Thursday, May 24, 2012

Part Twenty-Six, Chapter One - Gris Leaves His Brain in Turkey

So after 283 pages of the villainous protagonist waiting for his mail-order bride, trying to win back the heart of a woman he purchased as a personal belly dancer, falling into depression, listlessly watching the heroic antagonist make progress, writing angry memos to his henchmen, failing to note the obvious, launching half-baked schemes that turn out to be a complete waste of time, and trying to appear busy to appease his bosses, Soltan Gris is finally leaving Turkey to try and get stuff done.  And it's not an overnight trip where he's dropping off some junk, he is serious now.  Heller is going down.

Whenever Utanc gets ready, of course.  She wastes a day taking her boys to a professional photographer, and Gris notes that the little gits are "insufferably smug" about their plastic surgery.  Then Utanc has to pack, and I've no doubt that Gris will neither inspect her luggage nor wonder what's making those five trunks so heavy.  But the next day they're on their way.

There's also some clumsy writing.  Gris, as narrator, explains to us that he wants to discuss the trip to Washington D.C. "to give you some idea of the trials an Apparatus officer faces in his efforts to do his duty."  This is transparently an opportunity for the author to show Utanc acting suspicious, and reinforce Gris as an arrogant, useless twerp.  Except we've had chapter after chapter of Gris running minor errands and devoting whole paragraphs to describing his Authentic Turkish Lunch, so there's no reason to think Gris wouldn't spend a chapter telling us about the hotels he stayed at.  And as for Gris giving us "some idea of how hard it was to get to Washington," there is absolutely no difficulty involved.  They just fly into the country.  Gris doesn't wrangle with customs or struggle to get a ticket, the passage is a non-event.  In short, Hubbard is excusing something that doesn't need an excuse and doesn't fit the excuse.

Apparently last chapter Gris agreed to let Utanc handle the money, and she also surprises him by handling the hotel reservations too.  When they fly to Rome they get a room at the Hotel Salvatore Magnifico Cosioso (no idea).  The "shy, wild desert girl" is somehow able to read the street signs and realize that the taxi driver is taking the long route to run up their fare, and chews him out in almost-fluent Italian (Utanc says he's "got another think coming," and I'm not sure if that's an accent, an intentional mistake, or a typo).  Gris decides she's been studying a tourist phrasebook that must've included a section on threatening to shove a stiletto up someone's (bleep). 

While at the hotel, Utanc hauls all her stuff into the bedroom, kicks Gris out into the sitting room, and locks the door.  Gris spends a full three hours wondering what she's doing in there before wandering off to the hotel bar, but on the way he sees a beautiful European woman he realizes is Utanc walking towards their suite.  She goes in and locks the door without noticing him.  "And that was my stay in Rome--two days of it."

Gris doesn't wonder what's going on, try to talk to Utanc, assemble the clues that something is not right, see about a pity (bleep), get suspicious, offer to go out to dinner, or show any curiosity towards this unexpected situation.  He is no longer a first-person narrator, or even a character in his own right.  Now he's just a regular narrator, commenting on another character's actions without having any effect on the story whatsoever.

Next up is Paris, and the Chateau Le Beau Grand Cher (no idea either), where Utanc spends a full ten minutes lecturing a waiter, in French, over some unacceptable bubbly stuff.  Gris of course thinks it's perfectly normal that a "shy desert girl would object to out-of-date champagne," though he decides he's losing his touch at observation by not spotting Utanc study her phrasebook.  Then he spends another two days on the suite's sitting room couch as Utanc comes and goes with loads of packages.  The most curiosity he shows is when he wonders about some laughter coming from the bedroom.

This is a guy who stuck a listening device in Utanc's room last chapter, and spent other chapters camped out on her front lawn hoping for a glimpse of her, or trying to protect her from some imagined threat.  Someone who decided he can't live without this girl, and is jealous towards two little boys who help her around the house (for, to be fair, perfectly legitimate reasons).

London, Royal Suite of the Savoy Hotel, three days on a couch in the sitting room while Utanc goes "shopping."  The last night Gris notes that she returned in her veil, looking strangely hollow-eyed.  The chapter ends with an uneventful flight to D.C.  and the Willard Hotel, with Utanc making sure to order a Liebfraumilch '54 from Room Service in perfect English.  But this time Gris notices a tourist phrasebook in her bag.  "That mystery was solved!"  

Once again, Hubbard has written a plot that requires certain characters to be complete morons for it to work.  A sixth-grader would have noticed that Utanc's actions don't mesh with her backstory, but Soltan Gris will forget to be an intelligence operative for as long as necessary for this Mysterious Utanc subplot to continue.

Back to Part Twenty-Five, Chapter Eight

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