Before reading on, know two things.
First, from this paragraph on, I will be assuming that you’ve either read The Reluctant Blogger by Ryan Rapier (ruhPEER) or don’t mind knowing its intimate details prior to picking it up.
Second, this post is not about the nice things I could say about the novel. Some of those things may creep in, but nice things was the purpose of my post over on the AML blog. This post is about the book’s flaws which I think are significant and interesting and worth talking about.
If you can handle that, then let’s move on.
I’ll start by just knocking the cover. I doubt this is Rapier’s fault, but no way Todd Landry has such carefully trimmed stubble, and besides—every time I see the book, think that fellow’s scalp tattoos are flying away. Anyway. the cover’s been on my nerves. Thanks for letting me vent.
Now. If you know anything about this novel, you know its primary device is that nearly entirely consists of blogposts written by the protagonist, Todd Landry. My biggest issue with the novel is the nearly part of that description. Rapier’s reliance on the device introduces many falsenesses to the novel that shouldn’t be there—and his unwillingness to completely commit to the conceit isn’t helping. Either he should have committed entirely or far, far less.
In the early days of the novel, this sort of thing was common. Novels often consisted of found collections of letters or diary entries. See, for instance, Pamela or The Sorrows of Young Werther. It made sense. The novel was—lol—a novel form and readers’ ability to suspend their disbelief properly wasn’t yet developed. And it worked because letters and diaries of the time were rather assumed to be more thorough and grammatically proper. Perhaps because he wasn’t writing for thirteen-year-olds, Rapier / Cedar Fort decided to present The Reluctant Blogger as a thoroughly edited, novelistic text.
Which is to say, no, I don’t buy for a second that this book is made up of blogposts. And especially not blogposts intended for an audience of one. (The only person with access to this posts is Todd’s therapist.)
Rapier recognizes the difficulty he’s set for himself when he has Todd blog the conversation with his therapist wherein his therapist asks why he’s blogging their conversations. But that metawink fails to address the deeper problems created by the format.
Todd occasionally writes things he can’t possibly know because he’s being a pigheaded ass or because he wasn’t listening. But he writes them anyway either because they’re useful insights the author wants us to have (for more on such insights, see my post today on Modern Mormon Men) or they’re humorous or something. The resulting problem is simple point-of-view violation. This book, at times, craves an omniscient narrator. And at times that omniscient narrator ignores the blogging conceit and just invades the blog, throwing his insights about. For instance this one about Todd’s thirteen-year-old daughter: “Inside the back cover [of her photo album] are two of my daughter’s most cherished keepsakes.” These items are “most cherished” because of their relationship to current events, the most current of which begins simultaneous to her estrangement from her father. So either he can’t know this but is solipsistically assuming he does, or an omniscient narrator has briefly taken over the typing. Honestly, both are plausible.
The voice of the posts is absurdly formal given we are to understand they are written (at the beginning, carelessly) in stolen moments late at night knowing that no one save his therapist (who has promised not share them) will read them. It’s not possible that he’s spending the hours necessary to craft such prose. Not that The Reluctant Blogger is Emerson, mind, but it’s not blogposts written in stolen moments late at night either. The voice is so unexplainable that many of my early notes are no more cogent than “voice thing: driving me bananas.” All this carefully recreated dialogue and so forth smacks of novel, not blog. Novelists write seven pages of dialogue with tags and business. Bloggers might spread that out to a couple hundred words, but seven pages? That’s a novelist.
And back to Todd’s audience-of-one, I can’t understand his religious avoidance of the second person. Take this: “today Bishop Lincoln—the man who referred me to Dr. Schenk” (176). Why not “the man who referred me to you”? I’ve done some mental somersaults trying to explain away things like this, but I’m doing more work than I should have to. Either they make sense or they don’t, and, generally, they don’t.
We’ll come back to the blogging problem in a moment, but for now let’s examine an issue born of the novel’s insistence on romance.
One early scene is a meetcute that upset me so much I wrote “I’ll be pissed if he marries this woman” on page 29. Their relationship does grow beyond romcom-lite to a point I really believed that they weren’t getting back together. Which I think was vital to my enjoyment of their reunion. But that’s getting positive—head over to AML for more on that scene. The upsetting thing is that the Right Woman shows up the first time he manages to talk to any woman. I mean. C’mon. Is this a romcom or is it a story of a man moving through mourning? I’m not saying it can’t be both, but the initial set-up is that the internal journey through loss will take primacy. So it needs to take primacy. No changing stories midstream! But, as I said, this ended up being redeemed. If it were a library book though, I might have quit reading prior to redemption. I mean—ironic foreshadowing like “I’m pretty sure I’ll never call Emily. In fact, I’m positive.” (29) is just too much to ask of me.
One of their first dates takes place at a restaurant. Todd is occasionally unbearable but Emily seems willing to look past that. But me? I can’t look past the blogging problem. Six pages of dialogue commence and the only suggestion as to what kind of restaurant and what kind of food is this phrase: “The heavenly aroma of my entrée” (93) until a brief mention of what’s for dessert. Six pages of dialogue (assuming 250 words per page equals 1500 words) with proper tags and business is not blogging. Six pages in a restaurant without details of said restaurant? Not a novel.
“Samantha was shy at first and hid quite effectively behind her tumbling blonde locks during introductions. But all that changed once Emily saw the book she was holding and commented on her love for the main character. Within seconds, Samantha had opened up, and soon they were chatting happily on the couch about a wide selection of shared literary favorites.” (139)
Actually, this paragraph can’t really be blamed on the blogging thing. This is just a sweet opportunity to share useful, compelling details and instead we get generic words like “book” and “character” and “favorites.”
Perhaps nowhere is the blogging problem more striking than on July 11’s post which begins with a pointless jokey introduction about horoscopes, then eight pages about Todd and Emily’s engagement (which would be appropriate except…), then the revelation that Todd’s mother has died which causes “the entire world . . . to spin” leaving Todd unable to speak (212). Unable to speak, but perfectly able to write 11 pages of prose that cleverly hid that surprise ending. Tada! My mom’s dead! Betcha didn’t see that coming!
So what should he have done? Option one is just make the blogging a smaller percentage of the entire text. Allow the posts to reinterpret what we’ve already seen told novelistically, allowing insights into what Todd thinks is important or is at least willing to share. This could have been a great tool and would allow a straighter path to the larger thematic concerns without compromising the believability of his central character.
The other option, less recommended, is to cut the bits where suddenly we’re outside the blog and inside the therapist’s head, and just stick with the blog. Of course, the blog should still read like a blog and thus many parts of the story would need to be cut or rewritten. Much of what happens would remain unclear as we fall victim to an unreliable narrator. Again, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this, but at least that version would be more honest with its audience.
One literary lesson The Reluctant Blogger teaches is that function cannot be so easily divorced from form. So choose your form carefully, o novelist! then use that form well.
Dawning of a Brighter Day: The Reluctant Blogger: a quick metareview and my own look at its many positive attributes
A Motley Vision: The Reluctant Blogger: a novel with deep, structural flaws