September 15, 2009


From Daily Finance: Dan Brown's 'Lost Symbol' reveals his greatest secret

Okay, I'm going to go ahead and have a snotty writer's/thinker's conniption, here. If such things bore/offend you, you may wish to look away, now.
If the past few years are any indication, Dan Brown has mastered the art of giving the American public what they want. The DaVinci [sic] Code, his breakout novel, has sold 40 million copies worldwide.
Yes, WORLDWIDE sales are always a sterling indicator of what the AMERICAN PUBLIC want. You get an A-fucking-plus on that one.
The Lost Symbol, Brown's latest outing into the world of Langdon, is already a bestseller, despite the apparent handicap of not having been released yet. For the last two weeks, it has been number one on Amazon, merely based on advance orders, and it is already on the British best-seller's list.
"BEST-SELLER'S list"?! SERIOUSLY?!? You're going to write an article that is ostensibly lit crit and get a POSSESSIVE FUCKING APOSTROPHE in the wrong place? I think you'll find that best-sellers don't have lists themselves, but rather appear on BEST-SELLERS LISTS. Get it?
Brown's books don't feel like empty calories. With a heady dose of religious history and symbology, he assumes -- correctly, as it turns out -- that his readers are interested in learning a few new things. While he applies a thick lather of poetic license to his tales, his eye for fun details and exciting historical anecdotes gives his stories a patina of intellectual respectability.
I'm sorry, a patina of WHAT? Are we really going to use the words "intellectual" and "Dan Brown" in the same sentence? Look, I understand, he writes popular books — I can get behind that. People enjoy reading him. Great. Bully. Keeps the publishing industry afloat. But INTELLECTUAL? Just because he went to a fucking library a few times doesn't make his book intellectual — in the same way that writing a few words on the internet doesn't make you a FUCKING WRITER.
Beyond that, Brown's stories are plotted exceedingly well, with twists and turns that, if not plausible, at least are sufficiently explained.
There you go, fellow MFAs: forget all about whatever Pam Painter told you. Your plots don't need to be PLAUSIBLE, they just need to be "sufficiently explained", whatever the fuck that means. Also, it's been a while since I've read Da Vinci, but I'm pretty sure there were a couple of plot twists in there that slipped by without much explanation — like, if this mysterious code is so opaque and impossible to crack, how come one balding academic twit and some one-dimensional French police hussy can crack the whole fucking thing in approximately twenty-four hours?

Oh, but wait, maybe I'm not qualified to talk about what good plot is:
Plot has, over the last few decades, become something of a lost art, with navel-gazing "literary" novels squaring off against mechanical mysteries, romances and adventures that often feel like they were churned out by one of Orwell's book-writing machines. In this context, Brown's books sometimes feel like a perfectly prepared fillet mignon slapped down in the middle of the unappetizing buffet of contemporary fiction.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! Oh, I'm sorry that all the "literary" drivel being churned out by contemporary writers is too plotless to keep you interested — perhaps Jonathan Franzen should have inserted a chase scene through the Louvre into The Corrections to better hold your attention. And "unappetizing buffet of contemporary fiction"? Somebody better tell FUCKING OPRAH, so she can stop recommending navel-gazing bullshit to the reading public. LOOK UNDER YOUR SEATS! IT'S YOUR OWN COPY OF ANGELS AND FUCKING DEMONS!
Brown's ultimate flattery lies in the organization of his stories: the Langdon books are structured to allow the reader to discover things a moment ahead of the genius protagonist. Having spent hundreds of pages establishing Langdon's bona fides, Brown's decision to let the reader constantly one-up the professor makes each of the books an ongoing exercise in self-congratulations.
Oh, so the fact that every single puzzle in Da Vinci is embarrassingly obvious is INTENTIONAL! What GENIUS! Give this man the Booker Prize!
To put it bluntly, by the time Brown's readers finish a Langdon book, they feel smart.
That's odd, because when I finish a Langdon book I feel like FORREST FUCKING GUMP.

I suppose this is what I get for reading a website called "Daily Finance" and expecting an intelligent discussion of the state of contemporary fiction.


pete said...

Ed Champion ranted about this on his Twitter feed (@drmabuse). A composite quote:

"Why are all the reviewers wussing out on Dan Brown? If he's such dreck, then say so. Also, why are journalists attending swanky Dan Brown junkets before they've finished reading the book? (Part of the problem?)"

He provides a link to a BookFox article on the same topic. Daily Finance seems the least egregious offender: sites and publications that ought to know better (the NYT, LA Times) give Dan Brown a pass because, "Fuck, he sells books. They're not any good, but who cares?"

Dye! said...

Some best sellers have lists. The Bible, the smash publishing hit of the 15th century, has a short but well-known list of do's and dont's, as well as a rather long list of begats.

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