Sunday, January 20, 2008

Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George, The Cobweb

Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George, The Cobweb. If I were Stephenson and George I would have kept this under the pseudonym "Stephen Bury" - or better yet I would have buried it. I doubt it was the fault of George, but collaboration seems to have amplified every flaw in Stephenson's style and narrative and to have eviscerated the ornate plots and baroque flourishes that he can pull off with such cohesion. Put gently, this book was terrible. Think a John Grisham novel, but with a weaker plot and flatter characters (ok, maybe not flatter, but the plot definitely lacks conviction and seems mechanical). For one thing, the main character is a strong silent type, which is hard to pull off, even in a thriller. The botulin toxin plot (which could have been fantastic) was dull and forced, as well as unbelievable. But the insurmountable flaw was the horrible purple prose. Let me reproduce a sentence here (from page four) that should win some sort of award:
"Clyde had attended the same junior high school as Desiree, and he could still remember sitting behind her in algebra, tracing the construction of her French braids- straight dark hair pulled in on itself, stretched to explosive tension like the strings of a piano - and getting woozy over the lace that draped around her tanned neck like a ring of Ivory soap suds."
(!)I thought at first that sentence was satire, but I gave up that hope after a few hundred pages. Now, Neal Stephenson's never been phenomenal at romantic tension or writing female characters in general, but that usually doesn't stop me from loving his books. I suppose everyone is entitled to a few failed experiments. This one is best forgotten.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Strangely, I loved this book.I devour books by the bucketful from the library and I actually bought this one AFTER reading it.Some phrases have become part of my family: "Murder car" - to describe one of those solid steel older large cars, and I also loved the take on civil service life:Find a problem and DON'T solve it but make it your own until retirement..I tried a couple of other Neal Stephenson books after that but didn't find them interesting enough to finish. Takes all kinds I guess.