I wanted to like this book. I like epistolary novels, and I really like epistolary novels involving technology. I liked Meg Cabot’s “The Boy Next Door,” which is largely told via email, even with the weird part where the villain is running down the stairs and the heroine is on her laptop in the stairwell typing that the villain is running down the stairs. OMG… pick your laptop up and run, girl!
I also have a major soft spot for the section at the back of Dave Barry’s “Dave Barry in Cyberspace,” where he wrote what I presume is a fictional chat encounter that leads to romance—after a woman creates an AOL chat room called “Can Actually Spell.” The romance in chat lines between MsPtato and RayAdverb is one of my favorites, even though it’s jokey and short and deals with infidelity. The format was as much a part of the developing story as the chat dialogue itself.
I like Teresa Medeiros’ books, as a rule. Some of them are among my most-favoritest-ever, which is another reason why I kept giving this book another try, over and over and over. I wanted to like this book. I kept trying to read it and I kept running into reasons to stop.
The heroine has cats named Willow Tum Tum and Buffy the Mouse Slayer… identical to the names of author Teresa Medeiros’ cats, who are both regular characters in her own tweetstream. I really, really, really dislike it when the author and the heroine can’t be distinguished from one another for any reason, and this was too cutesy and too much reality.
There’s the “View from my laptop” as tweeted by the heroine, another hallmark of Medeiros’ tweetstream.
The heroine quotes things that Teresa Medeiros has said, most notably a line from her CNN.com article about defining the hero. The heroine says her ideal hero is a man with a moral core that would “rush into a burning building to rescue a basket of kittens.” Now, Medeiros has used this line elsewhere, and that’s not a big deal, but coming out of the mouth of her fictional heroine… too mixed up with reality for me.
Even WITH my discomfort, I kept trying to read this book. I liked the urgency and meaningless/meaningful dialogue, and I like Medeiros’ writing. But I couldn’t get past how many times I would read a line or see a phrase and think “author” not “character.”
I didn’t like how the reality of the author’s voice was intruding into the fictional world of the book. But then, the reverse didn’t work, either. The parts that were fiction that could come forward into “real life” weren’t verifiable. For example, when the characters tweet pictures of one another, none of the URLs actually work (I tried, trust me).
Maybe that was kind of the point, and the author was playing with the idea of reality and character, that everyone on Twitter is a fraction of themselves, a sketch of a character typed out in 140 characters. Maybe if you follow Medeiros’ tweetstream, which is a very fun and savvy example of an author interacting online, you’re supposed to see the words and phrases in this book that are the author’s, not the character’s, and wonder how much of the author, and the character, is real when present on Twitter, and by extension, how much or how little of ourselves we reveal on Twitter.
My problem is that of the authors I follow on Twitter, Medeiros is one of the strongest and most adept at using Twitter for building her own brand and persona online. Since I follow her on Twitter, I already know the in-jokes and the characters she used to populate this story, but instead of feeling as if I were in on the humor, I felt confused and mistrustful because I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to see Abby or Medeiros as the heroine. And I didn’t want to see Medeiros. As far as I know, she’s happily married and living in the South, not single and miserable living in New York City. I knew Abby Donovan wasn’t her, but I couldn’t separate Medeiros from the character, either.
I could also be overthinking my struggle entirely, or trying to talk around my own discomfort. I just couldn’t get past the number of times I saw Teresa Medeiros in the text and not Abby Donovan. No matter where I tried to start reading – the beginning, any random chapter, the ending – I couldn’t see Abby Donovan as an independent character at all, because Medeiros kept talking instead. It was either a intricate and clever ploy to examine Twitter without examining it outright, or it was cutesy and twee(t), or both, or neither. Whichever it was, I couldn’t finish the book because of the intrusion of the author and her own online persona, and the fact that both were stronger than the character of Abby, who as a result never had a chance to develop on her own. I couldn’t read more than a chapter without getting annoyed or confused and having to put it down.