re

Khanh the Killjoy

Elizabeth Bennet would NEVER

Dear Mr. Knightley - Katherine Reay

This book is an alternative retelling of Daddy Long Legs, with an absolutely absurd Mary Sue heroine who can be described at best as "hopelessly, unbelievably innocent," and at worst "infuriatingly, incomprehensibly stupid."

Whose head is invariably stuck in one of the following three places:

- Up her ass
- In the clouds
- In a 19th century romance novel


It is one thing to love the classics, it is another to live your life around it. It is still another when you are a pretentious little twat quoting passages from your favorite authors---a fair share of them fairly obscure---at any given moment in time, and at the most inappropriate moments.



And to turn down a marriage proposal by QUOTING ELIZABETH BENNET?

“ ‘You’re the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.’ ” I finished with a direct quote, just to drive the nail deep.

You, Samantha Moore, are a jerk.

Let me mention that I believe that the author did not mean for her main character to come off this way. I am 99.8% sure that Ms. Reay intended for her protagonist to come off as charmingly naive, happily innocent, blessedly virginal, a sweetly flawed character that we will all love. It didn't work.This book and the main character would have worked considerably better in a 19th-early 20th century setting, when we give our heroines more flexibility to be innocent, sheltered, and forgive them for their acts of stupidity, since really, women back then truly didn't know any better, thanks to their social status, lack of opportunities, and general lack of education. This ain't the 19th century, and Sam is just plain dumb. The fact that she gets into graduate school proves nothing but the fact that she has more book smart than common sense (well, not too much more, considering she almost flunked out of school eventually).

In a contemporary 21st century setting, Samantha Moore does not work quite so well. To put it frankly, she gets on my nerves with her overwhelming, incredible naiveté and lack of common sense, which is completely out of place with her role as a former foster child who was forced to live on the streets.

Summary: Samantha (Sam) Moore is a product of the foster care system and the product of a broken household. Unlike children who have come out of these difficult circumstances with more determination, more resolve, more backbone, Sam comes through it with about as much toughness and street smarts as a newborn kitten swathed in organically grown cotton (can we get a collective "awww!" for my completely-unnecessary-yet-adorable metaphor?).

If we are to believe it, Samantha has survived several tough foster families, she's been forced to practically raise her idiot of a mother, she's been abused by a mentally ill dad. Such things should toughen one up, right? But get this...when Sam graduates from the foster system and her lovely foster home, she has a mental breakdown and is filled with despair. DESPAIR. Because her new apartment is such a fucking hovel. Are you fucking kidding me? Sam is complaining about a crappy apartment when she supposedly lived for 2 months on the streets when she was 15? Way to be inconsistent.

Yeah, it's a crappy apartment, the size of a shoebox. Sam has to eat ramen for months. Um, welcome to the wonderful world of college and limited money. A lot of us have been there ourselves. The college years are well known for having absolutely no money and being forced to eat ramen and boxed Mac N' Cheese (the generic, not the blue box) for months, years on end. It's nothing new. Yet the overdramatic Sam has to blow up the situation to be larger than it is.

I figured this was how Nicholas Nickleby felt when he was forced to work at Squeer’s squalid Yorkshire School. That was a dark, horrific place, where Mr. Squeer beat life and hope from his students. And those few months beat the life from me too. Hope had died long before.

Did I say overdramatic? Yep. Samantha is enrolled in Northwestern University's Medill School for Journalism, but she doesn't belong there. She could actually be a professor herself, teaching a class on Making Mountains out of Molehills 401. Yes, 401, nor 101. Because Samantha's skills in being histrionic is at a graduate level, yo.

So Samantha receives a grant from the most wonderful, most generous person in the world. Her graduate school tuition will be paid for, when she eventually makes up her mind to attend the Medill School majoring in Graduate Journalism. And the key word is "eventually," because the damn girl changes her mind more frequently than Lady Gaga changes her outfits. That's to say, when she's NOT flunking out of school. Oh, RIGHT. Journalism. Sam's supposed to be actually taking classes there or something? Being focused on her studies? Whatever.

The only condition of the generous grant (and it eventually comes with cool shopping sprees, free computers, a plush house, flowers, you name it) is that Sam writes occasional letters to a mysterious benefactor, Mr. George Knightley. And man, does she write to him.

The Plot: Let's put aside the preposterousness of the Daddy-Long-Legs premise, and focus on what else that makes this story so utterly incredible, so completely foolish. I will not spoil the major events in the book, but a great deal of the plot is completely contrived. It fills me with incredulity. Reading fiction is one thing, but I need to believe that what transpires in the book is possible. This book and the events within are so completely outlandish that it beggars any amount of enjoyment due to the complete lack of credibility within. It feels very much like fiction, like a sheltered person's rendition of "tough street life." For example, our sheltered Samantha has to have the worst luck ever, because she gets beaten up by thugs and held up at gunpoint within a short amount of time. Sam befriends a tough black kid who speaks in roughened ebonics by challenging him to a run! And she succeeds in winning the tough foster kid over with her pretense at having street cred! Please.

It struck me that racing him might earn me some respect.
“And stop discriminating. You think because you’re a boy or because you’re black that you can beat me? You can’t.” I poked my finger into his chest.

CAN WE GET SOMEONE TO PLAY "GANGSTA'S PARADISE," PLEASE? It seems fitting, for the moment.

The Letters: Are frankly, unbelievable. I don't have trouble believing that you can confide in someone you've never met. I have internet friends myself, and they listen better than a lot of the people I know in real life. The problem with this book is that Sam's confidences in her letters are too much, too soon. It takes trust to confide so much in someone. Trust needs to be reciprocated. Communication needs to be two-way. "Mr. Knightley" rarely, rarely ever responds. When he does, it is in the form of a short, succinct letter that does not invite such revelations of secrets, such exposure of the soul. Yet Sam trusts him from the very beginning. She tells him all her secrets, in pages, and pages, and pages, RIGHT FROM THE START.

It is a long book, and 97% of it is composed of letters from Sam to Mr. Knightley. That is a lot of words, it is a lot of secrets, it is a lot of personal details to share with someone she does not know. Sam rarely holds back on her private life, letting Mr. Knightley know about her kisses, about her first date, about her lack of sexual experience. It is too much, I cannot believe she would be so up front about everything, considering her reticence to other people in her life, considering how little she knows of him, considering that Mr. Knightley almost never responds.

The Main Characters: Given the fact that this book is completely centered around Sam's experiences, and is narrated by Sam through her letters, I have to say that Sam completely destroys any enjoyment I could have had from the book. She grates on my nerves. Sam is a Mary Sue of the first class order. Sam is tall, 5'10. Stunning, but she doesn't know it. She is a "long drink of water," but of course, she doesn't believe it. She looks like Anne Hathaway, but she can't see it. A famous author falls for her, out of nowhere.

Sam has this terrifically annoying tendency to compare herself to literary heroines. Sam supposedly lives in books, which I can understand. What I cannot understand is her compulsion to compare herself to every downtrodden character in classic romance novels. Fanny Price. Anne Elliot. Charlotte Lucas. I hate that. I hate it when characters compare themselves to book characters.

Did Elizabeth Bennet say "I feel so much like Juliet?" Fucking no. Elizabeth Bennet would never stoop so low. Oh, right. Samantha compares herself to Elizabeth Bennet too. Please, girl, you could never compare.

Sam also has this annoying tendency to incessantly quote passages from novels at the most inconvenient moments. Actually, all her tendencies are rather stupid, but this one is particularly aggravating.

Her professor is about to flunk her? Let's spout a line from Darcy to stave him off!

“I see no passion in your writing. Only technique. It’s good, but it’s empty.”
“‘I certainly have not the talent which some people possess...,’ but I am working hard.”

Her love life is in jeopardy! Surely a quote from Pride and Prejudice will help!

“‘I beg your pardon. Excuse my interference. It was kindly meant.’” I cringed.
“Caroline Bingley? Really?” Alex paused.

The author seems to think the more quotes she includes from literary works, the more likable Samantha will become. It actually works the opposite.

For someone supposedly so lacking in confidence, Sam is completely full of hot air and filled with pretentiousness. She is a passive-aggressive friend, she looks down upon others, her friends as "Lydias" meaning all looks and no brains, or "Emmas" meaning so wealthy, street-smart, and full of confidence---but that's a bad thing, compared to the innocent, smart-but-sheltered, virtuously poor, holier-than-thou perfect fucking Sam.
Sam makes fun of a friend's marriage proposal when she confides in her because it doesn't live up to her ideas of romance.

“That’s it?” I sat back. “You’re worse than Austen. You might as well say that his sentiments had ‘undergone so material a change’ or that ‘his affections and wishes’ were unchanged. Anything is better than nothing! She never tells you what’s actually said either.”
Hannah flushed red. “Don’t...compare my proposal from my real fiancé to one of your books. This is my life and I’m inviting you into it. Don’t belittle it by quoting fiction.”
“‘I wish you all imaginable happiness,’ Hannah.” I was mad, and I threw that out just to spite her.
“Forget it, Sam. I don’t know who you’re quoting, but I can tell you are. I thought you’d enjoy my story and I wanted to share it with you, but you aren’t even here. I don’t know why I bother.

What. A. Bitch.
Sam is self-centered. Wishy-washy. She can't make a decision to save her life.

She is clueless about everything---at 23.

She cuts herself with lobster pliers at a restaurant---at 23.

She doesn't know how to shave her legs---at 23.

She doesn't know how to pluck her eyebrows---at 23.

She's hardly been kissed---at 23.

She thinks a rhinoplasty is a type of rhinoceros---at 23.

And by the end, she doesn't really grow up. AM I SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE THAT THIS GIRL IS GOING TO BE A COMPETENT JOURNALIST IN AN ALMOST IVY-LEAGUE LEVEL GRADUATE SCHOOL PROGRAM?

The answer is: "Fuck, no."

God help us all. When she graduates, I'm 100% confident that Samantha Moore is going to be a writer at Fox News.