Mister Monday (was Re: More recent reads)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Nov 4 12:53:47 EST 2003


On Mon, 3 Nov 2003 21:18:24 +0000, Hallie O'Donovan wrote:

>Finally, I just finished _Mister Monday_, which I enjoyed, though I 
>agree with all those who found the writing less appealing than that 
>in some of his other books.
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>Minor spoiler:
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>The thing that annoyed me was the way Arthur's 
>originally-going-to-happen death was set up.  The kid had such severe 
>asthma that he'd been hospitalised for it, was just out of hospital, 
>was starting at what *seemed* to be a rather snooty, exclusive school 
>(ok, this might just be my impression, but think of the 
>neighbourhood, and the library, and so on) his mother was a 
>super-important medical researcher, and nobody at the school was 
>aware that he had this medical problem and needed NOT to be packed 
>off on a cross-country run?

I thought the point was that this particular teacher was a jerk and was
accustomed to children making up excuses to get out of gym.  The reason I
don't remember clearly is that the situation made sense to me, based on the
explanation he gave.  Also what Jon said is true: students' medical
information doesn't always trickle down to where it belongs.

Oh, I just remembered why this made sense to me as I was reading.  When I
was a teen I had severe, um, feminine problems--i.e. cramping until I passed
out.  We had just moved to a new high school and one day I had to go to the
nurse in severe pain.  I explained to her that all I needed was to go home
for the day.  She came back with a lecture about how we couldn't just take a
day off every month, could we, and I should just tough it out.  Clearly
someone who had never had either PMS or PMT or whatever they call it on
Pluto.  This was despite the fact that I probably looked entirely bloodless
at this point.  I persisted until she let me call my mother, who came to get
me.

In the car, I had a seizure.  (Never had another one since.)

I think my mom proceeded to rip the nurse into tiny shreds and flush them
down the toilet.  I never had another problem--and no, I did not abuse this
power to get out of school free.  I was too boring to even think of it.

Anyway.  The point of this odd personal anecdote is that even though my
situation is not analogous to Arthur's--the nurse wasn't ignoring medical
information she had--to me, it doesn't seem even a little strange that a
teacher would assume that a kid was faking sick.  So many kids do that a lot
of teachers guess right when they tell them just to get over it.  It's only
the spectacular failures that get noticed.  And I also know that there are
schools in America--fortunately not the majority--where asthmatic children
are not allowed to carry their inhalers on their persons, and know of one
case where a child was severely disciplined for sharing hers with a fellow
student who might otherwise have died.  Drug pushers, you know.  Sanity
doesn't hold much sway where administrators are terrified of zero tolerance.

>May just be my being picky, but, seems to me the 'real world' 
>elements of a fantasy (if there are any) should be done realistically 
>to make it all work, and DWJ always does it better than this. 
>Anybody else notice this or disagree?

I approach this from the other direction: the "real world" elements are only
going to seem realistic insofar as they jibe with the reader's own
experience.  Kristen Randle (who wrote _Only Alien on the Planet_) wrote a
book that was based extensively on her own kids' experiences as teenagers,
down to replicating an actual party that they went to.  The book was
rejected because, according to the publishers, it was too unrealistic.
Living in New York City, childless, they had no experience with the kind of
Utah suburban upbringing these kids had.  And yet it was not only factual,
but realistic to me--I'd had more or less the same kind of upbringing,
though in my time and place we did not ask people to major school events
like the prom with elaborate games and at least a gross of helium-filled
balloons.  I am SO glad.

What I get from this example is that something being realistic or factual is
not enough; it has to be supported within the story as well, because you
will always come across readers whose own experience is directly counter to
what you're asserting in the text, and you can't argue with experience.  I
though Nix did so in this case, plus it was borne out by my experience, so
it didn't strike me as unrealistic.  You had the opposite reaction based on
what you know of the school system.  My question is, at what point can you
lay this kind of thing at the author's feet, and when is it the reader's
problem?  I think of all the times that I thought something was completely
unsupported and could even point to bits of the text that backed me up (this
happens in my reading group sometimes, those philistines) and some other
reader (probably one who didn't like _The Dollmage_) still believed it was
perfectly reasonable.

It would be so much easier if reading could be reduced to symbolic logic,
but then we'd be mathematicians instead.

Melissa Proffitt

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