Fictional Cities

9 January 2002

I finished reading The Onion Girl last night, and I just have to say: 80 pages of denouement is perhaps too many. I don't think this is an unreasonable idea, really. I also think that de Lint was coming down with Lynn Johnston syndrome: the "good" characters weren't allowed to be wrong. Beset by troubles, yes. At the end of their patience, sure. But wrong? No. Not Our Heroes.

I think part of the problem is that there's a fine line between making someone's actions always understandable and making them always justified. Sure, the main character will always have a justification in his or her head for what he or she does. Even the villains aren't sitting around mumbling, "And then to be eeeevil, I will do this!" (Even if Michelle and I have been known to sit around mumbling such things together from time to time.) But there's a difference between knowing everyone's motivations and only letting your favorite characters have good ones. Sometimes good people do bad things accidentally, sure. But sometimes good people do bad things because they're being lazy, or selfish, or for innumerable other reasons.

So -- there were things I thought were quite poorly done about The Onion Girl. But I still enjoyed reading it, and I'll still jump to buy the new Newford collection. I think it's some of the best contemporary or urban fantasy out there, and I love the world and the characters even when I don't think the specific books are particularly good in themselves. At this point, I can read new Newford offerings like The Onion Girl either as their own novels (and evaluate them accordingly), or as chunks of the larger work.

One of the things I like is that de Lint makes it clear that his characters have to worry about paying the rent etc. without making it the main theme of the story. Another thing is that there are some things magic can't do for them. Magic can't fix people's psyches and make things tra-la-lally right for them. And magic doesn't exist in unlimited quantities as convenient.

And so when I read Susan's comment that "M'ris has never struck me as being really interested in the suffusion of wonder into everyday existence," (in defense of her beloved Weetzie Bat books), I was a little startled. Um, what? That's what I spent yesterday doing...but no, I'm not interested in it without something else (like a plot), not in a novel. While I liked all of the books Susan listed except for the Weetzie Bat books, she's right that it has been clear that we're looking for different things.

And then I became really confused: is that what Susan got out of the Weetzie Bat books? Because if those are the suffusion of wonder into everyday existence, I think that The Lord of the Rings could also be classified that way, and "Friends" should be seen as reality TV.

Here's why: Weetzie finds a genie and wishes for loves for herself and her best friend, and for a house in which they can all live together, happily ever after, without fixing any problems. Magic just fixes it all. The only thing they have to figure out is whether to have perfect vegetarian lasagna for supper or go out for sushi. Everyday existence? Where was that? I missed that part in all five books. Never ran into any of it.

Susan calls them urban fairy tales. I'll buy the claim for Judy Budnitz, but I think that the Weetzie Bat books are missing, well, the interesting parts of the fairy tales. Nothing is hard. They don't have to work for the house, for finding their loves, for making their family work. It's pretty much okay when Weetzie decides that "I don't want us to have a baby" means "Please get pregnant, possibly not by me; it'll all be all right." Sure, My Secret Agent Lover Man (no, that's the character's name, "My Secret Agent Lover Man") leaves, but she does nothing and he comes back, tra la hooray. Fairy tales generally involve some sort of effort on somebody's part. In these books, people sometimes feel sad about things, but everything is more or less fine as long as they'll let it be. Less than ideal parental relationships? Creating a new family? Teaching your kids about life? Just leave it all alone, and it'll turn out okay. Passivity rules.

Part of my reaction to these books, of course, is that they are one long love song to Southern California. Even the one that's set in New York is a love song to Southern California, with somewhat friendly affection for New York. I can see the charm of SoCal through my godfather David's eyes, but I don't see anything particularly new about the idea that Hollywood is magic. Every other movie made tells us that. At this point, it's like telling me that elves are magic. Been Done.

Actually, I have a little bit of a hard time considering L.A. real. I think it's perfectly reasonable to answer "Is it set in the real world?" with "No, it's set in L.A." The same is true of Las Vegas and New York. I have been to all three of these cities. I know people from each of them. But they just come up so much in TV and movies, and in such varied forms, that they seem fictional to me. Well-developed, but still fictional.

Ah well. I also read Witch Week, and it's my least favorite of the Diana Wynne Jones books so far. And I finished writing the first draft of Out of Apples and worked on "Glass Wind" and the organizational stuff that needs doing on the Not The Moose Book. I'm going to do more of the latter two today, as well as a fascinating bit of grocery shopping. I'm also reading Perdido Street Station. I'm sure I'll keep you posted.

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