Emily Schultz (Doubleday Canada 2012, hardcover) 386 pages, $29.95 cover price
All you young writers with your gleaming white laptops and over-priced gourmet coffee rushing across the quad to your MFA Creative writing seminar – drop your blue jean molded bums down on the lawn, right here right now, and pay attention to what I'm going to tell you.
In choosing to write a novel n(and I do question your sanity) the crucial question is one that is generally over-looked by the audience which is much more interested in, 'How realistic was the sex scene?'; along with, 'Will reading this help me to have more sex?' The answers to the above of course are: No more so than usual, and get a life.
Emily Schultz presents a case study in what separates the very good from the great as writers go. Oh she has a devilishly accurate eye and ear for the foibles found in the panoply of life. For example, this skewering:
“Beautiful women,” I said, “are full of anger over their privilege. They use deceit as a kind of trade. They receive more attention than other women, and want to be the centre of attention at all times. It's an addiction. And like all addicts, they're controlling and abusive, full of insecurity and rage.”
The hell they are. Over the course of, in Elia Kazan's wonderful phrase, a long and frequently lively life, it has been my poetic pleasure to have been the friend and on sonnet-worthy occasion the lover of more than a dozen women who would make Vogue's Anna Wintour weep for their absence from her magazine covers. There is not a one I've discovered over the course of this pleasant anthropological study who thought that way. Centre of attention? Certainly? Addictive and controlling? Possibly. Insecurity and rage? Hah!
No, no and no again; beautiful women exist in a warm snow bubble of serenity, above and beyond the storm. In that way they are exactly like brilliant people I have known in the arts of whatever sex they were born into. As Bogart would say, 'You're good. Oh you're damn good.', and they know it. They won the cultural and genetic battle that the rest of us lost and they move about the Earth with the serene complacency of Ming Dynasty Empresses. Beauty implies and implants a security which leaves the rest of us to pound pillows and weep the tears of insecurity.
And that, my darlings, is a problem when you choose an insecure character to be the first-person narrator of your novel. Your keen perception is seen through the finger-smudged glasses worn by your protagonist. Problem? You bet your ass it is.
It is true that my beloved Mrs. Parker – Dorothy Parker in case you didn't know – made similar sorts of observations as the above, although hers were much wittier and definitely feminist. However, when Parker wrote about women as forgotten playthings (see: Big Blonde), she looked at the situation from the point of view of the all-knowing third person. Would that Emily Schultz have done the same.
You see, 386 pages is a long time to spend with a person and if you're going to cash in that time, she had better be worth it. In describing a world infected by a sort of plague where blonde women (both naturally so and improbably the Clairoled) be, come murderous super-zombies, the red-haired and insecure Hazel Hayes is, well, kind of a bore. Hazel has a pregnancy which she regrets, which is the product of an affair which she regrets, living in a world which has no love for red-heads, which she regrets, and is … oh hell, I need a drink.
There is a mirthful social satire buried within The Blondes. Unfortunately, Schultz picked a voice to tell it that is more Zeppo Marx than Groucho; or perhaps more to the point, it is Duck Soup told from Margaret Dumont's perspective. Pity. Pity and, Be seeing you.