Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Curse of the Vacation Book

There's nothing worse than going on vacation and finding yourself stuck with a train wreck of a book. Last year, I read Citizen Girl on the sunny shores of Florida. This year, in wintry Pittsburgh, it was Gay Blades by Ben Tyler.

My sister told me I had no right to bitch, reading something titled that, about ice skaters. And naturally, I didn't exactly expect Shakespeare. I was at least hoping for something like Candace Bushnell or Jennifer Weiner, something light but smart and funny. But no. I know it sounds like a petty place to start, but I noticed at least two spelling mistakes in the book. "Scheherazade" wasn't even close. Also, it's masturbatory, not "mastebetory." I wondered who the copy editor was and what the manuscript was like as submitted. I'm also pretty sure that "self-mastebetory" is a grammar mistake as well, or at least a redundancy.

I picked up the book not only because it looked like it had real potential to be smart and funny, but because I've always loved ice skating. I went to see the Campbell's Champions on Ice tour three times in high school. I saw Oksana Baiul when she was fresh off her upset World Championship, and then again after her stunning performance at Lillehammer relegated the whole Kerrigan-Harding drama to nothing but backstory. In fact, I saw everyone who won a medal at those Olympics. I understand why people make fun of it, but I do genuinely like it and was interested in a backstage perspective.

The story begins with protagonist Garry getting kicked out of the American Skating Society (or A.S.S. -- why use a sledgehammer when you can use a wrecking ball?) for being too gay in his on-air comments. He's been dumped by his boyfriend the same week, and winds up in a third-rate show along with a man named Jay who freaked out in-air during a competition and landed on Peggy Fleming and the commentators during a quad jump (not possible, but whatever). Garry and Jay become instant best friends. Fictional bronze medalist Amber Nyak becomes a third member of their trio as they trek across the country playing in podunk ice rinks.

Then, Jay and Garry meet Tag. Tag is an Eve Harrington figure, who's hot and sexy and sweet and worshipful and one hell of a skater. He charms Garry and Jay into helping him get a job in the show, then stabs them in the back. His function in the book, however, is not merely as a plot device. Remember, I said he was hot and sexy? He also has sex. Lots and lots of graphic, unappetizing-sounding sex. Who knew there were so many different words for semen? Do gay men really get turned on by phrases like "punished his ass?" I don't know. I skipped through all of them after the first two. It wasn't that I found them offensive, just deeply unappealing and too intimate, like watching someone have a colonoscopy.

The writing in the book was appallingly bad. In the beginning of the book, there's a three-way sex scene that was so muddled I couldn't even tell who was with who at any given moment. The dialogue is wooden. Tag's duplicity is stunningly obvious, which makes the obliviousness of Jay, Garry and Amber all the more baffling. He had plenty of lines like, "I'll see that has-been fry in hell, and before long he'll be kissing my skate blades. Wow, what am I saying about my bestest friend and my idol? I meant, I wish him all the success in the world!" Despite that, Tag's character is the most delectable in the book. Yet, after he gets his comeuppance, in a hilarious scene where every one of his skeletons is aired and his own mother calls him an asshole, all he does is laugh and skate away.

I guess the book is supposed to be a fantasy. With the exception of the A.S.S. stiffs from the beginning of the book, there are no straight male characters in the book. All the skaters, the show owner, the network execs, everyone is gay. Most of them are attractive, too. I'm not sure what Amber's function in the book is. To me, she mostly confuses things. Maybe the book hits its mark with gay men, or with a certain type of gay man. Even so, I can't imagine this as anything but a beach book, and even at that, the writing was just so bad that it was distratcting to me.

During the trip to the library when I got this book, an older man and woman flagged down my car at a stoplight. There was a bus stop at the corner. They told me that there was a girl inside who didn't have any shoes and had been waiting for an hour. She looked to be about 17, and from a foreign country. They asked if I would help her get home, and I did. It turned out she did have shoes, but they were open-toed canvas summer shoes, and on that particular day it was below freezing. I drove her a few miles to her home. You'd think that might've translated into some good karma once I got inside the library, but virtually all the books from this current haul have sucked. Better luck next time, I guess.

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