Let’s Read The Selection ch. 14

the_selection_cover

(Note: blog posts may be few and far between for the next while as I recover from an injury)

Chapter 14

Remember how I spent the entire last post complaining about how it makes no god damn sense for the rebels to be able to attack the palace over and over again? WELL,

The attack was so inconsequential, according to the king, that it barely warranted notice.

ANY ATTACK ON THE PALACE WARRANTS NOTICE

It’s like there’s some alternate universe version of this story where the rebels are repeatedly attacking and raiding locations around the capital city, which would be much more believable, and then at the last minute there was a hasty editing job to change it so they’re constantly attacking the palace itself.

I learned that for every dozen people I saw in the palace, there were a hundred or more behind them.

How big is this place? The descriptions make it seem like a decently sized mansion of the sort that an A-list actor would live in, whereas hundreds of staff members would point more toward a huge government building like the White House, which serves as much more than just an official residence.

The cooks and laundresses I knew about, but there were also people whose sole job was to keep the windows clean. It took a solid week for the team to get them all done, by the end of which the dust would find its way past the palace walls and cling to the clean glass, and they’d have to be washed all over again.

…are we supposed to find it surprising that there are people employed to clean windows, and that this is a job that needs to be done repeatedly? Because neither of those two facts is at all surprising.

There’s a long, baffling conversation between Maxon and America where Maxon suggests that they need some kind of signal to indicate to each other that one of them wants to speak to the other. I’m not sure why he feels this way, since he can waltz into her room any time he wants (he does it at the start of this conversation).

I looked in the mirror. I still looked like me. It was the prettiest version of myself I’d seen so far, but I knew that face. Ever since my name had been drawn, I’d feared I would become something unrecognizable—covered in layers of makeup and so hung down with jewelry that I’d have to dig out of it for weeks to find myself again. So far, I was still America.

Apart from moping about Aspen–which she hasn’t actually done all that much since her first night panic attack–this is basically the entirety of America’s character arc and internal conflict: vague, generic worry that her time at the palace is going to change her in some nebulous way. It’s not very compelling.

I would have watched a little longer, but Silvia, in all her glory, came to escort me into place.

I just about managed to remember who this side character is, unlike all the rest of them (she’s the Effie Trinket-esque woman who tells the Selected what to do).

“You may sit anywhere you like. So you know, most of the girls have already claimed the front row.” She looked sorry for me, as if she were delivering bad news.
“Oh, thank you,” I said, and went happily to take a seat in the back.

At every opportunity, this book avoids conflict and tension.

America got Selected, but (barring her odd freak out that one time) isn’t actually all that bothered by it.

She has to appear in front of cameras and interact with throngs of fans, but it turns out she’s totally a natural at it, to the extent that she doesn’t even realize how awesome she is.

She has no privacy and loses most of her independence, down to being dressed by other people, but she’s more or less entirely blase about it.

She kicked Prince Maxon in the groin, but there were no consequences and if anything it brought them closer together.

Rebels “attack” the palace, but they just throw some shit at the windows and then leave at the first sign of resistance.

And then we have smaller events like this, where more or less everything goes the way America wants it to. She’s rarely forced to do something she finds frightening or uncomfortable, and when she does, it invariably turns out fine. All of this makes the book a total snooze-fest to read.

Her dress was a brilliant yellow. With her blond hair and sun-kissed skin, she looked like she was radiating light into the room.
“Marlee, I love that dress. You look fantastic!”

I really can’t wait for Marlee to get un-Selected so the book can stop pretending anyone except America actually has a chance at winning.

Just in front of us, Amy turned around.

Who

There were several girls in seductive reds and lively greens, but no one else in blue. Olivia had gone so far as to wear orange. I’d admit that I didn’t know that much about fashion, but Marlee and I both agreed that someone should have intervened on her behalf. The color made her skin look kind of green.

It’s been made pretty clear that America’s maids are the ones choosing all of her outfits for her, so I don’t know why she’s judging other girls’ fashion choices, unless the book decided to retcon itself so she’d have a chance to be superior to someone.

Many of the announcements tied into the rebels, placing blame for certain things on their shoulders. The roads being built in Sumner were behind schedule because of the rebels, and the number of local officers in Atlin was down because they’d been sent to help with a rebel-caused disturbance in St. George. I had no idea either of those things had happened.

This sounds like a move right out of the autocrat’s playbook: constantly invoke the specter of an outside enemy who you can blame all of your administration’s shortcomings (or even natural disasters) on. Communist governments were particularly fond of it– if you’ve read Animal Farm, the running plot point where every problem on the farm is blamed on Snowball (the Trotsky analogue) is a satire of this.

Actually now that I think about it, maybe there is a good explanation for how the rebels keep managing to gain access to the palace, and why they conveniently never manage to kill anyone important or do anything else that would cause serious damage…

And then, as if he had appeared out of thin air, Gavril was walking on set after being introduced by the Master of Events.

Who is Gavril again

I felt the little beads of sweat pooling on my temple. Sit here and look nice… I could do that. But answer questions?

You’ve already done that a bunch of times and had no issue.

Even when the book does try to go for tension, it totally falls flat.

Just before Gavril’s microphone reached Maxon’s face, I caught his eye and gave him a wink. That tiny action was enough to make him smile.

Nope these characters totally aren’t going to end up together, America is just in the competition for the money. Wouldn’t it be ever so shocking if that turned out not to be the case?

“So she’s still with us, then?” Gavril looked over at the collection of girls, grinning widely, and then returned to face his prince.
“Oh, yes. She’s still here,” Maxon said, not letting his eyes wander from Gavril’s face. “And I plan on keeping her here for quite a while.”

DRAMATIC CHAPTER ENDING

It’s not entirely clear that America realizes Maxon is talking about her here. Then I started wondering if we’re meant to realize that it’s her; if we are, then that seems like a bad idea since characters not figuring out things out at the same time as the reader is one of the most frustrating things a book can do.

 

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12 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Selection ch. 14

  1. Signatus

    “The attack was so inconsequential, according to the king, that it barely warranted notice.”

    You know what was even MORE inconsequential than this attack? The Michael Fagan incident of 1982, and the news covered the story because, well, ANY sort of incident or security breach in the palace is going to make the news. Where have you lived ALL your life, Cass? I wasn’t even born in 1982 and even I know about the Fagan incident… and I’m not even in the UK!

    “and then at the last minute there was a hasty editing job”

    You’re the one reading the book, so if this is how it feels to you, maybe you’re right. However, to me it feels like some afterthought edition because nothing aside from the pangeant was happening, and maybe the editor suggested adding some sort of conflict to add tension. I believe Cass doesn’t understand what conflict means, and that you can actually have conflict in a plot without having a strand of violence in it, but whatever.

    “The cooks and laundresses I knew about, but there were also people whose sole job was to keep the windows clean.”

    Wait… what? Do you even know how a medieval palace works and why they were so huge? It wasn’t because the kings were megalomaniacs, I tell you. Are you telling me your royal family lives in a house so HUGE that they need an army just to keep it clean?

    Dear lord, do your fucking RESEARCH? I’m not an expert in medieval history so I was unsure of whether what I remembered was accurate or not. It took me 5 MINUTES to reach a wikipedia article (Medieval household) and even less to diagonally read until I reached the part I was looking for. You don’t live in some damn obscure era were reading is reserved to a few privileged, you don’t even have to get out of your fucking house to get an idea. You have a part of google where scientific peer reviewed publications appear. For goodness sake, you don’t have ANY excuse to be LAZY.

    “I’d feared I would become something unrecognizable”

    I fear a lot of things. This is not one of them, maybe because I don’t consider my whole personality and worth is on what my face looks like.

    “At every opportunity, this book avoids conflict and tension.”

    Adding to everything you’ve already stated I would like to repeat something I already stated earlier in the book. It would actually help if America had entered the selection for some sort of goal, like fighting for the rights of the lower castes from a position of power, or to bring her parents out of poverty or even because she’s a materialistic power hungry woman wanting to success in life, or because she’s an academic and knows the only way to have access to knowledge, a library, etc, is being the highest caste (lets remember she’s pretty much forced to be a musician for life, something her brother was not happy to do if I remember correctly).

    The thing is America entered the selection for no reason at all, and since she doesn’t want to be there to begin with she doesn’t care about being there. So we are, in essence, feeling exactly what America is feeling, Boredom. She’s bored, she wants out, she’s not even going to try because she doesn’t care. If she, who is the protagonist, doesn’t care, WHY are we supposed to care? Cass? Hello, it is me again, think about this, dear. You can’t expect your readers to care if your main character is acting as if this was first hour in the morning history class.

    “Marlee, I love that dress. You look fantastic!”

    I really want to meet this author and have a talk with her. I want to know whether she’s a real human being with human interests, or whether she’s as empty and superficial as her book seems to indicate. Well, she did pass the Bechdel test… her book is full of female characters who don’t talk about men, they talk about dresses and makeup. This shows how stupid that test can be.

    “someone should have intervened on her behalf”

    Consistency is your friend, Cass.

    “maybe there is a good explanation”

    That would actually be kind of good and would add some tension to the plot, but Cass can barely understand what terrorism is… that would be overthinking way too much.

    An incompetent government would also be an interesting point to play with, a government that’s launching an ultra expensive pangeant to select a queen amongst them while the people struggle to survive, it would bring some interesting social commentaries.

    But again, that’s for people who worry about other things aside from what they’re wearing today, which seems to be Cass’ main interest.

    “I caught his eye and gave him a wink. ”

    Do people in real life do this? It never felt natural to me so I never do it. I mean, a smile comes naturally to me, but a wink?

    Reply
    1. Ben

      It does seem like the rebel attacks were dropped into the draft after the rest of it was written. That explains all the weird, tension-free choices with them: they do non-invasive attacks like throwing rocks at windows or ransacking remote parts of the palace complex, there’s no way to predict their attacks or stop them, their objectives and members are largely unknown, and no one’s really that worried about them anyway. If her editor did tell Cass to insert an external threat to her protagonist, Cass couldn’t be bothered to change a single other thing about her draft, and it shows.

      Reply
      1. Signatus

        Yeah, that’s pretty much what I was thinking. Actually, I know I’ve said this before but a lot about this book feels like it was supposed to be a medieval fairy tale and then it got completely remade into a dystopian sort of story but not really rewritten. It’s almost as if they took that first draft and frankesteined it into something else by adding elements here and there. The result is this inconsistent piece of s….

        Cass has not developed the society. Cass has not developed the very obvious barbarian bandits. Cass forgets every time that her story is placed in a technologically advanced future (at least as advanced as ours, so they actually HAVE electricity, enough for an electric fence, for example). There are a lot of parts in the book where it totally feels like this was initially set in some medieval past, and then the futuristic elements got added afterwards.

        Reply
    2. Neremworld

      The Bechtel test isn’t ‘is this feminist’ and more just a way to point out the fact that basically women have zero focus in a lot of mainstream stuff, to the point that women can never actually talk about something that isn’t a man.

      Of course, the test can be helpful in illuminating people who absolutely cannot stop focusing on men no matter what.

      Like the ‘Bechtel Test’ scene in the Kingkiller Chronicles. Despite being blatantly setup to pass the test for the sake of passing the test, it still fails the test. Why? Because it actually completely focuses on Kvothe listening in, instead of the two people talking, to the point that the non-Denna character is unseen and unheard. It’s one person talking to themself in reality.

      Reply
      1. Signatus

        Does the test determine what it means when two women speak about men? So a book featuring a female assassin and a female police in pursue of a dangerous terrorist (male) would systematically fail the test because most of their conversations are going to feature necessarily a man? The test is not clear what it means by women talking about men and good media featuring strong female characters will fail out of need as soon as one character mentions their brother, father, son, or that asshat from the burguer king across the street, simply because they are male.

        The context of a story is very relevant in determining the conversations certain characters are going to have (unless you want to add pointless filler simply to pass the test). A story about the struggles of a woman through an abusive relationship will probably fail the test while featuring a strong, female character, while this piece of shit is focusing all of its attention on females and it doesn’t feature a single strong character (be it male or female). This book is passing the test where other, much better works, don’t, and not necessarily because the focus of the story is on male characters.

        And that’s my irk with the test. It doesn’t really pay attention to the story, the female characters and the context of the plot. If you like fast paced stories and want to move the plot forward you’re not going to get lost in menial chatter about whatever bullshit you might think about, you’re going to focus on moving the plot forward and if the plot’s antagonist is a male, too bad (you should have chosen a female, see?) because even when your females might not talk a single moment about a romantic interest or be damsels in distress, your story is not passing the test.

        So, when we talk about a male, what male? Your best friend? Your abusive boyfriend? Lex Luthor? President Trump? Two females could be damn talking about Trump winning the elections and discussing how that’s a stepback in feminism, and the damn story will fail the test. Actually, some movies that do pass the test (The Theory of Everything, for example) do not feature a female as a protagonist.

        To be honest, I’d rather be misrepresented than represented like Kiera Cass did here.

        The test is way too simple and limited to actually determine accurately the representation and empowerment of females in the media.

        Reply
        1. A. Noyd

          So a book featuring a female assassin and a female police in pursue of a dangerous terrorist (male) would systematically fail the test because most of their conversations are going to feature necessarily a man?

          Yes, two (named) female characters talking about pursuing a male character would fail the test. As a scene. If they have a conversation that isn’t about a man at some point in the movie, that passes even if other scenes are them talking about men.

          But keep in mind that the test was only ever supposed to be one of Bechdel’s comic book character’s personal criteria for choosing to watching a movie. (And, on another level, Bechdel’s own criticism of how relentlessly centralized male characters are in fiction.) It was never meant to be a test that other people apply to determine if a work of fiction is meaningfully “feminist” or anything else.

          Reply
          1. Signatus

            So if they, at some point, talk about babies, clothing or house chores, the story would pass the test. So if they focus most of their conversations on moving the case forward, females are underrepresented, but the moment they talk about babies they stop being underrepresented. That’s precisely my problem with the test.

            “It was never meant to be a test that other people apply to determine if a work of fiction is meaningfully “feminist” or anything else.”

            The problem is, this is what a lot of people today believe.

          2. A. Noyd

            It was never about the quality of representation. It’s about how movies centralize male characters and male narratives so much that female characters more often than not exist only to further the male characters’ narratives. The test was intended by the character as an absurdly low bar to pass. Yet, it’s one which a huge number of movies still somehow fail to get over, even allowing for female characters to be otherwise completely stereotyped.

            So anyway, I’m trying to say that what irks you about the test isn’t the poor test’s fault. It’s the rampant misapplication. The test makes sense in the context of its original purpose—to set up the punchline for a feminist joke (ie. the character hasn’t seen a movie in six years because of the rule). And there’s loads of criticism already written about the misapplication, but because it’s infinitely less simplistic, it doesn’t get out into the mainstream enough, alas.

      2. Signatus

        I want to add, maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I’m not denying there is a HUGE problem of misrepresentation of oppressed minorities in the media, be them females, LGBT or ethnic minorities. There is. I’m just criticising the test as being insufficiently accurate or way too simple or not well elaborate enough to determine which of these movies actually misrepresent females. This book is passing the test (from what I’ve seen so far), this mysonistic piece of cis trash is actually passing the test when there isn’t a single strong, developed female character and absolutely all of them revolve around a man (the prince), and the same can be said about a huge number of other movies.

        I know what the test is going for, I know it means to show underdeveloped female characters that exist solely to orbit around the heroic male character. I’m highly critical about these quota women in movies that seem to exist simply to become the hero’s trophy. The test is too ambiguous and while I appreciate it has made people realise how underrepresented women are (and other minorities for that matter) in the media, we can’t take it as the ultimate word of female representation.

        Reply

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