Monday, September 08, 2008

Realism and Fantasy


When the Leaves start to turn,
Pauline Palmer (1865-1938)
oil on art board.


Call it an innate distrust of the crowd/mob/herd instinct, a remnant of childish disobedience, or simply sheer, stubborn, contrary cussedness, but whenever I see excessive ooh ahhh luuurve about a particular author I react by avoiding that writer.

And so it was with Janet Evanovich.

Until I came recently across a used copy of an Alexandra Barnaby adventure, Metro Girl.

What a hoot! What a deliberate, delicious use of improbable coincidence in both plot and character! What an absence of angsty monologue! What fun!... !! and !!!

I must say though, that secondary characters and aids to action, Rosa Louisa Francesca Florez, who rolls and smokes cigars, and an old school friend Jude (Judey) -- the most perfectly priceless, insouciant gay guy I've ever read -- nearly upstage the heroine and her NASCAR accomplice.

In a sense, the story is an urban fantasy sans anything paranormal and what anchors it is Evaovich's choice of realism.

First is the setting. Though I've never been there and must rely largely on photos and CSI, the Miami of the story -- its slips, beaches and clubs -- reads real. Am not really sure how to classify the other thing, but when cars or boats, driving or diving appear, however casually, one has an impression, an assurance, she knows what she's writing about. This sense of authenticity didn't cause me to suspend disbelief exactly but it did allow me to thoroughly enjoy the comedy of wacky characters and the total impossibility of the plot.

And so I wonder if this is a key technique in all successful stories. We need a few specific anchors to the real in all fantasies and adventures; and, conversely, we like a touch of fantasy in the most gritty and grimly realistic tale.
Oh, and Book Roast has editors and agents on the grill this week.


39 comments:

December/Stacia said...

If you've ever read any of the Dexter books, Jeff Lindsay has Miami down pat in them. They're really fun books for a number of reasons, but for someone who lived in Miami for 12 years it's extra fun.

BernardL said...

Janet Evanovitch makes me laugh out loud while reading her books, and when you can infuse humor with such skill, that's talent. You described her new adventure realm very well, Bernita.

StarvingWriteNow said...

Janet Evanovich is great. I've read her Stephanie Plum series and I laughed so hard, so many times! I think my favorite was that scene in Hard Eight when she's getting chased by Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon and the EAster Bunny and her mother mows them down... I nearly peed my pants.

Robyn said...

I think I've subconciously avoided her because of the excessive squeeing. I should check her out.

Bernita said...

Thank you, December. Haven't gotten to him yet.

And she certainly has lots of talent, Bernard. Had me laughing out loud too.

Beth, then I'd also recommend the Barnaby adventures too - with Depends.

Like me, Robyn.
The squee put me off.
But what's not to love about a book that begins with Alexandra (Girl Mechanic) saying:"Just because I know how to change a guy's oil doesn't mean I want to spend the rest of my life on my back staring up at his undercarriage."

laughingwolf said...

i'm with you, bernita... i was a huge ian fleming fan, years before jfk pronounced his love of 007... then i quit reading him :(

thx for the book tip

i forgot about the roast, now will have a go! ;) lol

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I've heard good things, too. Looks like I've got more books to stack up on the bedside table now. : )

Rick said...

Realism in details is particularly crucial to fantasy. For example - to mount up on one of my favorite hobbyhorses - the earthiness of the Shire anchors all of Middle-Earth.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think I've avoided Evonovich for much the same reasons. So far I've not stumbled into her stuff. But this will make me take another look.

Bernita said...

It's a great Roast week line-up, Lw!

Betsy, she does the enfant terrible bit really well.

Bernita said...

Rick, I agree.

Great beach reading, Charles!

James Goodman said...

I love Janet Evanovich. Her wit is only outshown by her pacing.

Gabriele C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gabriele C. said...

Books like that are like chocolate. You know you shouldn't like it so much, but it's soooo yummy. :)

Bernita said...

She skims right along, James.

True, Gabriele, this one was pure dessert.

raine said...

Someone I've been meaning to pick up. Thanks for the nudge, will do so. ;)

And YES on the fantasy/realism crossover. Just the right touch of each makes a huge difference.

Bernita said...

Raine, if her others are like this one, you'll enjoy them.

writtenwyrdd said...

I agree: The trick is selecting the *right* bits of reality, both appropriate and informative, which give the author both authority (so the reader gains even more trust) and interest (so that the reader stays immersed in the story.) Never read Ivanovich. Might pick up a copy of this one, used.

I've just finished a fantastic book and am reading another choice used book find. First is Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, and the other Last Call by Tim Powers. Both are of the reality done appropriately for the story, although both are fantasies. Powers' reads like straight fiction, or close to Neil Gaiman's American Gods or Anansi Boys. Stross' Atrocity Archives is so full of high-tech programming insider stuff it reads as totally feasible. I don't know much of that stuff; but between having the computer geek friends, ex roomie and brother, as well as having had to to headhunting for a computer firm in the long ago past, I know some of the references he makes. It made me enjoy reading the book a lot more when he was establishing the book reality's bona fides. :)

Bernita said...

That's what I was fumbling for, Written. Thank you! A form of authority which generates a necessary degree of trust.

Virginia Lady said...

I had the same aversion to Evanovitch, Bernita, but received a copy of "How I Write" and it includes some excerpts from her writing. I was hooked.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

I also enjoy Janet Evanovich but she's best in small doses.I wait a year or so then read another.
She does quirky characters really well but when others try the same, it always seems to me like a Janet rip-off, unfortunately. Eccentric grandmothers and flamboyant gay characters will never be done as well again.

Bernita said...

She's adept at outrageous complications,Virginia, all done with a perfectly straight face.

Suzanne, know what you mean.Read some blurbs today that struck me that way.

For years, every Regency I read seemed like a Heyer knock-off.

Steve Malley said...

I think the realism/fantasy yardstick is that, no matter what kind of story you're writing, your world *must* hang together.

JE writes a world where places are intimate, bad guys are frightening and families are maddening, loving and fun.

'Realistic', yeah, for certain values of realism. If she were to, say, have a teen mother with a drug problem leave an infant alone in an apartment to starve to death, it would violate the 'rules' of her world as badly as a string of foul language in a Dean Koontz book, or the cast of a James Ellroy novel bursting into song!

My two cents, anyway...

writtenwyrdd said...

I like Steve Malley's point. Each author's world has its areas that aren't realistic, even when it's fiction supposedly showing the 'real' world. Because in any piece of fiction all worlds are at bottom fantasy worlds.

laughingwolf said...

pure bliss in the book roasts, bernita :)

Ello said...

I'm with you. I tend to avoid the big blockbuster writers - unless the story premise is really interesting to me. I haven't been interested in her or Patterson or Sparks etc. But clearly they do something well.

Bernita said...

Quite right, Steve, she's entirerly consistent.
Any murders are off stage and dismissed. And suspense evolves from which wacky methods the MC will use to triumph - because we know she will.
I wouldn't even say the bad guys are all that frightening,not when her first encounter with one hulk involves her kicking him in the nuts as hard as she could - where upon he collapses, throws up and falls face down and she refers to him thereinafter as "Puke Face".

Yes, Written. It's a given that all fiction is a form of fantasy, an alternate reality, a singular POV on the world.

More to come, Lw!

Patterson bores me, Ellen, but Evanovitch did not - though this is the only one of hers I've read. That said, it's light-hearted entertainment with no pretensions to depth.

writtenwyrdd said...

I find it fascinating that so many of us who commented here are leery of anything that is bandwagon-ish, obviously preferring to judge for ourselves. Or perhaps it is a bit of snobbery, where we don't want to be mixed in with the hoi polloi (hope I spelled that right) so that we don't look like mindless sheep or something. Who knows. But it's interesting.

There might be something in it, too, because I really haven't liked much of the mainstream fiction I've read over the years.

spyscribbler said...

Oh, gosh, Bernita, I LOVE Evanovich. The Stephanie Plum series is best from about 5-12, 12 being the best so far, I think.

I listen to them over and over in the car. For years. What I love about Evanovich is her economy. And I just LOVE how she breaks rules SO well. Characters cutting eyes to each other, all sorts of things. It all works. I love it.

spyscribbler said...

PS: I love the Barnaby series. I really hope she picks it up again.

laughingwolf said...

yup... ea, today! :)

Barbara Martin said...

I have never read any of her books, but I will now after your interesting review of her book and the comments of the previous visitors. If Bernard reads 'em then I should.

Jaye Wells said...

I read the first Barnaby book, but I prefer the Plum series. Nothing wrong with Barnaby, but Plum hooked me first.

Bernita said...

Maybe a little bit of all points. Some of us are hard sells, that's for sure, Written.

One thing for me, Natasha, was Alexandra's sheer single-minded disregard of social conventions and/or consequences.Delicious.

Be prepared to hoot 'n holler, Barbara! Also snort 'n chuckle.

Jaye, I intend to try a Plum, but I suspect the reverse might be true in my case. I'll see.

ChrisEldin said...

I've never heard of her, but now my curiosity is piqued. Hopefully I can "clear my book stack" and read new books soon....

Thanks for the shout-out!
:-)

Bernita said...

Chris, your well-developed sense of the ridiculous might well match hers.

Vesper said...

How interesting! I'll check her out.
I like your review of her book but I especially like your conclusion on technique - something to think about...

Bernita said...

Thank you, Vesper.

spyscribbler said...

The first few Plums just aren't as good. At the end of 5, she took off. I'm not sure you can skip the first ones, but they are well worth the wait.

I'm not a big fan of the "Between the Numbers" books.