The Comedians by Graham Greene

I stole this book from the Peace Corps headquarters in Azerbaijan.

But who hasn’t? I recently made another trip overseas to see Kiersten, and one day we stopped by the PC headquarters in Baku. While its provisions are by no means extravagant, the HQ keeps a supply of donated clothing, equipment, and of course, books, for the volunteers take as they please. I’m not a volunteer, but when I see a Graham Greene novel on a shelf, my psychological condition compels me to grab it and attempt to justify to all witnesses my keeping it.

The fedora roof was a little-known hallmark of postmodernist architecture.

“Just take it,” said a nearby volunteer.

“Really?” I said. “But this stuff is for you guys. I’m not supposed to–”

“Please. Just take it.”

I like to think her insistence was based on the idea they have too many books already, and not a loathing for Greene. Either way, it’s mine, and it accompanied me on a sad plane trip back home.

In case you’ve never read Greene, he was one of the premier espionage novel writers of the 20th century. He had the uncanny knack for being in a country just before it would erupt in a civil war or revolution (granted, this was the 50s and 60s, so it was hard not to be in one). Perhaps the most famous example of these is The Quiet American, a prophetic indictment of American involvement in Vietnam.

The Comedians is drawn from his experience in Haiti during “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s reign of terror. The main character, who identifies himself as “Brown,” is an ex-pat who owns a hotel that stands empty (an everpresent, machete-wielding secret police isn’t conducive to a country’s tourism). He has been ruined by the Papa Doc regime but seems resigned to accept its atrocities as a bystander. But two other parties come to Haiti: The Smiths, American progressives who aspire to promote vegetarianism foreign countries, and “Major” Jones. Jones is an shady but affable chap who uses oddly archaic British terms and is doubtful to have ever been a Major at all. When Brown presses Jones for the reason he’s in Haiti, Jones coyly insists it’s for business.

Jones may be a grifter, a spy, or something similar, but whatever it is he’s terrible at it. “The Major” runs afoul of the dictator, and Brown reluctantly comes to his aid. This eventually threatens Brown’s relationship with his mistress–something he’s far more protective of than his decaying hotel and will go to desperate ends to preserve.

The Greene Plot Machine

Another arrogant, unhappy adulterer who is in a position to have his likable friend/rival killed. The Comedians is formula Graham Greene: this is The Quiet American, Haiti Edition. A bad book? No. But a duplicated plot cheapens both novels for me.

Also reappearing is Greene’s attack on US Cold War foreign policy, particularly America’s regrettable tradition of propping up tyrants based on their promise to kill Communists (and they never stopped at just Communists). He can be depended upon to refrain from preachiness, though, in his political message. He lets the heinousness of the Tonton Macoutes secret police speak for itself, and many of the incidents described in The Comedians are ones he’d actually witnessed–including the police interrupting a dissenter’s funeral to hijack the body.

If you’ve read The Quiet American, this is skippable, but the Haitian history is worth knowing. You might honestly choose to read one novel or the other based on the nation of interest. The Comedians an historically significant work, though, and was personally condemned by Papa Doc Duvalier, himself. But screw him. It’s chilling to read this knowing that Haiti’s tragedies would not cease even with the death of the dictator; his similarly vicious son would rule until 1986, and the 2010 earthquake would kill hundreds of thousands. (I found a Post-It in the back of my copy addressed to a Peace Corps volunteer from a fellow PCV recommending this book based on its perceived timeliness)

Reading this, though, I’m reminded that I want a Graham Greene for this era. Who is he/she, and where is this writer right now, blending morally complicated literary fiction with urgent foreign journalism?


A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Short story collections don’t sell. You’d think that they would– if we’re to believe what people keep saying about the shrinking attention span of American readership.

So I started watching The Wire now that my friend is loaning me the DVDs, and while it took a while to get going, it’s living up to its reputation, without question.

Where was I? Right, so the question is, what do you do in this business if you’re a better short story writer than a novelist?

This cover is a stylized depiction of every drama teacher I've ever had.

You don’t need to change much, actually. You can turn a short story collection into a novel by taking a character in one piece and… ahhh, let’s say… making her the daughter of some other character’s boss from another. BAM–continuity! I’d like to think you don’t need to do that to win the Pulitzer Prize, but Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, both short-story-collections-as-novels, are the last two books to take the award for fiction. So maybe it helps.

I can tell you which one’s the better book, and it’s the one where the connections between the stories and characters are actually weaker.

A Visit From the Goon Squad is thirteen stories, most of which take place in New York and involve a whole nexus of characters. Arguably at the center of this nexus are former punk rocker Bennie Salazar– who met with success as a record producer but is struggling to break his obsession with the past– and Sasha, his assistant, a kleptomaniacal beauty with a checkered past (who is more influential to the other characters than her actual character seems to justify).

Half the connections among the characters feel unnatural, especially since we’re operating within a very large population and span of time. You could argue that the continuity is thematic. They’re all about the shared experiences of music, right? And time?

But my favorite story here, “Selling the General,” actually has nothing to do with either. In it, Dolly, the former queen of celebrity public relations is making a comeback by taking on the account of a genocidal dictator who, as one readily understands, is in great need of a PR consultant. Dolly convinces a Hollywood starlet to pose with the general to boost his appeal and dampen the indictment of his crimes against humanity, and the shoot goes terribly awry. On the surface, the story is a light, farcical send-up of the power of image and the media. But when you consider the starlet’s complicated motives and the reactions of Dolly’s scary little daughter, the story plunges into the realm of disturbing.

It’s brilliant.

Plenty of good stories here will go unmentioned, including a cute and surprisingly effective little number that’s written entirely in Powerpoint slides.

The other favorite of mine is the last piece, “Pure Language,” which to me reads like dystopian literature. The thing is a marvel– considering that it’s harder, in some ways, to convincingly predict what the world will be like in ten years than in fifty. Its plot marks the heavily orchestrated comeback of punk rocker Scotty Hausman, a derelict soloist who in 2021 spends his days fishing in the East River. And thanks to an army of bloggers paid to hype him up, thousands of New Yorkers gather to see a guy sit down and play a slide guitar. The crowd comes away lauding the stripped-down performance for being “pure.” But the event was constructed by a manufactured campaign of liars. Does that inauthentic gathering make the music, the experience less authentic? Like with Woodstock, “it may be that the crowd at a particular moment in history creates the object to justify its gathering.”

It’s brilliant.

Last year this book pulled the upset on the media’s million dollar baby Jonathan Franzen and his Freedom for the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. While I really liked Freedom, Egan’s is the more deserving book. Both carry the “This is Us, America!” presumption that makes the award panelists go hard, but Goon Squad is perhaps more cerebral while being more widely appealing. Awards don’t guarantee an obscure author a lasting audience, but here’s hoping it does in this case.

Who’s Killing the English Major?

English professors, in general, could never write. So long as they were only writing to each other, of course. Furiously gesturing in their kabuki play of academese, they fling words like “intertextuality” and “signifier/signified,” which, if you do not accept their use, you are not part of the club and should suffer the due condescension.

If you want to see Exhibit A, according to Joseph Epstein of The Wall Street Journal, look at the new Cambridge History of the American Novel

This book sounds howlingly awful– a 1200-page professorial circle jerk of which the out-of-touch authors dare you to follow a single paragraph. They’re taking the history of the American novel, something for you and me, and implying that it isn’t for us just in how it’s written. I feel no less indignant about this than Epstein does.

Now, the observation that English instructors typically churn out unreadable cinderblocks– thick while being hollow– is not new. Also not new is Epstein’s argument, for which this Cambridge book serves as his evidence: the study of literature for the enrichment and enjoyment thereof has been commandeered by the liberal majority of academics administering art as social medicine– “automatic leftism” being “the reigning ethos of the current-day English Department.” Read Eskimo feminist poetry, says your typical English prof today, It’s good for you. It doesn’t matter if it’s even good.

Really, in universities, this is the enduring conflict of the past couple of generations. Liberals bemoan the Harold Bloom-ian old guard as elitists who like their canon white and male and unchanging, and conservatives bewail the takeover of all the P.C. post-posties who insist that diversity in art is synonymous with quality.

I’m fascinated by Epstein’s essay. It contains so many double standards that reading it is like walking a hall of mirrors.

English programs, in terms of respectability and popularity, are in serious decay, and Epstein says that it all started once contemporary novels were being taught in college (The reader is to agree that contemporary=terrible or else, my goodness, we’ve lost him already!). Epstein writes:

“With the gates once carefully guarded by the centurions of high culture now flung open, the barbarians flooded in, and it is they who are running the joint today.”

The barbarians he names are Kurt Vonnegut, E.L Doctorow, and Allen Ginsberg. Granted, I only like 33% of those guys, but it’s curious to see Epstein criticizing the inaccessibility of the Cambridge authors’ book, then pining for the sentinels of taste from the days of yore who slammed the doors on the unwashed contemporary novelists. He likes the gate but loathes the current gatekeepers.

But wait. I think we’ve left something in this discussion dangerously ignored…

The “Good Books?”

Inevitably we get into the question of what the “good books” are that should be taught, but look down at your feet: we’re in the shit now.

So before we ruin our Crocs forever, let me make a statement. Plenty of lousy books are taught today because they are merely culturally diverse. Just like plenty of lousy books are taught today because they always have been; they’re labeled to be “surviving” or “enduring” as opposed to merely “old.”

Has the liberal professor properly evaluated the Eskimo feminist poetry collection for artistic merit and enjoyability before adding it to the syllabus? Has the conservative professor re-evaluated The Last of the Mohicans lately for the same thing before including it yet again?

No matter which side you take, you are assigning many works for some purpose besides quality. Maybe you don’t like Beowulf (I do, but that’s neither here nor there), but it’s being taught because we’re going to learn about the early Anglo-Saxons, goddammit. Or you don’t like The House of Spirits, but you know what, we’re going to learn about Latin-American political history, goddammit.

The point is, you are much more likely to perceive an agenda behind the curriculum if you don’t enjoy the books. And that agenda, you will usually conclude, is a misguided one.

Oh, God, This Has Gotten Political

I like to think that professors and thinkers belonging to both camps first got into literary study from a shared passion for the written word, not because it was an instrument for social change or the reinforcement of traditional values (though those are usually secondary objectives that educators pick up along the way). The Book was the thing.

Epstein would have you believe that he is on the side of the angels, that his is the argument championing The Book, and the agenda-driven academics running the show are the killjoys constraining its value to whatever it says about race, class, or gender. I don’t think his opposition would see it that way. For many of the more liberal professors, enjoyment of The Book may very well be the fact it presents a minority perspective, or questions tradition, or is just plain different. Maybe the fact it is written by Eskimo women is why they love it.

Regardless, they’re teaching the book in relation to other interests, which Epstein sees as folly.

What departments have done instead is dismember the curriculum, drift away from the notion that historical chronology is important, and substitute for the books themselves a scattered array of secondary considerations (identity studies, abstruse theory, sexuality, film and popular culture). In so doing, they have distanced themselves from the young people interested in good books.

What he sees as the dilution of a study is in reality, at least by intention, a multi-faceted campaign to take books and discuss their connection to the world around us. I think we’re all aware of the stigma that English majors battle on a regular basis, which is that their field of interest is woefully inapplicable to real life (and this battle they regularly lose). This context-based approach that works to emphasize the relevance of literature–be it to pop culture, sexuality, politics, globalization, etc.– is a response to the larger student concern.

Does this show a lack of faith in the timelessness and appeal of great books themselves to fill the class rosters? That’s a valid criticism. But it isn’t the touchy-feely interdisciplinary shift in the curriculum that’s been killing the popularity of the English program. It’s the world, for God’s sake. What Epstein is fingering as the gunman is really the bumbling EMT who arrived on the scene to administer the shock paddles in the wrong place.

Booktrack: I Can Hear You Reading Over There

I recoil at this like I do most innovations that seek to improve “the reading experience.” The nose upturns by reflex: I don’t need an orchestral score to enjoy my books, thank you very much. 

But the presumption isn’t that it’s needed, but that it might make some books a little more fun.

Booktrack is a New York start-up that’s begun selling downloadable ebooks with original soundtracks complete with music, ambient noise, and contextual sound effects. You figured somebody was going to do this eventually, and the question was how good it would be once they did.

To its credit, Booktrack seems to acknowledge that readers are fussy. Maybe you like the ambient ocean waves but find the music distracting: lower the volume on the music or simply mute it. If you want to reread a previous line, you tap it, and the soundtrack snaps back to that point.

Watching the preview on their web site, I think Booktrack has anticipated all my misgivings on the very concept. Almost every addition you could possibly dislike, you can adjust or turn off — even the little dot sliding down the margin that predicts your adjusted reading speed (in order to sync up the music).

The interface looks good. The only question is, well, the quality of the soundtrack.

On the Sherlock Holmes preview, the swelling music and the ambient drumming raindrops were fine, but the sound effects, like the thudding footsteps and the lady’s wail, are in Royalty-Free Soundz territory. Just think of all the Wilhelm Screams these things will have.

Another preview showed an excerpt of Jay McInerny’s Bright Lights, Big City describing an 80’s club scene, wherein the line, “Your brain is composed of a brigade of Bolivian soldiers marching through the night,” is accompanied by the actual clomping of marching soldiers (this with Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” in the background).

Are the sounds all going to be this literal? Awesome! Then maybe the Booktrack rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” will begin like this:

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain [door creaking open, then shutting]; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night [“Oooooo! Ooo-OOO-oooo!”]. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man [a big wet SMOOCH]. He had never done me wrong.

(This with Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” in the background)

So they’re working the teen angle, what with the one new book at launch being the sequel to I Am Number Four,  The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore (a.k.a. James Frey).

It’s the right target market: first, this technology would seem especially appealing to younger readers, and second, the fastest and cheapest way to build Booktrack’s library would be through focusing not on new books, but rather public domains like Pride and Prejudice and Huck Finn — classics that happen to be on the assigned reading lists of millions of students.

If the execution’s there, I can imagine Booktracks becoming an influential player in publishing, maybe even spawning imitators. But if the quality’s off, then reading one of these noisy books will just be embarrassing. It remains to be seen, I suppose.

Until then, what best enhances my reading experience is, and will continue to be, a quiet porch and a rum and coke. And Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.'”

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

This book feels very Austenian at first: how a family makes money is much less topical than how it keeps it via strategic ball-going and strategic marrying. But the point where this novel ceases being Austenian is where it starts becoming good.

"How vulgar: they do not clothe their cherubs."

Let me get something straight. The Strategic Ball-going Society can be the setting of a story I thoroughly enjoy, but I need the protagonists to hate it. I need them to hate it like Winston and Julia hated Oceania. It’s not a question of solidarity with the characters — it simply guarantees something consequential will happen in this stupid, soul crushing place. Rock this boat, somebody. You’re limited to drawing room gossip sessions about the Miltons and the Granbys and the Skillingbrokes while you plan your luncheons: do something more worthy of contemplation than marry each other after pursuing the wrong people for 350 pages.

But The Age of Innocence is not what its opening suggests. Edith Wharton does a head fake toward Austen and then makes a fast cut toward Thomas Hardy, and what you eventually find is a pair of lovers struggling to liberate each other from their societal Purgatory.

New York in the 1870s is a very small place if you’re rich. It marks the twilight years of “Society” (the kind you capitalize) — where high-standing families intermarry and reputations are made or broken depending on who invites you to dinner. The Age of Innocence is about a period in America where the old money tradition is about to marginalized by people who can actually get rich, too, by doing something. The American Dream had antagonists, and these established aristocrats are them, perched on high and digging their talons in harder than ever.

Newland Archer is the grown-up golden boy who is discovering, albeit slowly, that he wants more than the staid tradition of the same dinners, the same operas, the same smoking room conversations with the same intellectually unambitious people. And he’s discovering this too late: he is betrothed to May Welland, pixie-like Stepford wife extraordinaire. May’s cousin, Ellen, has returned disgraced from Europe after fleeing a marriage gone sour. Taking pity on her (and to avoid marrying into a tainted family), Newland helps Ellen recover her reputation and legally counsels her not to divorce her overseas husband.

And expectedly, he becomes drawn to her. She’s a candid free spirit who lives alone among the Bohemians and is a natural coquette. Newland can barely bring himself to acknowledge it when it’s happening, but his attachment to “Madame Olenska” is growing much stronger than is… appropriate.

Pangs of New York

Wharton’s discreet prose kept me leaning into the book: character reactions are subtle but telling, and notorious affairs are hush-hush but there. The most memorable scenes for me were the dark, intense fireside encounters between Ellen and Newland and Newland’s wedding day, where you reach the distinct, terrifying conclusion that he isn’t just marrying May– he’s marrying everybody in the social circle.

Speaking of the social circle, it is indeed populated with vivid characters who are mostly loathsome except the titanic Mrs. Manson Mingott, where Wharton dispenses all her best fat jokes (“…the immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life [was] like a flood of lava on a doomed city…”)

Granted, when the plot enters the latter half of the book, the record starts to skip.

Ellen: Here we are in a secret place. I’m thinking of going back to my husband.

Archer: No! No! No! No! No!

Ellen: Then, will you leave May?

Archer: No.


Obviously the conflict is between Newland’s desire for Ellen and his obligation to family and tradition, and there’s enough tension here to keep you guessing if this putz will actually take the plunge… even if nothing happens for a while. But how much does he actually love Ellen as a person as opposed to a promise of lust and freedom? By that same token, since May is merely a smiling android, you get the impression that the person definitely doesn’t hold the appeal for him, either, but rather the promise of a secure lifestyle.

The book’s uncompromising ending is a thing to admire, and sealed it for me that when I closed The Age of Innocence I closed a great (though sometimes irksome) book. And one better catering to my cynicism than I expected, which should get me excited for Wharton’s more famous Ethan Frome. I hear that one ends quite nasty.


Just around the corner from my apartment stood two bookstores. Soon, there’ll just be one.

A Barnes & Noble and a Borders actually faced each other on opposite sides of my street for more than a decade. I worked at the B&N for three years. Especially because of the location, customers assumed that a sort of animosity existed between the stores. “You don’t have [insert book title]?” we’d sometimes hear. “Well, I’ll just go across the street to Borders!” They’d forget that the competitive drive is mostly lost on a floor-level employee who isn’t paid commission. Besides, we don’t mind Borders. It’s a bookstore like us, for crying out loud.

We would talk about each new development in the Borders bankruptcy saga and shake our heads. Nobody wanted to see another bookstore disappearing. Not even our management, really: while store sales would increase, it would be a morbid reminder of an unnerving trend.

Granted, that particular Borders was never my bookstore of choice. It’s being located in the mall made its clientele naturally more annoying. Also, it presented itself as more of a media retailer, so in spite of being the second largest bookselling chain in America, it never truly felt like a bookstore to me. So even before I scanned and shelved hardcovers for its competitor across the street, I rarely shopped there.

But with it closing, and me needing the third George R.R. Martin novel, I went to have a look and pay my respects. This weekend Borders was in its 25-to-50%-off throes of liquidation, teeming with customers with only a handful of employees still on the payroll to attend to them. Walking the aisles and squeezing past other shoppers, I couldn’t help feeling like a carrion feeder. I avoided eye contact with the few Borders booksellers left, people who I knew were being cast into a persistently shitty Colorado Springs job market. A few of these employees will get jobs at the Barnes & Noble across the street just in time for the seasonal hiring blip. Many of my B&N coworkers were themselves picked up from McKinzey-White, B. Dalton, and other small bookstores that folded in the area years ago.

McKinzey-White! Come to think of it, my neighborhood used to have three bookstores. Now, even if you count the large used shops, there are only four bookstores in this entire city of over half-a-million people.

Ten years ago, it was ridiculous to think that shopping at a Barnes & Noble — a carnivorous corporate behemoth viewed to glut itself en masse on Mom n’ Pop bookshops — would feel like supporting your neighborhood bookstore. It’s come to that. The digital reading age is of course eliminating the need of the brick-and-mortar store for all but the traditionalists: people who feel an irreplaceable sense of satisfaction when wandering aisles filled with promising volumes that they can tilt down, flip open, peruse, and carry with them to a table to read. But it’s impractical for the existing bookstores to keep the inventory they had before the e-book revolution. The biggies will inevitably downsize, for most of their product is now, well, incorporeal, and it’ll be unnecessary to pay rent and utilities for the same large building spaces as before. Even if a giant like Barnes & Noble continues to grow as a company, the stores themselves will eventually condense into more boutique-style shops over time. In that sense, chains like B&N and Books-A-Million will feel more like homey little bookshops than you ever expected, and yes, there can only be fewer of them.

This is the natural progression of things, I thought while staring at what was left on the Borders shelves. No Storm of Swords — not a copy of Martin there to be found. The atmosphere was overwhelming me, and I left quickly. Until I finally buy an eBook reader, I’m going to have to get used to leaving bookstores empty-handed.

And now, without Borders, many neighborhoods will now no longer have a bookstore.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

People want Nick Hornby to be a better author than he really is. As far as I’ve read/heard from fellow readers, he’s an unfailingly likable voice whose novels still tend turn out meh. Granted, these are other people’s opinions and not mine, a fact I’m slightly ashamed of since Hornby’s the kind of guy I should have already delved into ages ago. (In a way I have: in his regular column at The Believer, he was the nicest devil-may-care book critic I’ve ever read.)

Utterly fails to deliver on engrossing promise of its title.

Whether it’s his best known books adapted to film (High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Fever Pitch) or his other screenplay work (An Education), Hornby’s exposure is more cinematic than literary. His primary gig is the Messy Romantic Dramedy, and if I may weigh in after reading Juliet, Naked, I’d say he’s damn good at it.

Annie is finally breaking up with Duncan, the obsessed webmaster of a site dedicated to 80’s folk rocker Tucker Crowe. Tucker Crowe produced a landmark breakup album in 1986 that is still dissected daily by a handful of music snobs, with Duncan being king snob. Annie commits the ultimate betrayal in their relationship by listening to a to-be released demo version of the album (“Juliet Naked”) before Duncan can, and she doubles her transgression by not finding it to be unparalleled genius. Duncan allows her to post her lukewarm review on his site, and soon she is emailed by someone claiming to be Tucker Crowe. The artist, himself, agrees with her that Juliet Naked is lousy (and it later it becomes apparent he only released it for what little money it would pull in.). “The idea,” writes Tucker, “that a person with ears could listen to those two sets of recordings and decide that the shitty, sketchy one is better than the one we sweated blood over is baffling to me.” Thus begins Annie’s correspondence (and schoolgirl crush) with the former cult icon who lives across the pond in America.

Industry Fun Fact: Nick Hornby, Jonathan FranzenJennifer Egan, and other literary novelists apparently colluded last year to write about Washed-Up Musicians as the theme of some sort of workshop contest I was unaware of.

The early stages of this book nagged me. Of course, Hornby must establish that Annie and Duncan are as dynamic as boiled liver, but that doesn’t make reading about them any less dull. The worst part is that their lives, or at least Duncan’s, revolve around a rock album that doesn’t exist, making them less relatable than garden gnomes. It’s difficult to immerse myself in a book that seems to center around a fictitious celebrity, and as in this novel’s case, one that’s supposed to occupy the same dimension as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Leonard Cohen, and I was expecting that no amount of authenticating detail was going to make Tucker Crowe seem like a real person.

Until, of course, I met Tucker Crowe the person. Somehow that sold the illusion. Seeing the musician’s fall from grace and his campaign of redemption through his six-year-old son led me not only to accept that his legendary album “Juliet” was real, but I wanted it to be real.

Juliet, Naked is quite fine as a romantic novel, but it’s also pointed study of the relationship between artists and their work, as well as artists and their “experts.” The tendency of a fan to over-analyze of a piece of work (as Duncan realizes, “Maybe he’d spent too long translating something that had been in English all along”) and its artist to despise said work just rings true through these characters. The ironies are fun– especially watching Duncan react to his ex dating his musical idol– without one iota of meanness. Because Hornby’s a nice guy, you know.

In terms of plotting a relationship, Hornby will trade cleanliness for awkwardness at every turn. I dig this commitment to authenticity, that Annie and Tucker are tentative and wobbly with each other, but it makes the whole plot seem tentative and wobbly. A less “authentic” romance plot has more clear-cut direction– here they grow closer, grow apart, then closer again, etc.– that’s honestly more gripping fiction albeit a less accurate depiction of how relationships actually progress. That being said, Juliet, Naked’s ending, especially, could have benefitted from a little less ambiguity. To wrap things up more tidy-like, you know, with a nice snog.