The other day, at the recommendation of a friend, I decided to read ”Lick” by Kylie Scott. She recommended it to me because she thought I might appreciate a romance novel about a girl getting wasted in Vegas and accidentally finding herself married to the most famous rockstar in the world. She wasn't wrong, as I do occasionally love to read the typical sappy, over the top romance fiction, especially if it makes references to the rock/metal scene. However, this book made me realize that Stephanie Meyer's “Twilight” might not be THAT bad after all, by comparison, and that is something I never thought I'd hear myself say or even think. Since I like ending things on a positive note, I will start by talking about the things I didn't like first and later finish by discussing the things that this book got right.
First and foremost, I don't know what the protagonist looks like. Sure, it is frugally mentioned that she's blonde and is a bit self-conscious about her size because she used to be a chubby kid and be teased about it. Cool, that's fine, but what about her face? Her stature? Anything? How am I supposed to be moved in any way by her moods if in place of her face, in my mind, there's a blank which I cannot transform according to said moods? Sure, some might argue that, since the novel is written in the first person singular style, from the perspective of the protagonist, describing herself is difficult. Yes, it is more difficult, true, but that's where your creativity and talent as a writer usually come in handy. A while ago, when I wrote a story from the perspective of the protagonist, I made her describe herself when she catches a glimpse of her appearance in a large mirror, in a moment when she's nostalgically thinking about her absent father, realizing just how much she took after him and how obvious this resemblance became as she grew up. This did not only give me a chance to describe my protagonist's appearance, but it also opened up a few other issues related to the girl's feelings and thoughts and what made her be the way she was at the present moment in the story. I helps the reader know the protagonist well enough to know where they start from and to follow their progress during the novel, to see how they got from point A to point B, what changed and what not, what caused her to act in a certain way in a certain situation and so on and so forth.
If my example is not good enough, take a look at other authors who are well-established and respected in the industry, who make their characters describe themselves perfectly. Take a look at the first page of the first chapter from Anne Rice's “The Vampire Lestat”:
“I AM the vampire Lestat. I’m immortal. More or less. The light of the sun, the sustained heat of an intense fire—these things might destroy me. But then again, they might not.
I’m six feet tall, which was fairly impressive in the 1780s when I was a young mortal man. It’s not bad now. I have thick blond hair, not quite shoulder length, and rather curly, which appears white under fluorescent light. My eyes are gray, but they absorb the colors blue or violet easily from surfaces around them. And I have a fairly short narrow nose, and a mouth that is well shaped but just a little too big for my face. It can look very mean, or extremely generous, my mouth. It always looks sensual. But emotions and attitudes are always reflected in my entire expression. I have a continuously animated face.
My vampire nature reveals itself in extremely white and highly reflective skin that has to be powdered down for cameras of any kind.
And if I’m starved for blood I look like a perfect horror—skin shrunken, veins like ropes over the contours of my bones. But I don’t let that happen now. And the only consistent indication that I am not human is my fingernails. It’s the same with all vampires. Our fingernails look like glass. And some people notice that when they don’t notice anything else.”
That's a perfect introduction that's not even too fancy in wording or writing style. It is simple and concise, helping us make the acquaintance of the protagonist from the very beginning. Even ”Twilight” offers us a pretty clear image of Bella in the very first few pages and it's only her internal monologue that tells us exactly what she looks like and gives us an idea of what she's like as a person.
I am here complaining about not knowing what the main character looks like, but, in fact, I don't get to ”see” any other character apart from David, the love interest, the perfect Alpha male who happens to be the most amazing rockstar ever, who's incredibly hot no matter what he does, to the point where he no longer seems human. The main's best friend, her other friends, any other people in this novel, we either get a bare minimum description of them or nothing at all. I understand that the author wants me to focus on how god-like David is, but that becomes a quite tiresome very quickly.
Secondly, the main character seems to not have any actual personality or depth to her. In fact, once again, no one in this story seems to have any depth to them, except for, you guessed it, David aka perfection incarnate. We are not privy to any passions, hobbys, favourite pastimes or anything about her personality whatsoever. At this point, in my head, she's this blonde, faceless puppet, whose life is lead according to others, but who is also virginal and prim and proper and for some reason makes Mr. Perfection extremely horny. At this point I can't help but wonder, wouldn't it have been easier to write the story from David's perspective, who would simply talk about his weird affection for this very realistic sex-doll? Would have made more sense, really. How am I supposed to connect to the character, to relate to her in any way, to feel sorry or happy for her?
I completely understand that it is supposed to be this extraordinary romance that makes any average girl who's ever had a crush on a rockstar dream, but you have to make me believe it. I can't stop wondering why in the hell is he even this obsessed with her? From her own minimal description, she's nothing more than average looking. Cool, but then there must be something else he finds ridiculously attractive about her, right? Well, maybe, but we, the readers, are never told what it is, so the relationship really doesn't make sense. All that I could ever find that is equally interesting and stimulating for both of them, as a couple, is the sex. This actually puts a big stain on Mr. Perfection, because as beautiful and charismatic as he may be, his level of intelligence is lacking hard, if he's so madly in love with someone so uninteresting and so unstimulating as this main character. It really hurts my soul to say this, but, again, even ”Twilight”, the book with one of the most ridiculed love stories of all time, still gets it better. There are so many cringey moments between Edward and Bella, but at least you kinda understand why that perfect man is interested in this basic, average girl. Sure, it starts with him wanting to suck her dry and they grow from there, but at least it's something as opposed to NOTHING AT ALL.
Moreover, not only is the protagonist faceless, bland and completely uninteresting, she is also such a pushover, in constant need to be babied by basically every one around her. The typical damsel in distress who needs not only to be ”rescued” all the time, but she also needs to be told what to do, what she needs, what she wants or doesn't want. What the actual hell? If you get in a relationship with someone, are you supposed to become their partner or their babysitter?
Thirdly, now that we got the character issues out of the way, let's focus a bit on syntax, or the way this novel is written. From the very beginning I got the impression that this author is allergic to full phrases. As an example, take this quote: ”My parents preferred a more hands-free method. But Pam was so nice that I hugged her back straight away when she threw her arms around me.” In a perfect world, those two sentences would have been just one single phrase for more than one reason. First and most important, YOU NEVER START A SENTENCE WITH ”BUT”, ”SO” OR ANY OTHER CONJUNCTION. Secondly, in my mind it sounds as if she's speaking like a robot. Sadly, this is only one example of many, many, many identical occurrences throughout this novel.
Fourthly, there are grammar and vocabulary problems. There are countless questionable expressions and formulations that simply leave you, eyebrow raised, wanting to tell the author ”sweety, I don't think that means what you think it means.” However, nothing annoys me more than encountering the following: ”Jimmy and me were the ones that had to put up with her shit.” Why is it so hard to understand that, in this kind of case you have to use the first person pronoun when referring to yourself. It infuriates me especially because it is so easy to verify if your phrasing is correct or not: just take away the other person and you get ”me was the one that had to put up with her shit.” Does that sound correct to you? I hope not. Again, this is something I have encountered multiple times throughout the book and it made me cringe worse and worse every time. I am being particularly harsh about these things because this sort of bullshit has to go through more than one person's hands before it gets published, so it's completely baffling to me how this kind of crap still gets the ”OK” to go forth and get published.
Now that I've let out the steam, let's talk about the only two things I actually enjoyed about this book: the sex and David's character. The only problem I have with the sex in this novel is that Ev, the protagonist, and David spend about three consecutive chapters constantly having sex, so it can get to that point where, as a reader, you kinda want to advance with the plot a little too. Otherwise, the sex is pretty much everything you might have imagined sex with a rockstar would be like. It's believable, even if not realistic in the slightest, and genuinely entertaining to read. This makes me wonder if the only reason for this novel's existence in the first place was to just have those awesome sex scenes, but then the author didn't really know what else to do with them, so she loosely threw a half-assed plot and a handful of faceless, bland characters around them, just so she can get the erotic stuff published.
The other thing I enjoyed, David, was the only relatable character in this novel. He's given dimension, a strong personality, a back story, a reason for being the way he is. He's a character that you can root for, a character you want to read more about. It almost feels like he is the main character of the book and not Ev, which is a bit sad, because she is narrating her life, so David is basically the main character of her life. This is exactly why I wanted so badly to get more about the protagonist. I wanted her to be someone who can be a good match for him and that someone can't ever be a person who sees another as the main character of her own life.
Finally, I believe that this novel makes a very, VERY light read for those moments when you really can't be bothered to think, but you kinda want to read something. I can't say it bears any literary value at all, but it's fun to throw a glance at it, even if only for the sake of the teenage girl inside you who used to dream of getting married to her favourite rock idol. It is disappointing to me, seeing how low the standards have fallen for what gets published and what not. It feels like anyone can write a book these days when, in fact, it's not quite like that. You do need at least a bit of literary prowess in order to create a story that will both sell and make for a good read, without making the readers feel like the author thought we're all a bunch of idiots.