Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cliches and Misdemeanors

I can't read books about Alaska. I know this about myself, but every once in a while, I get stupid. There's no other explanation for the fact that, about once a year, I find myself rationalizing my way into an Alaskan-set romance. It usually starts with "Oh, but I love this author! Her voice is so brilliant I won't even notice the annoying fake-Alaska crap." Or every so often, "I know her. She wouldn't screw it up. If she had any doubts about whether something was plausibly Alaskan, she could just ask me."

But it always ends the same way. With me plowing my way through the book like trying to shove a snow-blower through a four foot berm - with much cursing and sweating and occasional cries of "Why, God? Why do you hate me?"

Why do I do this to myself?

I love Vicki Lewis Thompson's Nerd books. I was in the mood for something light and playful, so I grabbed one I hadn't read yet (not recalling that the reason I hadn't read that one yet was because it was set in Alaska). This is NOT an indictment of the book. I'm sure if you aren't from here, you'll love it to pieces and back. But see, here's the thing? Alaska is one GIANT CLICHE in this book. Now, when the deserted island was a giant cliche in another Nerd book, I thought it was cute. When Vegas was a giant cliche in yet another, I loved it. But when it's my giant cliche... I'm having a harder time.


1) All the men up here do not look like lumberjacks and I can't remember the last time I saw a man wearing plaid flannel. (Actually, I can remember. I was in Montana. Last time in Alaska? Might have been the nineties. Plaid was very in then, thanks to the Seattle Grunge trend.)

2) We have access to both dentists and shaving kits. So that guy in your imagination with a bushy beard down to his navel and five missing teeth? Um... we're not all like that. (In fact, I don't know anyone like that.) Nor are we all "quirky characters". Normal people live here too. Normal people with hair dressers and working toothbrushes.

3) We don't live on diet of moose-meat pie and caribou steak. Surprisingly, even the more locally flavored restaurants will have such daring menu items as Cheeseburgers and the always exotic Grilled Chicken. I know it's hard to think of me eating anything other than smoked salmon and reindeer sausage, but today, I have big plans to go for a chicken burrito at Qdoba. I know - doesn't that just sound soooo Alaskan?

See, here's the problem with cliches - they take away the REALITY of the setting. If you had a guy who was big enough to be a lumberjack, with a nicely trimmed beard he'd grown out to protect his face and neck during the cold months, who wore Nordic Fleece and Henleys and was self-conscious about a tooth he'd chipped playing hockey which he hadn't been able to pay to get capped - that's a real person. The lumberjack with the beard to his waist and five missing teeth isn't. Do you see what I mean? About the cliche just serving to make things feel fake?

It's the fantasy-land Alaska thing that drives me nuts. Especially when so few people writing romances about our state have ever even visited, let alone stayed long enough to get a sense of what it's really like.

And then there's the little things. The fact wobbles. They aren't totally wrong, but they don't feel right - so they throw someone with legitimate local knowledge out of the story. For example, Anchorage & Fairbanks are on different weather patterns - so a snow storm in one has nothing to do with the weather in the other. Or how, if you want to photograph wildlife, you should really try Denali, not Fairbanks. And if you are staying at a lodge near Fairbanks that doesn't have an arctic entry (two sets of doors with a little room in between to keep the cold from coming in with you when you enter from the outside), you might want to consider moving to a different hotel because that one is going to be drafty as hell. Oh - and even in "blizzard" conditions (which is not a word we throw around lightly) life goes on. The plows will be running and folks will be shoveling out so they can go to work. You can't let snow stop you when you live up here or you would never leave the house.

So, yeah, those are all the complaints I have so far... but I've only managed to make it through the first 70 pages. In spite of the fact that VLT is holding up her usual end of being witty and charming and fun to read, I'm still having the devil's own time getting through the cliches. If only I didn't find it so damn imperative to finish every book I start... It's a perverse but inescapable need. Wish me luck.


Kali Robaina said...

Why does nobody write about the AMAZING Alaska Wild Berry Products? Chocolate is (usually) so much more romantic than meat.

And now I have an irrational urge to go out and see if there are any stores in town that actually sell flannel shirts.

Vivi Andrews said...

Oh God. The hits just keep coming.

pg. 171: "Alaska tends to attract eccentric people. And if you're not eccentric when you arrive, you get that way sooner or later."

Apparently I must have been born "eccentric". Gee, thanks.