I’ve read a lot.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do the New York Times crossword puzzle (hell, the only crossword puzzle I can complete is the one in People), and I’m not one of those pretentious assholes at cocktail parties who will ask, “So, what have you been reading lately?” and when you answer, give you a smug look because whatever you’re reading isn’t as nearly as scholarly as what they are. I don’t read as much as I should, especially given that I work in a library, but I usually always have a book on CD checked out that I listen to during my commute. My latest audiobook was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This is an audiobook that I’ve waited a long time for, since I had been slowly making my way through the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson.
Every once in awhile, a book will have such a great excerpt that I have the urge to stop my car, pull over, and copy it down.
Usually I’ll post a line or so to Facebook or Twitter, but this bit deserves it’s own post. I love writers who can set a scene that is so familiar, create a character who is so likeable — someone you see parts of yourself in, someone who talks like you do, or someone who you’d want to get to know in real life. I won’t give anything away, since I’ve now finished the book, but take a look at this excerpt — part of the character Amy Elliot’s diary entry:
Carmen, a newish friend—semi-friend, barely friend, the kind of friend you can’t cancel on—has talked me into going out to Brooklyn, to one of her writers’ parties. Now, I like a writer party, I like writers, I am the child of writers, I am a writer. I still love scribbling that word—WRITER—anytime a form, questionnaire, document asks for my occupation. Fine, I write personality quizzes, I don’t write about the Great Issues of the Day, but I think it’s fair to say I am a writer. I’m using this journal to get better: to hone my skills, to collect details and observations. To show don’t tell and all that other writery crap. (Adopted-orphan smile, I mean, that’s not bad, come on.) But really, I do think my quizzes alone qualify me on at least an honorary basis. Right?
At a party you ﬁnd yourself surrounded by genuine talented writers, employed at high-proﬁle, respected newspapers and magazines.
You merely write quizzes for women’s rags. When someone asks what you do for a living, you:
a) Get embarrassed and say, “I’m just a quiz writer, it’s silly stuff!”
b) Go on the offense: “I’m a writer now, but I’m considering something more challenging and worthwhile—why, what do you do?”
c) Take pride in your accomplishments: “I write personality quizzes using the knowledge gleaned from my master’s degree in psychology—oh, and fun fact: I am the inspiration for a beloved children’s-book series, I’m sure you know it, Amazing Amy? Yeah, so suck it, snobdouche!
Answer: C, totally C
Anyway, the party is being thrown by one of Carmen’s good friends who writes about movies for a movie magazine, and is very funny, according to Carmen. I worry for a second that she wants to set us up: I am not interested in being set up. I need to be ambushed, caught unawares, like some sort of feral love- jackal. I’m too self-conscious otherwise. I feel myself trying to be charming, and then I realize I’m obviously trying to be charming, and then I try to be even more charming to make up for the fake charm, and then I’ve basically turned into Liza Minnelli: I’m dancing in tights and sequins, begging you to love me. There’s a bowler and jazz hands and lots of teeth.
But no, I realize, as Carmen gushes on about her friend: She likes him. Good.
We climb three ﬂights of warped stairs and walk into a whoosh of body heat and writerness: many black-framed glasses and mops of hair; faux western shirts and heathery turtlenecks; black wool pea-coats ﬂopped all across the couch, puddling to the ﬂoor; a German poster for The Getaway (Ihre Chance war gleich Null!) covering one paint-cracked wall. Franz Ferdinand on the stereo: “Take Me Out.”
A clump of guys hovers near a card table where all the alcohol is set up, tipping more booze into their cups after every few sips, all too aware of how little is left to go around. I nudge in, aiming my plastic cup in the center like a busker, get a clatter of ice cubes and a splash of vodka from a sweet-faced guy wearing a Space Invaders T-shirt.
A lethal-looking bottle of green-apple liqueur, the host’s ironic purchase, will soon be our fate unless someone makes a booze run, and that seems unlikely, as everyone clearly believes they made the run last time. It is a January party, deﬁnitely, everyone still glutted and sugar-pissed from the holidays, lazy and irritated simultaneously. A party where people drink too much and pick cleverly worded ﬁghts, blowing cigarette smoke out an open window even after the host asks them to go outside. We’ve already talked to one another at a thousand holiday parties, we have nothing left to say, we are collectively bored, but we don’t want to go back into the January cold; our bones still ache from the subway steps.
I have lost Carmen to her host-beau—they are having an intense discussion in a corner of the kitchen, the two of them hunching their shoulders, their faces toward each other, the shape of a heart. Good. I think about eating to give myself something to do besides standing in the center of the room, smiling like the new kid in the lunchroom. But almost everything is gone. Some potato-chip shards sit in the bottom of a giant Tupperware bowl. A supermarket deli tray full of hoary carrots and gnarled celery and a semeny dip sits untouched on a coffee table, cigarettes littered throughout like bonus vegetable sticks. I am doing my thing, my impulse thing: What if I leap from the theater balcony right now? What if I tongue the homeless man across from me on the subway? What if I sit down on the ﬂoor of this party by myself and eat everything on that deli tray, including the cigarettes?
“Please don’t eat anything in that area,” he says. It is him (bum bum BUMMM!), but I don’t yet know it’s him (bum-bum-bummm). I know it’s a guy who will talk to me, he wears his cockiness like an ironic T-shirt, but it ﬁts him better. He is the kind of guy who carries himself like he gets laid a lot, a guy who likes women, a guy who would actually fuck me properly. I would like to be fucked properly! My dating life seems to rotate around three types of men: preppy Ivy Leaguers who believe they’re characters in a Fitzgerald novel; slick Wall Streeters with money signs in their eyes, their ears, their mouths; and sensitive smart-boys who are so self-aware that everything feels like a joke. The Fitzgerald fellows tend to be ineffectively porny in bed, a lot of noise and acrobatics to very little end. The ﬁnance guys turn rageful and ﬂaccid. The smart-boys fuck like they’re composing a piece of math rock: This hand strums around here, and then this ﬁnger offers a nice bass rhythm. . . . I sound quite slutty, don’t I? Pause while I count how many . . . eleven. Not bad. I’ve always thought twelve was a solid, reasonable number to end at.
Like Amy? Relate to her? I certainly do. Now go and read this book and report back what you think once you’ve completed the whole thing!