(Note: big thanks to twitter follower @waitworry for recommending this book when I put out a call for suggestions. I think it might be the juiciest Let's Read candidate since the Kvothe books)
PART ONE begins with a Woodrow Wilson quote, as noted earlier.
Apparently, the evil plot at the core of this book's story originated with Woodrow Wilson. Yes, Woodrow Wilson, the "great humanitarian" himself. He was Not Good Actually, according to Beck. I have a feeling I know why that is, but I'll save it until a more relevant time.
Chapter one introduces us to our protagonist, Noah Gardner, with this little bit of philosophical fluff:
Is it considered bad writing to have these little asides, as though the narrator is suddenly turning into a concrete entity and speaking to you as a distinct character? It feels like bad writing. I'd never do this in one of my books.
Why are we not being told Noah's exact age? "Twenty-something" is a pretty big time span to collapse into such a vague term. Most people are very different at twenty-nine than they were at twenty (hell, in some parts of the world you're not even technically out of childhood until you hit twenty-one).
It's also odd because most thrillers of this type feature older heroes with military or ex-special forces backgrounds. I suspect that Beck wanted this book to become a dorm-room staple like Atlas Shrugged, so he wrote a young, relatively inexperienced protagonist to appeal to a college-aged audience; at the same time, making him too young would turn off older readers. "Twenty-something" splits the difference neatly.
...Actually never mind, because the very next page states that he's just turned twenty-eight. Then why the hell didn't the paragraph I quoted above just say that? It makes it seem as though he's not sure what age he is.
Noah is a lady's man, of course. Gag.
I can't believe there are guys who see this and find it appealing in a protagonist. I don't give a shit how many women he's slept with, tell me something interesting about him.
Sitting in the office on his birthday, Noah decides that it's time to stop sleeping around and get serious. Just as this thought occurs to him, he spots the woman of his dreams (she's literally described that way by the text).
This is the first time it's made clear that Noah is at work. Up until that point, his location is never described; given that the proceeding six paragraphs were all about picking up women for one-night stands, I had assumed he was at a bar or a night club.
Writing tip: establish your location. Do it early and quickly when a chapter starts. Movies and TV shows use establishing shots for a reason.
What the hell is going on here? Is this Noah's internal train of thought? It doesn't seem like it is. Once again, it's like the narration suddenly turned into a separate character. This is really bad writing.
(And ten seconds is a long time to stare at someone without them engaging with you? Give me a break).
Glenn Beck('s ghost writers) seem to have mastered the art of the non-description. The entire rest of this (admittedly short) chapter is taken up with rapturous descriptions of how beautiful this woman is and how Noah falls in love with her literally at a glance, but it never describes what she actually looks like. Instead we get a lot of guff about lines and artwork and the essence of a woman, but not a single physical descriptor, not even what color her hair is.
At one point, when commenting that she's not dressing for success in the world of PR, she's described as looking "like a greeter at a Grateful Dead concert." Maybe this is a generational thing, but I have no idea what the fuck that means. Is she wearing ripped jeans and a band shirt? Is she in goth clothes? Is she dressed like a juggalo? I googled The Grateful Dead and they're mostly photographed in plain t-shirts and jeans, so is that what she's wearing?
The writer collective that created this book is self-owning here by trying too hard to be literary. You can be as flowery and poetic as you want, but your prose still has to convey basic information, like what characters look like, why other characters find them attractive, and why their clothes indicate certain things about them.
Anyway, Noah sashays over this international woman of mystery and lays out his best playboy charm: offering to help her pin a flyer to a cork board.
Yowzah! Careful there Noah, you're going to start seducing the readers next!
NONE OF THIS MEANS ANYTHING
JUST TELL ME WHAT SHE LOOKS LIKE
There are literally entire chapters in writing guides telling you not to do this. "She was just so totally different, in a way he couldn't describe!" is empty fluff and terrible writing.
Finally, the book gets around to some physical descriptors, although they're cliched in the extreme (would you believe that Ms. Grateful Dead hardly wears any makeup? Gosh, I've never seen a female love interest like that before!).
Buddy. Noah. I guarantee that if you go into any coffee shop or large bookstore in any city in America, you'll find half a dozen women who look exactly like this. And guys, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but being attracted to dressed-down women in casual clothes (not like those shallow dudes who are only into bimbos, am I right?) does not make you unique or interesting.
And how can he tell she's not dressing for other people's approval? For all he knows, this is a look that she's carefully cultivated in order to specifically attract the kind of guy who'd be into that (which, as we've previously established, are quite abundant).
I want you all to know that I pinched the bridge of my nose and groaned in actual, physical pain when I read these sentences. I literally did that.
Noah takes a look at the cork-board and discovers that Mystery Woman is pinning up the twitter profile of that one 2nd amendment blow-hard who pops up every time you tweet about Obama (I couldn't preserve the formatting when pasting this into my blog, it's laid out better in the book):
I checked the two URLs mentioned here to see if Beck made tie-in websites to go with the book; if he did, they're no longer up. There is a real group called the Guardians of Liberty, but they're a UK-based human rights organization.
So looking at that guest list, we've got a woman from something called "Liberty Belles" which sounds like an ersatz version of the Daughters of The Confederacy (or maybe I'm being unkind and they're just fans of big poofy dresses), the former commander of INSCOM, which is apparently the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command, something called "Sons of the American Revolution" which is definitely a thinly-veiled neo-Nazi group, and some guy who made a viral Youtube video.
Yeah, these are the people I want defending my freedom.
Noah asks casually about the meeting, and Mystery Woman is like "All you PR people do is lie, man. You're, like, tools of the system. Wake up, sheeple!"
Okay, she isn't quite that obnoxious, but she's not far off.
Come the fuck on. This idea has never occurred to him before? Next she's going to blow his mind by telling him how advertising is manipulative and reality TV is fake.
She also reveals that Noah is vice-president of the company. He seems remarkably young to have that position, although apparently his dad owns it, so that might explain it.
Noah takes a peek at Mystery Woman's ID badge, and spots an auspicious tattoo poking out of her effortlessly-sexy sweater.
I bet I can guess what the tattoo is.
Wait, no. Wrong one. It's this:
Huh. Okay, third time's a charm.
Oh god where did that come from
THIS DOESN'T EVEN HAVE A BIRD ON IT
Yes, I'm guessing she loves the good ol' US of A so gosh-danged much that she got the spread-eagled eagle itself tattooed on her chest. I assume this will be revealed during a sexy, patriotic love-making scene.
We finally learn that the woman is none other than Molly Ross, Noah's one true love if the synopsis is to be believed. Noah decides on the spot that he's going to attend the save-America meeting, in order to hit on Molly some more. Then we end with this utterly baffling exchange:
This joke makes no sense, and I have no idea why Molly says this. It's in response to Noah claiming he's patriotic, then she replies with the start of the section quoted above. It's a total non-sequitur. I don't get it.
Maybe in the next installment, it will all make more sense.