The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson, Knopf, 2005

WARNING: Spoiler & Sensitive Material ⚠

1 Star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Book – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I found BR Meyer’s A Reader’s Manifesto an Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in the American Literary Prose to be a useful gauge in analyzing Steig Larsson’s the The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. No, TGwtDT was not published in the US, but it was a blockbuster-literary-phenom here, so using that book is relevant. What differentiates novels like The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo from other lengthy blockbusters like, say Gone Girl is that the former takes itself much too earnestly to be appreciated. TGwtDT is a bestseller, yes, but it deals with a serious topic no other book has touched: violence against women!

I read a review of TGwtDT that derided readers who complained the book was too slow, and chided readers for not knowing how to skim over the unimportant parts! That’s how real readers read, don’t you know! Look, I’m no speed-reader, but I’m a believer in that words have meanings. They exist for a reason. If I skim a lot, it’s a sign that the author has lost my interest.

This belief seems to be confusing for some. Like the literary critics in Meyer’s manifesto write: 

“If anyone has earned the right to bore us for our own good, it’s [NAME REDACTED],” writes Salon Martha Russo. “Since [HE] is smarter than we are,” intones John Leonard in the New York Review of Books, “trust [HIM].”

A Reader’s Manifesto an Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in the American Literary ProseBR Meyer

Such is the early 21st century mindset about LITTER-A-CHORE.

Since I do not own the physical version of TGwtDT, and don’t intend to everagain listen to the audio, I cannot quote verbatim from his book. So I will borrow from Myer’s manifesto when he criticizes Cormac McCarthy’s tiresome writing from one of McCarthy’s later works:

“He ate the last of the eggs and wiped the plate with the tortilla and ate the tortilla and drank the last of the coffee and wiped his mouth and looked up and thanked her.”

CORMAC McCARTHY- THE CROSSING

Replace eggs and tortilla with sandwiches and bread and add in even more copious amounts of coffee, and there you have about 10%-15% of Larsson’s book. It’s tedious.

Feminist Tome or Something Less Noble?

As TGwtDT deals with rape and murder, it’s not unusual that there would be explicit scenes depicting this. The heroine Lisbeth Salander is raped by her social worker two various times. Once, orally in his office and the second time anally in his home after he has ties her to his bed.

These scenes are written in a slightly horrific, yet detached manner. It’s not these scenes that I question; it’s the revenge scene that follows. Lisbeth turns the tables on the social worker when she returns to his home, ‘promising’ another night of sex for pay, then tazes him, ties him to his bed and rapes him.

But the way the scene is written is done in an oddly titillating manner. Lisbeth stands at the foot of the bed, dressed all in black, wielding a whip, with her dyed-black hair, tattoos and piercings giving her a dark dominatrix look as the man struggles against his bonds and ball-gag. Lisbeth proceeds to rape him with an anal plug without the use of lubrication. She then tortures him by tattooing a message across his abdomen. Lisbeth finally ends his torture by showing the man a video that she recorded from the previous encounter when he had raped her. For an hour and a half she forces him to watch this!

Frightening stuff, one would think, but the way it’s written is done in such a kinky manner, that I—a long time reader of subtle kink—can spot it when I see it. This scene is supposed to be critical to the novel as it shows the true nature of Lisbeth and the depths she is capable of.

To me, though. it reads as a writer’s fantasy of being dominated by a tough woman. It’s more like, “Yes, I am a bad, bad, evil man. I am a filthy dirty man, and I must be punished. I understand you will stick painful things up my bum without lube. Oh, it hurts, oh it’s painful…but…now…I am in a quiet, almost hypnotized state of ecstasy at your masterful female dominance. Oh…yes I will do whatever you say. I will be your slave.”

Genre Fiction That Takes Itself Too Seriously

Many years ago I read Jane De Lynn’s Some Do where a similar scene is portrayed. After a friend is brutally raped and dies as a consequence, several women avenge that savagery by raping her attacker. However in Some Do, the scene was disturbing. The man is assaulted in his office, blindfolded and gagged, and there is not even a sniff of subtly or eroticism; it was pure female anger at masculine oppression, replete with horror and a lust only for vengeance.

Some Do was written by an American woman in the 1970s and The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo was written by a Swedish man in the 2000s. There was a vast difference in the way the parallel scenes were depicted. One was written with a raw anger beneath it, filled with a sentiment of “We’re not taking this anymore! We will fight back and hurt you worse if you hurt us!”

Larsson, it seems, wrote his book as an aggrieved male figure for all the violence committed against woman by men as a dark-revenge fantasy.

The initial rapes of Lisbeth were crude, but didn’t disturb me overmuch. That sort of sexual violence is de riguer in murder-mystery books, unfortunate to say. But it was Lisbeth’s revenge scene where I had my “epiphany.”

Controversial Opinion

As a person, I can’t judge Larsson, However, as a reader judging an author, I certainly can. His character of Lisbeth is not a true woman: she is an amalgam of all that is “cool” and “ballsy” about women in media: a cartoon/manga/movie/porn version of what a “kick-ass woman” is. Weird that in a book originally titled Men Who Hate Women Larsson used a female protagonist who is a caricaturized version of post-modern ideal femininity to conquer all the bad evil men.

(Or perhaps Larsson WAS so smart he knew exactly what he was doing? Maybe. Even so, I didn’t care.)

Eh, if you’re going to market a mass-murder/rapist book as feminist theory, at least make it a teeny bit based in realism. And interesting.

And I apologize to Dan Brown for all the mean things I said about him. I won’t take them back, because they’re true! It’s that I should have kept it all in perspective in the “literary” sense. There’s being a successful hack who knows he’s a hack. And then there’s being a hack that’s pawned off as a literary genius and arbiter of feminism. Plus, there’s the fact that Larsson died relatively young, so like Kurt Cobain, no one can EVER complain about Larsson’s talent.

(Ok, that last part WAS cruel. But I won’t take that back, either.)

Awful, awful and boring book!

Drive by James Sallis

Drive, James Sallis, Poisoned Pen Press, 1995

1 Star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

The Book – Drive

When the best thing about a book is that at least I can say I’ve read it, that’s sort of like saying: “Oh, chicken pox, I had that once! Root canal with Novocain wearing off, yup, I know the feeling! Hemorrhoids and explosive diarrhea, I hear you!”

Well, you get my drift…

Writer James Sallis’ so-called neo-noir crime-thriller novella, Drive, reads like something that would be assigned in a freshman English college course. It’s a terrible, post-modern action tale with tons of characters, ever-changing POVs, and a time-line all skewed so that important events happen in the middle instead of at the end, therefore losing any impact on the reader, and you don’t care when the story’s over.

It’s also one of the most boring books I’ve read. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has directed three of the most boring movies I’ve seen: “Valhalla Rising,” “Bronson,” and “Only God Forgives.” So how did these two artists combine together to make a movie I loved?

The film and book are so different; this is one of those rare cases where the movie excelled and the novella fell flat. Ryan Gosling played Driver as a man of few words who forms intense attachments to a select few. The Driver of this book is verbose and has lots of friends. It had to be the retro 80’s style and awesome soundtrack that fooled me into thinking the book would be just as slick and enjoyable as the film.

This book belongs in the ninth level of literary Hell, consigned to those who commit treachery, as I was duped into thinking this would be a masterpiece. I purchased this book thinking it was going to be an intense crime-noir; instead it ended being a crime that made me snore.

Rock Chick Regret by Kristen Ashley

Rock Chick Regret, Kristen Ashley, 2011

1 Star DNF

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I’ve not kept up with Romance genre trends, so I don’t know who the popular authors in the Current Year are. A few years back, everybody was gushing about Kristen Ashley. For all I know, they still are. Optimistically, I purchased about a half dozen of her e-books and gave her a shot. First, I read Lacybourne Manor although I didn’t really care for the writing style, nor the screwball, immature-in-mind-but-not-in-years heroine. But you all know what they say about falling off a horse. Plus, if I don’t like something the first time, I’ll give it a second just to make sure the dissatisfaction wasn’t a one-off thing. 

It wasn’t.

I Couldn’t Even Finish It!

In vain I attempted to complete Kristen Ashley’s Rock Chick Regret. I read as much as I could tolerate, then noped out of that book at 50%. Kristen Ashley is just not my cuppa. I don’t rate DNF books unless I get at least halfway through. Since I passed that mark, I can with a clear conscience give this book a big thumbs down.

I cannot relate to the people and world Ashley creates. Her characters are vapid, shallow, and immature at best, and cardboard cutouts and stereotypes at worst. 

To any Ashley fans, I mean no offense with my words. Everybody has different tastes and that has no bearing on the kind of person one is. There are people who genuinely like Anisette liqueur and black licorice and I will never understand why.

Then again, I despise mayonnaise, ketchup, and tomatoes. That’s pretty weird.

I have low standards when it comes to entertainment. All I ask is that it provides me with some form of enjoyment. It need not be highbrow, popular with audiences, or critically lauded. My 2nd favorite Star Wars film is unironically Attack of the Clones.

The Book – Rock Chick Regret

There’s no handling this with kid gloves; I hated Rock Chick Regret. I know it’s kind of stupid to jump into book 7 of a series, but I’d gotten the impression from reviews that this was the best of the bunch. If you’ve read the novel, you know the plot. Briefly, the daughter of a crime boss is raped and goes to the “Hot Bunch” (a security team) for protection, especially seeking out “the guy-who-could-have-been” Hector. Hector used to work for Sadie’s dad and now is fiercely protective of her after her tragedy. 

Yada, yada, yada, Sadie and Hector’s romance unfolds as “The Hot Bunch,” Hector, and Sadie plan to get the bad guys.

These people are in their thirties and forties and refer to themselves as the “Rock Chicks” and “Hot Bunch.” I know 30 is the new 21, and even I at the decrepit age of 43, still enjoy a bit of the bohemian life. However, these adults in their 30s carry on like teenagers, posing like “cool kids,” partying, and being overall vapid as can be. All they care about are clothes, and not just any clothes, but designer brands, described in painstaking detail that would have GRR Martin or Bertrice Small (RIP) say: “Hold on, there, don’t you think that’s a bit too much clothes porn?” 

Mean Girls and Stale Clichés 

The Rock Chicks are utter cows, the catty, cliquey types who make me happy that, other than my many sisters, my relationships with female friends are on a one-on-one basis. First, they’re bitchy to Sadie, then after they find out about her tragic rape, they turn around and are suddenly BFFs for life, shouting to all and sundry about Sadie’s violation.  

The characters are just reduced down to superficial basics: Hector, the Hispanic hottie who calls Sadie his Mamacita (look, I’m Latina and I know that Mami & Papi are used as terms of affection between lovers, but that’s always been a no-no in my family. My man is my man, not my Daddy); the gay cuddly BFFs that are used as “purse puppies” to show how open and cool Sadie is (hat-tip to Ya Boi Zack for that term); cut-out villains that are evil because good is dumb; Sadie, the icy cold blonde princess, who’s really not icy at all, no matter how many times we’re told that; the super, awesome girlfriends; and their uber-alpha, buff, ultra-possessive men.

There’s a scene where Sadie’s friend Buddy introduces her to his “lesbian friend, Bex.” Who does that?

“Hi, this is my bi-polar friend Sal, my vegan friend Polly, and my Indigenous Peoples friend Joaquin.” People aren’t people in this book, they’re distilled to traits.

My Opinion

This book was so bad, it made me question myself. Was I that much of a hoity-toity snob that I couldn’t appreciate a little bit of check-your-brains-at-the-door-fun-&-just-enjoy-the-ride romance? Me, hoity-toity about reading tastes? Me, the anti-censorship stalwart, the staunch defender of un-PC 70s-80s bodice rippers, a reader of really crappy Zebra, Pinnacle, and Playboy Press pulps?

Reading this book made me feel like Homer Simpson, the iconic cartoon schlub, in that episode where he moves to the boonies and the local yokels accuse him of putting on airs:

Farmer 1: Well, well. Look at the city slicker pulling up in his fancy German car.
Homer: This car was made in Guatemala.
Farmer 2: Well, pardon us, Mr. Gucci loafers.
Homer: I bought these shoes from a hobo.
Farmer 1: Well, la-de-da, Mr. Park Avenue manicure.
Homer: I’m sorry, I believe in good grooming.

THE SIMPSONS

There’s a lot of popular stuff out there I don’t like. Fortunately, those authors have legions of fans to buy their books and provide adulation, so a peon like me writing a bad review is no biggie. It’s a big world with plenty of stories, and hopefully, we can all agree that while not everything is for everybody, there are some things out there for everyone.