No one reading this lives under a rock, so I won't insult you by announcing that Dan Brown has a new book out. Heck, by now you’ve either read the book
or a few of the reviews. So why am I bothering to review a book that you’ve either read by now or, if not, have little interest in reading? I suppose because, having read the book and some of the reviews myself, I’m starting to wonder if some of the reviewers actually read the same book I did.
Look, I thought The Lost Symbol
(Doubleday) was really good. But it's not another Da Vinci Code
, and it’s not the second coming of the genuinely brilliant and innovative Angels & Demons
. It’s probably somewhere in between, if you want to know the truth. There’s no question Dan Brown can write, although his pace sometimes feels more like a rocketing roller coaster than a novel, and his characters, well, they’re sketched more than written. And I have to say, the man loves his italics, which he seems to think is an acceptable form of punctuation
As I sit here, thinking about The Lost Symbol
, this is what pops into mind: There’s this joke about some guy who says, “I was thinking in my head the other day...” blah blah blah. My kids always laugh at that -- because where else would the guy think but in his head? And there was a TV ad for Cadillac a few years back in which the announcer said something like, “This new Cadillac is longer in length than ever before.” I thought then (and still do), longer in length?
As opposed to what? Longer in color?
I mention these because they illustrate the level of The Lost Symbol
. The book feels, oh, it feels like we’ve all been here before. It feels so logical (in the Brownian world, at least) that it borders on the obvious. Ancient symbols. Langdon in his dependable tweed jacket, thrust into a situation he doesn’t understand. Clues that should be clear to him from the moment he sets eyes on them, except if he did there’d be no suspense (and thus, demanding that we suspend our disbelief from a much higher hook). Skeptics galore and faux bad guys. A couple of sacrificial lambs. And the inevitable, beautiful, and brainy girl whose life’s work is somehow threatened by the villain, who in this case isn’t quite a religious freak but whose freakiness is almost a religion to him. Except that Judeo-Christian artifacts and dark rituals are switched out for American-slash-Masonic ones, it’s all so damn familiar.
I can’t say I didn't enjoy The Lost Symbol
. I got on the ride, I bought into the whole thing, I had a good time, and when it was over, it was very, very over. But can I ask -- and no one has, to my knowledge -- why Brown felt the need to add the ridiculous plot twist? I won’t spoil it for those two or three of you who haven’t read the thing. But my God, Dan! You had the book chugging along at a pretty good clip, and then you toss in that bit about -- well, you know -- the thing about the victim and the villain’s shared past -- and it was like you kicked me square in the pants and hurled me off the train. What gives? Let me tell you a truth your editor was afraid to: You absolutely did not need that bit. And I'll tell you something else: Your book would’ve been a lot smarter if you’d found another way to link them -- or just forgot about linking them altogether.
Here’s the thing about books like The Lost Symbol
(and then I’ll shut up). You can’t argue with its sales. But in the end, it’s not really The Lost Symbol
that anyone’s buying. What they’re buying is The Next Book From That Da Vinci Code Guy
. The sales, in this case, have nothing to do with this book. I mean, Brown could have written a romance novel and sold a million copies the first day.
Come to think of it, maybe Brown should try that next time. Then, at least, the ride would be one we haven’t taken before.
Labels: fiction, Tony Buchsbaum