Wednesday, February 1, 2006

America The Beautiful, Moon Unit Zappa

Title: America The Beautiful
Author: Moon Unit Zappa
Rating: OK

I was attracted to this book for two reasons:
  1. I have always been a fan of Frank Zappa, and wanted to know more about him and his family.
  2. Another review on Doug's book review site.
I didn't have any huge expectations going into this book, but a quick glance convinced me that it would be a quick read, and thus good for a time just before I start up a new class at the local community college, rather than get wrapped up in something more weighty.

That off-the-cuff assessment was right on target. The story concerns the trials of America Throne, daughter of a famous painter, and unsuccessful at anything she's tried so far. We follow her starting (essentially) when she is dumped by her long time boyfriend and watch her flounder as she tries to regain some sense of herself and control over her life.

I divide the book up into three parts:
  1. In which the main character whines a lot.
  2. In which the main character doesn't wine so much.
  3. In which the main character has her life come back together.
That's no doubt overly simplistic, but it covers the highlights. As you might suspect, while I was engaged enough to finish the book and wonder what would happen to America next as I read, I wasn't that really into it all that much. There were a number of issues here that bothered me:
  • I always assumed - based on the content of much of his music and some of the between song commentaries - that Frank Zappa was an avowed atheist. Perhaps I was wrong in that assumption, though I am certain that he had no love of any organized religion. Regardless, Moon Unit seems to have more of a spiritual side to her than I would have expected, and while I didn't find it overbearing, it certainly stuck in my craw from time to time while reading this.
  • In addition, she seems to have a fixation on just about every bodily function possible, and a willingness to describe them all as needed. I didn't find they advanced the story much.
  • The end (perhaps the last 5th of the book or so) was just too trite. The new love interest was expected, and everything came together too simply for me to be comfortable with it. I am a sucker for a happy ending, but this was too simple given the build up of the previous 4/5ths of the book.
  • I kept wondering how much of this book was autobiographical. But my reaction may be backwards from what others would expect: the more of it that is true, the less I think the story should be told, really. If it were entirely true, then (to my mind) it is entirely too personal to share, given it doesn't also (as far as I can see) tell a higher level story or expose some deeper truth.
  • Finally - and this may be the root of the problem - I am pretty sure that I am not even remotely the target audience for this book. I suspect I have just read my first bit of "chick lit" - a genre I didn't know existed until perhaps two months ago. The target audience is definitely female, and probably younger than me. After too much whining about her relationship breaking up, I just wanted the main character to shut up. That, I suspect, is not what the author intended.
I am not averse to a good, inner, psychological story, in which the characters go through (and even whine about) horrible things. But if that happens I want to see there is some point to it all in the end; some reason for telling the story. I didn't find that here, alas.

I may have to watch things get blown up in a movie tonight. A dose of testosterone to offset this book seems in order.