonny as a child, she still insulted her dominant personality. So once again, another scene in this book rings false for me. Especially considering the scene earlier in the novel which clearly demonstrates how much she hates kids.
I hate…the grocery store. Nothing but a bunch of bratty-ass kids begging their parents for candy, sugar-infested juices, or salty foods…When I took over, we were walking dow the pasta aisle. Of course, there was a hard-headed chap blocking the way. I jerked my cart toward him and rolled his eyes. His mother was picking out a box of elbow macaroni.
‘Ahem, could you tell your kid to move the hell out of my way,’ I lashed out at her.
She snickered like she couldn’t believe I actually said that.
‘Are you going to move him or should I just knock his ass over with my cart?’
She grabbed her son by the shoulders and pulled him aside. ‘Move over here, David.’ She leered at me. [Blogger’s Note-‘Leered?’ Does she also wanna have sex with Jude, too?] ‘You don’t have to be so rude, miss. He’s just a child.’
I picked up the nearest jar of spaghetti sauce and smashed it on the floor. I leaned down and picked up the lid. There was shattered glass attached to it. I held it up and she hauled ass with her kid in tow. That’s what she gets, fucking with me.
By the way, you know how Jude ends up at the grocery store? Because Jonny was there just before she turned into Jude, so now Jude is mad that she ends up there (hence the rant about the bratty kids.) Hey Jude…don’t make it bad. Take your two feet that are attached to the legs you keep spreading and haul ass.
Dr. Marcella Sucks
When Jonny meets her psychiatrist for the first time, she muses that the good doctor is so attractive that she wondered why the good doctor chose a medical career over one in modelling. I agree – but only because Dr. Marcella sucks ass at her profession.
All throughout the novel Dr. Marcella tries to find out the root of Jude’s existence. Towards the end of the novel, she thinks back to one of her other patients who also had MPD thanks to “severe neglect and physical abuse.” Then she tries to relate that previous case to Jonny’s, except “I couldn’t imagine what had triggered her MPD and how Jude had been created.” REALLY? Your patient has a second promiscuous personality but you are baffled as to how and why she exists?
Jesus, woman, I had it figured out from the first chapter but it takes you almost thirty pages before the book ends? Maybe you’re the worst psychiatrist in the world, or you’re conveniently clueless so the upcoming session with Jonny and her parents can lead to a shocking climax. (Again, pun not intended – especially given the sensitive subject matter that’s about to follow…)
Convenient Third Personality
This was supposed to be the next point, where the “sensitive subject matter” mentioned above was supposed to be place. But it went on for so long that I’ve decided to move it to a future post. It’s still a part of the “contrived bullshit” argument, but its length in itself is a post, which I will consider not Part 3, but Part 3 1/2, because I’m just that clever. Stay tuned!