Book: She and I: A Fugue
Author: Michael R. Brown
Type of Book: Fiction, experimental fiction, memoir
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: The author and I “know” one another from butting heads in some blogging communities before I lost my will to argue online. We find the other extremely questionable in our approaches in political and social realms (he is an Objectivist Libertarian and I am a Bleeding Heart Liberal, each of us married to our own belief systems in a way that beggars belief to the other). I first encountered the author in a community devoted to stupid behavior online. Two years later, I forget how I did it, but I discovered his full name and the name of his book and to reward me for not being as much of an idiot as he initially judged me, he sent me a copy of the book. So that was a bit odd. Then the book itself proved to be an odd experience, to be sure.
Availability: Published in Petrarcha Press in 2009, you can get a copy here:
Comments: I debated on how to handle this book in my review. I was tempted to go with snark but I can’t. I may not pull any punches but I plan to be as honest and candid as I can while I explain why this book is one of the worst books I have ever read. In a way, being snarky and comedic might be stomached easier because they are easier to dismiss. “Oh, a liberal clown didn’t like my book, lol.” I also tell myself that there is nothing unkind in complete honesty.
So since I am being honest, I need to say outright that this is an awful book. It is awful for many reasons and I am going to discuss all those reasons. It may seem like overkill, but when you don’t like the author, it’s too easy to say, “It sucked, take my word for it.” I don’t want you to take my word for it. I want to give you all the evidence that led me to the conclusions I reached. I don’t want anyone to walk away from this far-too-long review and think I dismissed the book because I would rather be buried alive with a full bladder than ever again read Ayn Rand or listen to one of her devotees go on at length.
This is the longest discussion I have written to date and am putting the bulk of it under the jump.
One of the first objections I have to this book is that memoirs need more than the stories Brown discusses here to matter. Here is the synopsis of the book: Brown, who uses a different last name in the book, is born in England, is abandoned by his father, his mother remarries in the US, he goes to military school where he is molested by a classmate, grows up, develops a taste for Randian Objectivism, falls in love, loses his wife to cancer, falls in love and moves in with one of her good friends, develops an attachment to a young woman online, goes to meet her, it is a disaster but he can’t see it, she sleeps with someone else, he breaks it off, the end.
Of course there is more going on with this book than the synopsis allows, and the fact is that Brown has some interesting material. One does not have to have anything new under the sun to write a memoir. The problem here is that the material that is of infinite interest to Brown is not of much interest to the reader. There has to be some universality to the content to allow the reader to care and the material of a person’s life needs to be sifted out in a manner that makes sense. His childhood, the horrific experiences at military school, meeting and having a very touching relationship with an elderly gentleman, meeting, marrying and losing his wife and his subsequent romance with her friend – all topics that have the potential to be very, very interesting and compelling – are crammed into the first 70 or so pages. The online courtship of a teenage girl, meeting her for a few days, then ending the fling a few weeks later take up the remaining 210 pages of the book.
At some point it appears that Brown deleted most of the correspondence he had with Mira, the 18-year-old ballerina whom he woos in 1999, and this is problematic. Though it seems he kept their instant messages, a significant part of the book is nothing but recounting e-mails or instant messages. This may make for interesting reading in a blog wherein the people involved are known quantities to the reader, but it is tiresome and bland in a memoir. There is beauty in the romantic exchange of letters, but the electronic communications in this book do not lend themselves to a sort of Elizabeth Barrett Browning sense of romantic love nor are they particularly compelling reading.
Moreover, and I know this is just my opinion, I assert that there is very little that is interesting in a 35-year-old man’s two months correspondence with a teenager dabbling in the ideas of Ayn Rand, his several day meeting with her and the subsequent dumping three to four weeks later, let alone 210 pages of it. Brown’s wife dying of cancer, by way of comparison, is handled in less than two pages. This is not a good selection of life material for a memoir.
Second, Brown’s writing style is hands-down the most alienating I have ever read. I genuinely have no idea what he was trying to accomplish with this style because even my initial suspicion about his use of truncated sentences and extraordinary overuse of em-dashes was not borne out by the way he used them. I have an odious habit of turning down a page corner when I come across a passage I find meaningful or terrible. I encountered so many terrible passages in Brown’s book that I had to change my method. I had to underline passages with a highlighter. I wore out two highlighters and just gave up around page 255. My husband commented that I needed less a highlighter than a can of spray paint.
The first 50 pages or so use what is more or less proper sentence structure but the sentences and use of language are often so bad I was stunned. For example:
One stifling burning-sun day we’d brewed strong pure lemonade and sold paper cups on the Harristown sidewalk fronting Mrs Castelli’s.
Okay, the “burning-sun” part is all right, I guess. But how does one brew lemonade? And why would they sell paper cups when they evidently had lemonade to sell. These are niggling points, I am aware, but are a foreshadowing of the complete breakdown in writing that is to come.
I crossed the lawn, walked up black steel staircase on side of Farragut Hall – great rambling wood building, once shore hotel now dormitory – waved from landing.
I know there is an experimental element to this book. I am going to say this and I know it is not universal, but there is generally nothing experimental about refusing to use articles. If there was some urgency when Brown does this, a conversational trope to indicate haste or mental skipping, I could see it. But there’s not. Sometimes he uses them but a lot of the time he doesn’t and there is no literary reason to explain it. It is distracting and adds nothing to the narrative or overall function of the book. It makes this book about a love affair seem robotic.
His use of contractions, while technically grammatically correct, also are distracting. These are but a taste of the hundreds of odd contractions in the book:
…an officer’d said my roommate was being held in infirmary…
After I’d absorbed the book, desire’d stirred.
Mother’d stopped with beatings, chokings – father’d used her for sex pleasures from an early age.
Given that Brown could have written in simple past tense and achieved the exact same meaning, these contractions are not only not necessary, but often seem pretentious. They certainly disrupt the flow of his writing. Reread that last example. The power of the statement of his wife’s abuse is made coy, almost like a line from an Andrew Marvell poem, by his use of contraction instead of simply saying, “Her mother stopped with beatings and chokings and her father sexually abused her from an early age.” Add to it that the statement that her mother stopped abusing her combined with the statement that her father sexually abused her makes no sense and the dash rather than a conjunction or semi-colon disrupts the flow, and it begins to be obvious why I consider this to be a bad book.
Then there are just the awkward and sometimes unintentionally hilarious sentences that just destroyed any flow he had going before I had to back up and reread them, wondering what on earth:
Now I stood, waiting for him to answer my touch on his doorbell.
“No,” she said, holding my asking invalid.
I never broke – became known, even slight respect, as a seventh-grader who’d not only not run crying to the Administration, but smile.
The book is full of moments like this, when you think, “He touched what?” “How did she hold his inquisitive sick person?” Of course, on a second or third reading his meaning becomes clear but there is no pay off for making a reader work this hard with such clunky sentences. This is not a Cummings poem. There is no greater revelation when you untangle the words and meaning. It is simply bad writing.
Then we get to Brown’s overuse of em-dashes. Maybe they are hyphens. Maybe plain dashes. I don’t know and I can’t recall ever having seen so many of them in a book. On some pages the words appeared to be moving because of all the dashes and it was a nauseating experience. It became worse once Brown met Mira online. Towards the end of the book, this sloppy form of punctuation/whatever it is became so tiring that I had to bribe myself to finish the book. Ten pages of Brown’s novel, then a few chapters of something else. As a woman who has devoted my life to bizarre books, who devours self-published screeds with little editing, who embraces the horrific at every turn, this is a damning statement. So let me give you a sample of what I mean.
She seemed tallest of the class – her face most enlongated – skin paler, more clear – seemed to put more in her dancing – stretch higher, special grace of fluency in hands and arms.
She passed talking with peer – exchanged quick smiles – felt warm, secret – wondered what people’d think of our night.
I turned – there was Mira walking up – our eyes met – permanent presence between us.
Okay, passages like these, when used judiciously, can mean something. They can imply a rushed intensity. They can show a character whose thoughts are choppy or jumbled. They can mean a lot of different things. Initially, when I saw the word “fugue” in the title and saw a few of these passages, I wondered if Brown was trying to indicate one meaning of the word, a state of mental confusion. But these passages occur throughout the entire book, occurring continually regardless of mental states. They occur during moments of peace, moments of confusion, moments of sadness, moments of elation. This choppy, disjointed manner of writing certainly can’t be indicative of the other meaning of “fugue,” a musical form, because there is nothing musical about endless dashes destroying flow, making anything approaching rhythm of words impossible.
Brown’s refusal to consider the clunkiness of his word choice, his refusal to use articles and his bizarre punctuation choices make this book read like a hastily constructed journal entry, words tossed onto paper in a scrawl that means something to the author but means nothing to the reader.
Third, and this is the hardest condemnation of this book in terms of levying criticism, because I dislike Brown’s politics and much of what I have seen of him online (and I am certain the feeling is reciprocal), but the narrator of this book, Brown himself, is unlikable and few people could relate to him or find him interesting outside of marveling at how dense he is. This is not Brown trying to show what a tool he was because at no point did I sense that Brown understood how unlikeable he is in this book. His lack of awareness is practically a character in its own right. It is hard to enjoy a memoir when you sense the author has no real understanding of what his story reveals about him.
I touch on this in my first criticism but with all the topics given short shrift in this book, one cannot help but wonder about the sort of 35-year-old man who would find an online correspondence with a teenage girl of a couple of month’s duration, followed by a few days spent in her presence, then followed by three or so weeks until a break-up, worth a book. Actually, you have to wonder about a 45-year-old man who thinks this is worthy of a book, because he published this a decade after the events. Brown definitely has a way of processing what happens to him that will make little sense to most readers and in some cases show that he is an unreliable narrator. This is the first time I have ever had the sense that an author writing a memoir was unreliable in remembering his own life yet had no awareness of it.
The first time I sensed that Brown had a skewed outlook on things was when he described his sexual assault and continual molestation at the hands of a stronger student at the military school. Force to fellate the older student, among other things, then told to say nothing of the events on pain of death, this is what Brown concludes:
This was my introduction to sex.
The exploitation, which eventually included anal rape, continued until Brown cracked and lost it and reported the older boy. Though adults were sympathetic, there were reprisals from the students, culminating in students urinating on Brown’s bed. My heart broke reading all of it. Does Brown really think it was an introduction to sex? It was a description of sexual abuse. I wanted to believe that Brown interpreted the assaults against him as a sexual experience to blunt the horror of being so ill-used, and perhaps he did. This is his book, he can craft the story of his life as he pleases. But it is hard for me, the reader, to see this as anything but the first steps in a voyage of misinterpretation as seen through Brown’s eyes.
I sort of want to discuss the passage with Vladimir Horowitz but I can’t because my only real response is that it didn’t happen and while I definitely think Brown’s capacity to understand social situations is flawed, I don’t think he’s a liar. If this passage is true, then it is a perfect example of something I was taught in college writing: just because something is true does not mean it reads with anything approaching reality. Sometimes conveying an event because it really happened is meaningless because it lacks resonance or seems too fantastic.
Further scenes seem contrived even if they are real. Mira bares her teeth at him in moments of high spirits. Her eyelids tremble. Their eyes meet constantly with all kinds of meaning behind it (their eyes meet and their eyes meet and their eyes meet – it verged on purple, all the eye repetition). She glances at him admiringly, he notices. She makes odd declarations. For example, Brown engages in some really questionable behavior in a museum and instead of being appalled or even embarrassed (because believe me, I will explain the lack of sexual chemistry between the two in a bit), she yells, “Passion!” in a public place as Brown manhandles her. She declares at the airport she will dedicate her choreography to him, that he has earned it. Then she begins to shake. Really? Their dialogue and the actions he attributes to people often don’t come close to reading as authentic. Or is it all being filtered by a man who is an unreliable narrator in his own life? I don’t know which it is. But even if the passage I am about to reproduce is indeed a real conversation between a teenager and a grown man, it reads as utterly false. There is an objective truth that Brown wants to tell us but there is a subjective truth that we need to read to believe him and he does not deliver.
We were dropping clothes to floor – I said, “So, boys are trouble, are they?”
“Yes, you most emphatically are.”
“And what did we ever do to you, hmm?”
We stopped, looked at each other.
“That hardly bears repeating, sir.”
“Well, substantiate your case. A familiar phrase. Anything to do with a warm body who shared this comfy bed?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.”
Her face changed. There was conflict. “Well… look, it was Harris.”
It took a moment to register. Her friend – the warm body. I’d thought them separate people.
“We did have sex. It was – not good.”
“Yeah, we weren’t compatible.”
“I’m sorry. What happened?”
“Well, he’s an Objectivist, pretty much. And there’s just a connection problem with those men. I swore after Taylor, never again. I should’ve stuck to it.”
Later, he says:
“Come to bed with me, fae girl,” I said, “and hold me tight.”
Even if this is a word for word representation of real conversation, it is shitty, horrible dialogue in a book. It is questionable whether or not we need most of the dialogue that Brown gives us, but if we do, Brown could have written it in way that honors the truth of the situation while making it real to the ears of most educated adults.
Then we get to the best example that to my eye proves that Brown is unreliable in his storytelling: Mira. Brown discovered Mira after she left a comment in a guestbook on his website on December 9, 1998. He soon finds her blog, falls in love with her mind and has some flirty e-mails and instant message exchanges with her. She wants to meet him, he wants to meet her, he travels from San Francisco to Boston with stars in his eyes. He arrives on February 9, 1999. He is 35. She is either 18 or just turned 19, I can’t recall so I mostly just refer to her as a teenager. She had a boyfriend when she met Brown online but that attachment fizzled a couple of weeks after they started corresponding. The age gap in and of itself is not entirely troubling to me, though it seems odd that Brown felt such a profound connection to someone who was so young, who was still experiencing life. Recall that Brown had experienced the death of his wife and had a long-term live-in relationship with another woman with whom he had decided to experiment in polyamory. He was still living with that woman when he met Mira. He was a college graduate and had experienced life. Mira was in college, studying dance, and had far fewer life experiences under her belt. But age gaps are not uncommon. I don’t condemn him for that.
But the entire time he was in Boston visiting Mira read to me like a simulacrum of hell. I have an advantage over Brown – I have been a 19-year-old girl. I know what it feels like to be trying on new ideas, experimenting sexually, finding my way once I had left my parents’ home. Therefore I suspect I can see more in Mira’s reactions than Brown did, but even so, it is evidence of his profound denseness that Brown did not pick up on the myriad signals Mira was sending him that she did not reciprocate his feelings once they met. She said things that indicate that she perhaps did not mind continuing the long distance romance as long as she could see other people, but she also said many things that indicated that she was unhappy and her body language comes across, even through Brown’s filter, as being decidedly unhappy and at times downright hostile towards Brown. That he does not seem to see this is troubling.
Brown goes over the five days he spends with Mira in such detail that I tire even thinking of it, but it is in this excruciating detail that we see Brown as he really is, a man who is besotted with an intelligent, lovely, talented teenager and does not understand the chasm between his life and hers even as the chasm is revealed to him over and over again.
Mira is in college when he flies to visit her (his plane almost crashes, by the way, an omen if there ever was one), living with a roommate. She still attends her classes when Brown visits and he attends them with her, waiting outside, sometimes watching her dance. In fact, that is how he finally meets her – he shows up at her class when he arrives in Boston. Because he is staying in her apartment, sleeping in her bed and attending classes with her, Mira is never out of his sight. Though Mira agrees to this, reading this made me uncomfortable because it is not unexpected that a teenager might not understand how oppressive such an arrangement might be when she made plans. One expects a 35-year-old-man might.
One of the best examples of how Brown didn’t get that Mira was a young woman with the experiences of a young woman was their desire for the other to see their favorite films. Hers was Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy. His was Ken Russell’s Women in Love. He weeps openly as they watch Women in Love. She replies she will have to think about it, that she doesn’t really understand the characters or their motivations. Brown is put off by her but then rationalizes it all away. There are moments of high pathos, wherein Brown seems desperate that he not lose this young woman with whom he has less than 60 days of direct involvement, as if he will shatter apart if she does not love him desperately, but he doesn’t see that the fact that they have little in common will make a relationship impossible.
But even though Mira agreed to this situation, there are of plenty of other scenes wherein it is clear that Mira is uncomfortable with Brown and he does not seem to notice. He is telling this story. Remember, he is giving these details and as I read the words, these words showed me clearly that this girl was uncomfortable, that her time with Brown was wearing thin for her after the first day, but even as the idea came into his head that she was unhappy, he again rationalized it all away. Let me give you an example of Mira giving him clear signals he chooses to dismiss.
I broke surface, face down in the pillow, reached for Mira. She wasn’t there. I opened my eyes.
She’d already pulled on pants and shirt.
“Good morning, love,” I said. “Good morning,” she said, not meeting my eyes.
I sat up in bed, wrapped forearms around knees, and we talked. She woke up overwhelmed by our intimacy. Part of her wanted to run; she declared she wouldn’t.
Gonna be brutally honest and if you are a man reading this, here is an insight you may find helpful: when a woman wakes from a sound sleep because she says she is overwhelmed by intimacy, what she really means is she is uncomfortable in bed with you. When she says it before she even has had sex with you, it may mean she is afraid of such intimacy with you but it may mean she doesn’t want to have sex with a man she does not like. When she won’t look at you, it means she is uncomfortable with you. When she says she wants to run, it doesn’t mean she is so frightened of the power of loving you that she wants out. It means she doesn’t like you and wants to bolt. When she tells you all of this, she is more or less hoping that you will piece this out for yourself without her having to hit you hard with an enormous clue bat of emotion. I know this is not how it is in all situations. Maybe 1% of the women who deliver these lines mean exactly what they say. Given how all this turned out, clearly Mira was in the other 99%. (And lest you judge Mira for not saying what she meant, again, teenager! Also, women have a hard time breaking things off. We are taught to be kind, nice, solicitous of people’s feelings over our own. It gets easier over time for some of us but not always).
The above scene segues into Mira and Brown spending the day together. He rents a car, and once he is driving, he announces that they are going to the ocean. Then Brown proceeds to have a day with Mira that was exhausting to read about, and must have been even more exhausting to experience. They go to the shore on an overcast, misty day in February, Brown sees a statue that he thinks is a dead ringer for Mira and experiences all kinds of epiphanies of love. Mira, not so much. Here are some descriptions.
Mira staggered on snow-hillock.
If your girl is staggering in the snow on the beach, she is not having a good time.
Wind whistled among western buildings.
I am a Texas girl and know little of the wind on the shore in February but if it is whistling among buildings, it is windy and probably uncomfortably cold.
She yells at him that she loves him and evidently she smiles some, and I wondered if she was maybe having a good time, then I read this:
Wind was pain at my front – grit-cloud blew – in both eyes – slowed pace, turned head until tears washed… Wind roared as if vomited, howling, straight from its heart.
Grit blew in his eyes and the wind sounded like it was vomiting. This is not a good date.
Then he sees Mira as the sun goes down, and she is framed in an orange glow, and he realizes he has been waiting for this moment though he didn’t realize it until it happened. The horrible cold, wind, sand and crunching snow isn’t particularly romantic for most people, but it doesn’t seem like Mira matters as much here as the epiphany Brown was having in the wild weather with her by his side. They have some more dialogue that falls into the even if it is true it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t seem real category (their eyes locked, there was nothing at all but them, and she says, “I felt you, dearest”) and they go to dinner where he moons over her beauty. Then he wants to get a hotel room for the night.
She looked out, then half-turned back, face troubled. “I think I’d like to go home. I want to sleep in my own bed tonight.” Her voice was softer than usual.
“It’s dark out, and cold, and I’m worried we won’t find a good place to stay.”
So your online paramour has come across the country to visit and you don’t want to get a hotel room but would rather make a long drive back home, to your own bed. Perhaps she meant what she said on its face or maybe she wanted to be back on home turf, in a place where she felt more control, because hotels often mean sex and she was not ready for that, not yet, and especially not on a day when she had been taken to a cold, bitter, windswept place without advance warning. On the way home they “play-fought like kittens.” Or maybe she cloaked her intense dismay and irritation behind play fighting. Or maybe they quarreled for real and Brown is too dense to realize it.
The next day he goes to class with her and then takes her to dinner. Brown’s deceased wife had always wanted private tables when eating out but Mira asks to sit at a communal table, effectively ensuring that they would have people around them. Brown initially feels apprehensive but dismisses it, thinking that Mira is simply a new person with new ways and he may be correct but generally, in the early days of dating, women like solitude with their dates. Though when they return home Mira declares she loves him, but again, looking at her words and her actions combined with body language, it is at best a conflicted declaration.
Until we get to the sex. After the sex it is clear where Mira stands. And given how desperate Brown behaves afterward, I think he more or less knew where she stood as well, but I don’t think he admitted it fully either as it happened or as he wrote this book.
The sexual encounter between the two suffers from similar problems Brown has writing the rest of this book – refusal to use articles, splintered ideas, awkward phrases, endless dashes. In a sense, this is the sole place in this book that should have had such thwarted verbiage because this sexual encounter is so tense and miserable, and Brown is so unwilling to understand what it all means, that the only way to tell it is as Brown wrote it.
I also think that despite how despicable much of this book is, Brown is to be commended on his brutal honesty describing this sex scene, and indeed his other sexual failures in the book (in one scene, Brown’s live-in girlfriend falls asleep while having sex with him and it sends him on a door-breaking tantrum). But it is hard to tell if Brown knows how brutally honest he is being. It is hard to tell if he even understands that he failed. In his mind, much of Mira’s lack of sexual feeling can be traced to the Celexa she takes for her depression. In his mind, the fact that they failed sexually means nothing as long as he remains the primary man in her life and she shares any sexual intentions before she commits the acts. He tricks himself something fierce and I simply have no idea if it is because he knows he was a man in an early mid-life crisis doing anything to hold onto a beautiful young woman or if he genuinely thinks his behavior made sense. Regardless, had Brown decided to sexually alienate Mira before his nascent relationship with her had a chance to take form, he could not have succeeded better.
First he tells her that his girlfriend back home had made love to her boyfriend the night before. Mira was shocked, though she smiled. All this openness about his polyamorous relationship may have made sense to him, and Mira had a friendship with Brown’s girlfriend, but this is a tense declaration to make when cuddling with a woman. It almost puts Mira in a place to where she has to maintain parity between the pre-mated pair as the “wife” had sex with another and now the “husband” wants to as well. To not have sex with Brown might have seemed like a slight to him as his partner had already moved into a sexual phase with her new lover and he had not yet made that connection with Mira. Not to say it was a pity fuck or that she felt emotionally manipulated, but the overtones are there.
We get to the act, and here it is that Brown blows it completely, with no awareness at all that his first sexual request is bizarre and unreasonable to make during the first sex act with a new partner:
My mind fused all we’d felt since our beginning – I pulled back, said, “I want us to come together.” Our eyes stayed tight, fearless. “For that to happen,” she said, “I’ll have to be on top.”
It was here that I knew for certain that Brown wrote this with utterly no self-awareness of what he is doing to this young woman or how others may perceive him. Simultaneous orgasm is a tall order on a first sexual encounter. It is too much pressure to put on a first time sex partner because it is almost assuredly not going to happen. Mira is game, though, you have to give her that. In addition to putting far too much pressure on Mira to satisfy a demand that is hard to achieve, Brown observes that her eyes are fearless. Fearless? That fear or its absence is even mentioned in a sex scene gives us a lot of access to Brown’s id. Her eyes should have been fearless when making love. That it is even something that needs to be explained is bizarre and unsettling, or it shows that Brown knows he is asking too much of her and is impressed she is not scared. Either way is bad.
Of course, they don’t come together – Brown orgasms before Mira. And it gets worse. He goes down on her, and nothing. He then sees fit to discuss what he sees as a problem with her.
After two months of perfection we couldn’t be wrong here. “Oh no,” small voices cried within me, “not this.” I breathed against a locked up stomach.
“Has sex been difficult?” I asked.
Yes, sex has been difficult. You see, Mira broke up with her age-appropriate boyfriend after Christmas and less than six weeks later has a 35-year-old in her bed, asking for simultaneous orgasms after following her from class to class and taking her to the beach with its vomiting winds and sand in her eyes, a man who expects sexual perfection after speaking to her online for a couple of months. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.
“Would you like to masturbate together?”
Her right shoulder rose and she said emphatically “No.”
Shock of confusion. I wondered if my going first would be softer entry to pleasure.
“Would you like to watch me masturbate?” I said.
Of an instant her eyebrows contracted. Frowning, she pulled in her chin and said, “No.”
She’d almost shouted.
I turned on my back, stared at ceiling. I’d no idea what she was feeling – for once did not care. I’d never accept sexuality as opposite world with stone rules.
“You seem pretty vehement,” I said, not hiding irritation.
I assert that at no point during this book did Brown put Mira’s feelings first. This whole scene made my skin crawl. If she didn’t want to masturbate with Brown, why would she want to watch him get off. She made her feelings pretty clear on masturbation with his first question and when she responded poorly to his second, he pouted.
Not unexpectedly, Mira decides to put a moratorium on all sex between them. And after this declaration, Brown’s next suggestion is to ask Mira to take a shower with him, which he describes in lots of detail, none of it sensual, all of it creepy given the context of the previous scene. As if to demonstrate how far from Eden they had wandered, Mira goes to get towels for them to wear to the bathroom though they are alone in the apartment. She doesn’t say no to him about the shower, but by this point she has a clueless man-child in her home and has to get through this as best she can. Just because a woman does not throw your ass out doesn’t mean she isn’t doing whatever she has to do to get through until you leave on your own. And as I read the rest of his time with Mira, I felt her tension, her tiredness, her bouncing back and forth between distaste and then saying wildly optimistic things because Brown kept harping on how much he had invested in this, how it couldn’t all fall to shit simply because he sucked in bed. Had I been Mira, Celexa would not have been enough to get me through.
Brown extracts a promise from Mira that she will not have sex with anyone else before discussing it with him and then leaves back to San Francisco, where he decides he is going to quit his job so he can move closer to Mira. It’s almost like the five-day disaster I read had no impact on him, and even if it hadn’t, he had spent five days with her after knowing her for two months online. But yes, he wants to quit his job and move closer to her. He then has a scene with coworkers that is so sad to read, so pathetic because when I read it, I knew the men were mocking Brown but he just didn’t see it as anything but jovial give and take. You see, there had been complaints because Brown spent so much time online at work talking to Mira. He had stayed longer in Boston than he had taken off for. His bosses were pissed. In a meeting with them, Brown quits, citing the new girl he had met in Boston. Not a woman, he corrects the two men, but a girl. Again, Brown recites body language without seeming to get the point behind it, then recounts this:
Randy and I shook. “Good luck, Tiger,” he said, grinning irrepressibly.
And with this, it was official. Brown has no insight into the people around him. Perhaps he did on one level – he certainly quit before he got fired. But as a middle-aged woman myself, I have never heard a grown man call another grown man “Tiger.” Kids in baseball games, orange tabby cats… Never a grown man to another grown man. Brown was being mocked. That “Tiger” and that grin held no praise. Randy may as well have said, “Good luck, You Poor Dumb Bastard.”
Then what we all know is going to happen happens. In about three weeks Mira’s chats become less and less frequent, he realizes she is online but blocked his ability to see her active on ICQ, he can’t get her on the phone, then she confesses she had sex with someone else. She had very good sex with someone else. And Brown acts immediately and terminates the relationship, hangs up the phone and hopes that she will call back and make things work.
She doesn’t. He checks her blog. She mentions their break up but doesn’t go into a lot of detail. He checks again, and she has deleted the entire blog. She moves on quickly, but he remains stuck to the point that a decade later he writes a book about the whole sorry encounter. He then gets a call from his grandmother that his mom is sickening and they need to make some decisions about her. He thinks about what has happened to him.
As Mira had touched me, and I had touched her.
I would build on what I had lived.
Two months of chat. Five days with her. One horrible sexual experience. A complete lack of connection between his desires and her desires or even their common tastes outside of an affection for Ayn Rand. Then three weeks of torture as she entertained friends, lived her life and found a new lover. He didn’t touch her beyond serving as a nice distraction after she broke up with her boyfriend and a prolonged annoyance once she got to know him. And he doesn’t know that. He has no idea.
So it was all a waste, this book. Missed opportunities to tell stories worth telling. Tantrums and broken hearts and a sense of eternal love based on chat sessions. A pathetic man in love with a girl whom he wants to pin down and keep for himself even as he has no idea what it is that makes her tick. A pathetic man who at the end of all of this doesn’t seem any smarter or more aware than he did at the beginning. This was a terrible story, a pointless story, written terribly and in a pointless style. I cannot recommend this book to anyone except for those who love reading terrible books to see for themselves how terrible they really are. I call this the Wild Animus effect and it could be put to good use here. Sorry, WP, your book was terrible. It was almost too on the nose for me not to like it and I hoped, sincerely hoped, when I received it that it would not be terrible because to give it a bad review to some may have seemed like a forgone conclusion. But I read it sincerely and I read it closely. It is a bad, bad book.