Late Nights on Air

Late Nights on AirLate Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I greatly disliked this book at first, but it ended strong enough that I tacked an extra star onto it, almost out of pity. I ENJOYED reading it (mostly), but it annoyed me enough that it really should only have 3 stars. But then a sentence would float past and I would think “That was a really good sentence. I enjoyed that.” and then I would lament not having it on my kindle to highlight in order to go back and look at those sentences again later. There were enough of those moments that I do not regret offering the 4th star.

This book was far too in love with its setting. I’ve been to Yellowknife and hiked around a bit in the summer, so I enjoyed reading the descriptions, but I’ve always had this stubborn notion that books should have a setting and a plot, and it kept letting me down on the second part.

There was no plot for the first half of the book. It was all setting. Setting that characters talked to each other in, but each of the characters had the exact same voice (the voice of the author, I imagine), and I had to keep checking the names in the sentences to figure out who was saying what. The characters have backstories that are all painstakingly laid out for you in the first 100 pages of the novel in an awful display of telling instead of showing, but their personalities fail to come through until the very end. I could tell them apart by name, but they did not convey any of their personality through dialogue. I hated every single one of them except Gwen for a full 2/3s of the novel, and never really did warm up to anyone else by the end.

I did not care for the writing at all for most of the book. It was fragmented and rambling, constantly bringing up little threads of plot that abruptly end or just get dropped into nothing. I was continually annoyed by flowery descriptive moments where the writing dropped into an almost pretentious tone. I’ve never been a big poetry fan, and a lot of the descriptive passages twigged the same dislike in me that poetry does. And then the incredibly annoying habit of ending a section with something like “They didn’t know it yet, but this would be important later.” Stop telling me things. ESPECIALLY stop telling me things you haven’t even gotten around to writing yet. SHOW me things.

But then there were the good moments. A turn of phrase that strikes you as particularly beautiful or apt, or a character moment that makes you nod. The characters, for all their flat dialogue, were REAL. I loved that they all had flaws and behaved realistically. Some of the interactions were things I could really identify with, such as when Gwen is flabbergasted at being accused of being too proud or arrogant about her skills, when (to her own perception) she was barely stumbling along and hanging in there. It’s so true.

But at its heart, the book feels like a sappy romance, because that’s all there is for plot. This character is in love with that character but shouldn’t be. That character is in love with this character but doesn’t know it yet (but hey at least they will in the future! Look the author says so right here at the end of this paragraph.) Those characters are in love but it was never meant to be. Or was it? That’s really the entire plot. I was intrigued by the jacket cover description of a trek through the barrens, but it takes you 200 pages to even start talking about that trek, and then it’s over long before the book ends. I feel like the jacket should be sued for false advertising, but to be fair, what else would you advertise as a plot?

The barrens trek was by far my favourite part of the book because the characters finally had a purpose and a goal beyond just interacting with each other, and suddenly all the descriptions and character interactions held so much more meaning. That’s when the extra star got tacked on. If only the first 2/3rds of the book had been edited down a bit to have more direction, I might have enjoyed it that much more.

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Perfect Sense

I was reading Discover magazine and they had a little blurb about how the world was supposed to end in 2012 because of the Mayans, so naturally all of Hollywood celebrated by releasing a fuck-ton of apocalypse movies.  They listed a bunch of the apocalypse stuff that had been released, and I actually really like apocalypse movies, so I looked up some of them.

One of them was Perfect Sense with Ewan McGregor.  The blurb on it talked about how a disease was running rampant around the world, so I was all “Ooh I really liked Contagion!” and I crossed my fingers for a good one.

There are probably going to be spoilers in this review because I don’t really mind if I ruin it for you, so you might want to stop now if you care.

The premise of the movie turned out to be that the disease comes along and starts affecting people’s senses (smell taste touch yadda yadda).  The disease made absolutely no biological sense, even if you’re happy to ignore the entire world being afflicted simultaneously with no method of transmission.  I’m usually pretty lenient for “convenient” plot devices if it manages to advance the story, but… nnngh I dunno about this one.  But hey it’s an interesting thing to explore, right?  So let’s see what they do with it!

Each affliction of the disease has a precursor of an impulsive and uncontrollable emotional episode (also completely unexplained… how does the emotional system tie to the senses?).  So the very first thing that happens is everyone on the Earth starts crying for absolutely no reason, then they all pass out and wake up to discover they can no longer smell anything.  The movie spends… oh my god it felt like three hours… explaining over and over and fucking over how important the sense of smell is and now they can’t do this anymore and now they can’t do this anymore and now this is different for them and look at how difficult it is for people to live without it!!! But everyone in the world has lost it so gosh we better find ways to adapt since it doesn’t look like it’s coming back!
This entire sequence was some artsy bullshit (oh I am infuriating so many movie buffs right now, I bet) with lots of quick clips and a lot of monotone voiceover and it went on and onnn and onnnnnn and onnnnnnn and then it got whinier and whinier and oh my god why is it still going we fucking get it already they can’t smell anything boo fucking hoo let’s move on.  Nothing has even happened in the movie yet except for this and it feels like a fucking clip show with no substance.

At this point I believe I commented “This is the worst apocalypse ever” and my husband said “It’s the emo-pocalypse.”

Finally they shut the fuck up and actually started following Ewan McGregor as he does things!  How novel!  Turns out his character is a chef, so he has an actual reason to be concerned about the loss of smell, and we get to see him compensating for it in his commercial kitchen.  Then they spend a big chunk of time watching him get to know his new girlfriend.  (Still not very apocalypse-y…)

Then everyone has a fit of insatiable hunger, eating literally everything around them, then they all pass out and wake up with no sense of taste.  This does not bode well for the restaurant!  What will he do?!
…but before we can find out. there’s another 30 minutes of monotone voiceover whining about how taste is really important to us too.  And now they can’t do this anymore and now this has been affected and and and…

I really enjoy “show, don’t tell” in storytelling, and I really dislike pointless whining in the midst of a lot of “telling instead of showing”.  That’s all the movie seemed to be up to this point:  5 minutes of something interesting happening and then 40 minutes of whining about it.  They got the point across but then they kept hammering at it and hammering at it until it felt like someone grabbing a dog and grinding their nose into the carpet while yelling “SENSES ARE IMPORTANT DO YOU GET IT???  REALLY IMPORTANT AND YOU TAKE THEM FOR GRANTED DON’T YOU! BAD DOG BAD.”  It COULD have been interesting, but the way it was presented was heavy handed and made me want to retaliate instead of consider.

Fortunately the movie got better at that point.  Things moved faster, things actually fucking happened in the plot instead of a clip show voiceover presentation, and they started doing some neat things with the sound and visuals of the movie.  And they stopped whining about things and focused on how humanity was being resourceful and getting around the deficits left by the disease.

Except, by that point the movie only had a bit left to go.

And then it just sort of ends.

I found it wholly unsatisfying and I feel like it was wasted potential of what could have been an interesting plot, but instead was used as some kind of soap box and vehicle for artsy camera effects.  Unfortunate.