Thursday, May 17, 2012

Something Borrowed

After reading only a few pages of Something Borrowed, my disgust knew no bounds: this book embodies so many of the tired tropes of chick lit that I wondered how Emily Giffin hadn't been arrested for copyright infringement. Then I glanced at the copyright page and realized that Giffin hadn't ripped off those tired tropes; this book was published in 2004, and so she's actually responsible for some of them. This makes me detest this book even more, if possible, and in order to demonstrate why, I'm just going to go ahead and Godwin myself.

Who's worse, Hitler or a neo-Nazi? Yes, it's kind of pathetic to be a neo-Nazi, spouting philosophies that the world went to so much trouble to prove wrong. But Hitler was the originator. It's bad, in short, to lamely write yet another book about an average-looking, slightly overweight*, supposedly brainy "good girl" heroine with a snarky, narcissistic, thin and gorgeous best friend. It's even lamer to be the person who first thought it was a good idea.

This book hits that particular nail on the head, then beats it, whacks it, stomps on it, stretches it on the rack, and shoves its head underwater repeatedly. If Giffin were the Spanish Inquisition, even the strongest-willed reader would be begging to convert to Catholicism fifty pages in; as it is, I was willing to swear on a whole stack of Bibles that pretty, shallow girls are the greatest force of evil in the galaxy if only one original thought could appear on those pages to comfort me a little for having read through the whole thing.

As you may have guessed, it did not. And this book is also written in the present tense. Why? Christ, why? Chick lit authoresses, you are not James Joyce. You do not need to depart from thousands of years of narrative convention, nor do you do it well.

Back to Something Borrowed, and there are spoilers ahead -- simply because there is no such thing as a spoiler for a book like this. The book starts with our heroine, Rachel, turning thirty and lamenting the fact that she is alooooone, with a job she haaaates, and her best friend Darcy is about to marry a handsome, smart, wonderful man, when Darcy's always had everything she always wanted, and it's not faaaaaair, and . . . honestly, who gives a rat's whiny navel-gazing ass? Rachel's a pretty, youngish, well-educated lawyer with a nice apartment in Manhattan, plenty of money, and several really good friends.

Her one big problem is that when her law-school buddy Dexter (I feel like a tool just typing that name) hit on her a few years before the book starts, she turned him down because she didn't feel like she was in his league. Please take note of this. This is important, and not only because it's a really, really stupid thing to write a novel about. She turned him down because she had low self-esteem. And without even trying again, he turned right around and immediately started dating Darcy. This is supposed to demonstrate his strength of character, dedication to true lurv, and preference for inner beauty over a great body, right? Because that's what the author tells us, over and over, this character is really like. No? No conflict there, Ms. Giffin? Okay.

Flash forward to the thirtieth birthday party, seven years later. Dexter (urgh) stays late with the birthday girl, after having put drunken Darcy in a cab home a couple of hours before. (Darcy drinks lots of cocktails, wears cute clothes, and dances on the bar! She's bad! Bad and mean! Die, Darcy, die!) They have a few more drinks, stare into each other's eyes, and confess a mutual love for Bruce Springsteen, thus proving that they are spiritually One, realize that Darcy doesn't like the Boss (Omigod! Like, she is so not right for her fiance!), and have sex.

Now, at this point I was just thinking, wow, Dexter's (ugh) kind of a prick. But oh, you have no idea. Having a one night stand with his fiancee's best friend? Lame. Calling her the next day and then going and sleeping with her again, and then continuing all summer, while he's still keeping his engagement? Lamer still. Continuing to have really, really hot sex with his fiancee while going over and banging the heroine's brains out every other night, all summer, while the heroine is well aware that he's doing both? Priceless.

While Dexter (what up, bra?) is happily having his cake and eating it too**, Rachel is -- what, you say? Telling him, "I'm sorry, I have a modicum of self-respect, so get the hell out of my apartment, since you're stringing one of us along, either me or my best friend from childhood"? No. She's sitting around pining and hoping that he chooses her. Let's go back to that self-esteem thing for a minute, shall we? Because I know what you're thinking; it's what I was thinking during the first half of this book. She had such low self-esteem that she turned him down. Okay, so now she'll learn her lesson and tell him to get lost, right? We'll all feel proud of her character development. No. She kind of gives him an ultimatum at one point, but then folds like a house of self-hating, self-pitying cards as soon as she gets the chance. The final message of the book is that she learned self-esteem because this spineless sleazy douchebag chose her over her hotter friend. Let that one sink in for a minute.

Now that it has: I'll state for the record that I have no objection to multiple sexual affairs at once, just as long as everyone's happy with the arrangement.*** But telling one woman you love her, asking her to marry you, then screwing her best friend, telling her you love her, then screwing both while telling both that you love them, lying to one and leading on the other . . . that's just vile. And Rachel puts up with this. For months. And then we, as the readers, are supposed to not only believe but cheer for the fact that the immense compliment, the tremendous honor, of this overly entitled cad's choosing to screw only her is what gave Rachel a feeling of real value and worth.

The really sad thing is, one of the quotes on the book cover calls it "uplifting." It's uplifting in the same way that Sex and the City is empowering. Perhaps that will seem like a statement devoid of irony to some, so let me be clear: this book's message is about as deep, positive, and inspiring as a poster advising teenage girls to put out if they want to keep their pimply high school boyfriends.

Aside from the present tense issue, Something Borrowed isn't badly written. I'm deducting an extra star for the way the author lazily presents her characters as intelligent by having them graduate from law school without ever convincing anyone they're not riding the short bus to their prestigious jobs every day. One and a half stars overall, two within the genre.

* But only by the fashion industry's unrealistic and self-esteem-destroying standards. She's still hot enough for the chiseled hero, we promise, because God forbid an actually unattractive girl get a dude with a six-pack! She may wear clothes from the Gap, but gosh darn it, people like her!

** This is a euphemism.

*** Consenting adults and all that. Although I will add that this type of arrangement, happy or not at first, frequently ends in four-letter words scrawled on the hood of someone's car.

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