Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dying To Live In Suburban Germany

Some aubergines, earlier today
This blog is so devoted to the cause of dissecting suburban life that it now takes its holidays in suburbia too. We're presently in an outpost of Dresden in eastern Germany, and there are some interesting contrasts with its typical equivalent in the US. For example, here there are shops, bars, and public transport in all directions – that kind of thing. And there's an unusual breed of hair dye too.
You won't find it stated anywhere in this particular suburb's tourist literature, but this area boasts some of the world's least attractive women. It's not because they are born ugly due to something alien in the local water. No, they actively take anti-beautification measures in order deliberately to deflect any desires harboured by the opposite sex. They do this by dying their hair the colour of aubergines (for the benefit of my two US readers, that's eggplant).

It seems odd that, of all the colours available, this underwhelming hue of a blob-shaped garden vegetable would enjoy such widespread popularity. It's certainly unique, at least until you've passed your fortieth purple-headed monster of the morning. By that time, the idea of sexual arousal has become so abstract that it seems nothing more than a theory somebody might once have had about animal reproduction. Around here, babies are surely delivered by stork only.

At four o'clock in the afternoon, meanwhile, you can see teenage youths hanging around outside the shopping centre openly drinking bottles of beer and smoking cigarettes. Alienation, leisure and courtship are all combined into a single package, but judging by the age of the area's pram-pushers, it's nothing but a brief stage on the path to developing your aubergenes. Then it's time to settle down to a life of ignoring friendly overtures of greeting from outsiders (though staring at them is allowed), learning how to cook six dozen bratwurst on an open-air grill in time for the next family wedding, and refusing to accede to so-called fashionable influences from the world beyond. Magentally ill, and we're not going to change a shade.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Inspirational Fiction On The Fly

My name has somehow landed on the mailing list of the Harper Collins’ imprint Avon Inspire. This means I regularly receive books that publish a line of “inspirational women’s fiction that features that which matters most: family, community, faith, and love.”

Aside from the alternative school of thought claiming “that which matters most” also covers, in no particular order, football, sex, music, the economy, the environment, proper beer, good manners and the public execution of the owners of any dogs that crap on my front lawn, it’s an odd notion that a branch of fiction must define itself as inspirational. The old eastern Bloc tried something similar with socialist-realist literature, and aside from a few texts that sneaked through due to the clot-headed censors’ failure to understand imagery, it was mostly dull. Which is what happens when you try to write a book glorifying life in a cement factory.

Most recently I have become the privileged owner of Shelley Shepard Gray’s ‘Hidden’, a novel about Anna, a “modern girl on the run” from a fiancé “with good looks and prestigious position at a top law firm,” but who’s also violent (boo!). She takes refuge with an Amish family (hurrah!) and “finds fulfilment in the Amish way of life”, which will be handy with the coming energy crisis. Yet she still has to win the trust of one family member, Henry, who has “got the raging hots for her, but is tortured by sexual anguish suppressed by a stringent and quite frankly unsustainable moral code.” Okay, I made that last bit up. The book’s big question, according to the press release, is: “Can he accept that Anna may truly be his soulmate?”

Given that this is inspirational fiction, my guess is that he will, though not without a 200-page struggle. Ah what the heck, I can’t wait. Let’s turn to page 201 (of 202): “Very slowly, very deliberately, Henry curved an arm around her and pulled her close.” Whoooargh Henry, you sly old dog! Is this how the author wants to “showcase her Christian ideals”, as the publicity blurb states? With this filthy, depraved groping? The book ends with them both contemplating a rabbit in a field (“Look, she whispered to Henry, to the man…who would one day be her husband. Another rabbit.”). And it’s not the rabbit of recession I referred to in my last blog entry, but an inspirational, hopping, fertile, action-ready rabbit full of the jumping joys of spring. At least I bet that’s Henry’s view (why didn’t she just call him Horny and be done with it?).

Aside from the commercial angle -- ‘Hidden’ sells at a meta-spiritual $12.95 -- you might ask what is the purpose of literature that so clearly wears its heart on its jacket, with closure as comforting for its readers as a talking bearded Jesus doll. I unwittingly found the answer the other day when a noisome bluebottle landed on my computer screen. The nearest item to hand was ‘Hidden’, which did a messily efficient job of flattening the insect, with the operation concluded by a swift mopping up of its guts using a moist tissue. The book, alas, is sullied and will soon be sent for recycling.

One of the book’s “questions for discussion” says that it is only when the book’s characters “put their futures in the Lord’s hands that they find joy,” asking, “When has following God’s path brought you success?” I played God with that irritating (and undoubtedly evil) fly, consequently reaching a state of peace and contentment due to the absence of its buzzing and dive-bombing. It seems the mysterious delivery of ‘Hidden’ into my post-box was all part of A Plan. Count me in as one of the truly inspired.