With summer vacation beginning and a list of "literary" books I wanted to plough before school starts again in August, I agreed to read the first 50 pages, figuring I can pick up a few tricks from a best-selling author. The next thing I knew I was on Page 490 and there was no way anyone was going to stop me from finishing the fucker.
Listen, I'm not going to try to make a case for Jackie Collins to be immortalized in the literary canon, but at the same time, I can't stand half of the books in the so-called literary canon. I hold the canon and every obdurate high school Engliish teacher cramming Ethan Frome down the throats of their students partially responsible for this country's epidemic apathy when it comes to reading. And for anyone who is looking to become a writer, I would agree that the classics must be part of your essential diet, however, that diet should also include a healthy dose of genre writers and commercial fiction. The most frustrating thing about reading literary fiction, in my opinion, is the pacing. Too many times, the authors---who are clearly skilled and talented in their craft---fall in love with their own sentences, which results in a 25-page single-paragraph description of a pubic hair on a toilet seat.
But back to Jackie Collins and Lovers and Gamblers. First of all, sadly, this is the type of prose that would be lambasted in a graduate workshop. The characters in Jackie Collins' world exist according to a hierarchy of physical attributes. Men with big cocks rank supreme, as do women with big tits. And it took about 5 pages until I figured that the character with the big cock would end up with the female character with the big tits by the end of the novel. But I was all right with it, mostly because they'd have to screw approximately 500 partners each until they arrived at this realization. Basically, the book's narrative tension is a long build up to one climatic titty-fuck.
And the characters all have names thieved from a list of porn star monikers: Al King (guy with big cock), Dallas (girl with big tits whose last name was mentioned once then mysteriously disappeared), Bernie Suntan, Linda Cosmos, Cody Hills, Manny Shorto, Karmen Rush...you get the picture. For the first 400 pages or so, these characters lived to get laid. It's the equivalent of having a world populated by people who all possess a 16-year-old boy's libido.
Then, in the final 100 pages or so, a plane carrying most of the main characters is hijacked and crashes in the Amazon, and the rest of the book becomes a pornographic version of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, where the characters look straight into the barrel of their own existential hollowness and doom and decide to fuck to forget about it. If they don't fuck, they're eaten by alligators. There's a moral there.
That's 600 pages of Lovers and Gamblers in a nutshell. And I couldn't get enough of it.
Collins delivers exactly the product her readers are looking to buy, and when you consider that writing and publishing IS an industry, you can't go wrong with that formula. There are also aspects of her writing that anyone looking to write a novel can learn from. For example, she does an excellent job with narrative hooks and chapter breaks. Like most successful commercial novelists, she knows how to keep the plot moving. She does seamless work with the third-person omniscient voice as well. In fact, I think it would behoove graduate programs to spend more time developing these skills, especially seeing that most of the MFA students are aspiring to be successful in the commercial market. Instead of spending all of their time stroking Cormac McCarthy and David Foster Wallace, why not concentrate on making the writing commercially viable?
So am I going to run out and buy another Jackie Collins novel? No. I think I've had enough for now. But I believe there's something to be said for reading for only the entertainment value. Teachers spend way too much time talking about symbolism and theme (whatever that is), and in the process, we're sucking the fun out of reading. And while a lot of writers whine about the fact that no one reads anymore, it's occurred to me that, maybe, we're also somehow complicit in this.
Thanks for the read, Ms. Collins, and thanks for reminding me that reading can be largely self-indulgent.