Friday, February 4, 2011

Man, Men Just Can't Write (chic lit)

After some delay, here's the third of those P&P books that I mentioned were on the agenda - Pemberley Ranch, by Jack Caldwell.  Jack, you say? Would that be Jack as in John, an undoubtedly male appellation? That's what I said too, which is why I was initially not really interested in this book.  It's a retelling of P&P, which I never object to, in the Old West, which is a familiar and well-enough beloved setting, but I approach all male-authored books with a deep sense of caution, if not one of suspicion (and with good reason, as there are at least two previous examples on this blog of men writing books the way men do... and that means not in a way I enjoy.  Anyway, I didn't really pay attention to the review on Austenprose, but then Sarah Sp. emailed me a link, and since she seemed interesting and the library had it, I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Laurel Ann on Austenprose had mentioned that this book is only *very* loosely based on P&P... I'd say it's loose to the point that P&P is more of an inspiration than a basis.  The characters have similar names... Beth Bennet, Will Darcy... and some of the same relationships (though not all... Colonel Fitzwilliam is Darcy's employee, not his cousin).  Their personalities... some follow as closely as is reasonable, while with others no attempt is even made.  As for the plot... well there was hate-at-first-sight , two proposals, and Darcy saves the day... but I have to say, that was about it.  My point is, this was *not* P&P... but who cares? It's not like it would have been P&P done right anyway.  The front cover had a quote saying it was P&P crosses Gone With the Wind... it does take place in the aftermath of the civil war, but I'm not sure how much they have in common other than that.  It was closer to Harvey Girls than to either of those two, I'd say, or to the Virginian.  It feels wrong to compare those classics in any way with this book, but hey, if it's P&P crosses anything...

So let me evaluate this book without reference to P&P, or GWtW, or whatever else... yes, it was stupid.  It's published by Sourcebooks, which seems to be the premier source for Austen paraliterature of all varieties of fluffiness and junk.  Huvi pointed out a few rather infelicitous phrases, but nothing I hadn't seen before... non-sequiters, overly dramatic flights of fancy... but I found it rather easy to ignore.  The truth is, I think I knew right away this book was going to be stupid, so I didn't bother investing.  It moved pretty slowly, but actually picked up speed whenever it veered from P&P, maybe because I didn't actually know the story already :) And the western drama was... western drama.  Guns, cowboys, and lots of blustery speech.  So... well, so male.

In the end of the day, that's what amused me most about this book.  How utterly male it was.  First of all, the women are totally less sympathetic than usual, more sappy and idiotic.  And the men are strong, wise and brave.  Oh and the guns.  A lot of threats and a fair smattering of violence too.  And then there's the male perspective of romance... really it almost takes all the fun out of it.  Just so much less subtle.  But you know, almost funny in a way, at least in this book.  When I first read the author blurb, I'm like who is this guy? What kind of guy writes a Jane Austen inspired novel? But after reading, my conclusion is that whatever inspiration Ms. Austen offered Jack Caldwell, it's not exactly what she intended or what we would necessarily expect.  And I guess it worked for him, because he certainly had fun with his fairly unrealistic but very faithful-to-form cowboy romp (is that word too sissy? sorry 'bout that, I reckon :)) It sure was funny to see Darcy in jeans and hear the uncouth syllables of Texas emanating from that silver-spooned filled mouth.

So yeah this book was dumb, don't get me wrong.  But I don't actually care, since I never thought it was going to be decent.  And I was of course, proud to be right was again... men just can't write books I want to read (except English comic writers, of course :))

Verdict: 2/5

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