Driven, by Kelley Armstong. Estrogen-infused cheese. Basic run-down: Fantasy fiction about werewolves, told in first person from the point of view of a “female alpha.” Intimations of love triangles (quadrangles, pentagons, hexagons) all over the place in the first few pages.
This is a fantasy novel, so we might expect the inevitable Prologue. But Armstrong, not one to do the bare minimum, surpasses the standard requirement with a two-part Prologue, gah!
Here we go.
The narrator wants what she doesn’t want. As is often true with women, the narrator, who is plainly a stand-in for the author, wants to dominate men. She wants to boss them around, have them obey her, etc., ’cause she’s such a fuckin’ tough guy. Of course, she also does NOT want that.
Now an observation on drama as it’s written by non-top-tier female authors: Women have nothing at stake. In anything. And so for them drama is simply a game, a game that one plays to relieve boredom. Unlike men, who will suffer reproductive death if they get into a fight with the wrong other man under the wrong circumstances (because they’ll die or be humiliated, and women don’t mate with humiliated men), there is simply nothing at stake for women. They plainly don’t generally even imagine the idea of there being something at stake. Thus the drama is pointless, it has no internal logic (it doesn’t need to have it, since it is not about anything); it veers from topic to topic at random, it contradicts itself, etc.
An example of this comes when, at the end of Ch 1, the son and daughter of the “female Alpha” (for fuck’s sake) are pressing to have their mother let them meet the Big Bad of the story (Prediction as of end of Chapter 1: Big Bad’s penis will be in the narrator’s vagina by the end of the book). After the kids argue with their mother for a page or so about why they should get to meet the Big Bad, the son says, as an additional argument, “He will also see that we are not intrigued by him.” Dude, you just spent a page avidly arguing to be allowed to meet him.
Why wasn’t the author bothered by the blatant contradiction here? Well, if drama, for females, is zero-stakes distraction from boredom, then there’s no particular reason it has to be internally coherent. “Yes it does!” you’ll say, if you’re a man or a reasonably intelligent woman. After all, how can there be any drama if the situation is utterly senseless? If it even contradicts itself? How can I be on the edge of my seat, how can I experience any emotional tension, if the ostensible tension can’t even decide what it is!?
Well, apparently not all minds see that problem, obvious though it is. The idea is to get your blood pumping with pointless emotional outbursts, not to make some sort of sense. Each moment is disconnected from all other moments, so that if two kids are intrigued by a man at one point in time, it matters not all that five seconds later they’re proclaiming, “We are not intrigued by him.” That’ll show him!
For any women reading this, a note: For men, the analysis of interactions that may involve conflict must actually make sense, since everything is potentially at stake, including one’s life. Strategy, tactics, understanding the enemy’s goals and beliefs to aid in the prediction of their moves… these are all not only a thing; they’re vital.
So the red pill’s presence here is not so much about the content of the scene, as about what it reveals about the female author’s attitude toward pointless posturing and incoherent drama. Here’s the relevant passage, which occurs at the end of Ch 1 (I’ve elided some text for brevity; you’re welcome). The narrator’s 9-year-old son is speaking about the Big Bad, Malcolm. It’s important to note here that Malcolm is a serial killer who’s also a werewolf.
“We want to meet Malcolm–”
A snort from the doorway. Kate [the narrator’s early-teens daughter] walked through, arms crossed almost exactly like her father’s, and the scowl on her face probably an exact mirror of my own. “No,” Kate said. “We don’t want to meet Malcolm. He’s a murdering psychopathic son of a beyotch. We know what Malcolm is. Which is exactly why we need to meet him. Look him in the eye and let him know if he so much as touches us, he’ll regret it.”
This statement is idiotic, and what the fuck is the point of it? First of all, a young teen female is not going to beat up one of the most violent and scary killers in the werewolf world. (Of course, he’s not actually that, since apparently any adult male werewolf can beat him up, as well as Our Heroine, an adult female (we also get this as backstory), but the author tells us he’s a horribly tough “murdering psychopathic” killer, and she plainly wants us to believe that.) In the context of this fictional world, the daughter’s statement is violently insane. It would be like your 10-year-old daughter saying, “I demand to meet Charles Manson so I can tell him that if he messes with me, he’ll regret it!” It’s not just that the statement is blitheringly insane; it’s that it’s so blitheringly insane that even a young, overly cocky kid wouldn’t say it.
Furthermore, maybe she means to convey, “If you mess with me, my Dad will kick your ass!” But there’s no reason for her to arrange a meeting to say that to the Big Bad. Indeed, such a message would be much more convincing if it actually comes from her Dad. Note we are not talking about a kid who accidentally bumps into the Big Bad, and in a surge of fear blurts, “If you mess with me, my Dad will kick your ass!” That would actually make sense. No, we’re talking about someone who is deliberately going out of her way to try to meet someone who can easily kill her, so she can deliver a ridiculous threatening message that might provoke him into attacking her, and which message would be better delivered by someone else anyway. The whole scene Makes. No. Fucking. Sense.
We left off here:
“Look him in the eye and let him know if he so much as touches us, he’ll regret it.”
As if to emphasize the retardation, the conversation continues,
“I think regret might be pushing it,” Logan said.
Wait, what? Is this girl in her early teens (as far as I can figure out) seriously saying she’s going to take down a serial killer? WTF? This would only make sense if the next sentence were, “And that’s when I realized I had to send my daughter into protective custody on the other side of the planet while we tried to find a medication that would cure her radical insanity.” Actually, what we get is this:
“I think regret might be pushing it,” Logan said.
Atalanta [the puppy] growled, as if in agreement.
Oh, so now their cute little puppy-doggy is going to beat up the 200-pound remorseless killer. Armstrong, FOR FUCK’S SAKE!
“The point,” Logan said, “is that by meeting him, we put a face and a scent to his name…
“…and he knows it.”
“He will also see that we are not intrigued by him…” which is why I’m persistently begging to meet him… “Nor are we afraid of him. Which isn’t to say we don’t know exactly how dangerous he is, but he doesn’t scare us.”
Which is why we’re so very desperate to tell him, “You don’t scare us!” Ya big ole meany!
An excellent event here would be if the narrator suddenly realized that her kids are too stupid to live, and killed them both on the spot. The pack shouldn’t waste resources on members who are only going to be a burden. As I said about another potential move in my review of Werlin’s Impossible, this would be great because no reader would be expecting it. And, while no sane human would behave that way, a werewolf might.
In response to her son’s “he doesn’t scare us,” the narrator ruminates,
He should, baby. That’s what I wanted to say, and yet Logan was right, in his oh-so-logical way.
WHAT!? We kids should meet a serial killer unnecessarily, and for no reason, get up in his face and provoke him. This is described as “oh-so-logical”! What the fucking fuck!?
Here’s another example of self-contradiction destroying the drama: The author obviously wants us to experience dramatic tension regarding the re-admittance of the Big Bad, Malcom, into the Pack. But she states that her husband (Clay), another pack member (Jeremy), and she herself have all beaten him in a fight in the past!!! God, the fuck-wittery!
So what’s going on? Well, Armstrong wants the reader to be all like “Oh no! Don’t clutch this scary viper to your breast!” But he’ll be re-entering a pack in which three of the members have already kicked his ass! The author can’t resist indulging in a little grrrrrl power fantasy about how she’s so tough she beat up a guy almost everyone else is scared of. FFS, Armstrong. If you chance to read this: You must choose. You simply cannot have it both ways. This is why–painfully blunt criticism coming up–there is no critical praise on the back of the book. It’s because readers notice things like this. And professional reviewers are of course even more likely to notice.
Maybe this will help: A big part of any Art is making choices. You cannot have your heroine–and two others!–beat the snot out of the bad guy, and have the reader worrying about their safety in the bad guy’s presence. I don’t mean you shouldn’t, I mean you can’t. If you refuse to choose one of these, the book falls apart because nothing is believable at any level. We can suspend our disbelief to believe in werewolves. We cannot believe in werewolves who shudder with fear at a guy they’ve whupped before.
You could avoid the problem by getting off your lazy butt and changing the situation. E.g., your heroine beat the Big Bad in a fight five years ago, but since then he has been bitten by a radioactive mixed martial arts fighter and developed super skills. Or whatever. But you must provide a clear reason for the change in the situation.
Page 97: More of thing where women think they want to boss mean around. The narrator and her husband, Clay, are visiting the office of a person, Marsh, whom they don’t know, to ask him some questions about a person they’re trying to find. When Marsh finds out they’re werewolves he’s annoyed.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “We’re housebroken. Now sit.” [Absolutely outrageous. Note the deliberately provocative and RUDE behavior toward someone they’re never met before, and who has done them no wrong.]
“Sit,” I said, pointing to the chair as Clay moved forward.
Oh, bullshit. What man would actually behave that way? What Marsh would actually do is kick them out of his office. And if they didn’t go voluntarily there’d be a fight. I said women don’t want to boss men around, though some think they do. They DO, however, like the idea of their man dominating other men. So that “Clay moved forward” and thus intimidated Marsh is a genuine fantasy: The author is fantasizing that HER man dominates other men.(*) Ugh.
(*) If you think I’m contradicting myself here about what women want/don’t want, see my comments in my post on Werlin’s Impossible: “We must say “No, that’s horseshit, women don’t really want that” about some of the novel’s aspects and “Yes, this is a woman revealing what women actually want” about other aspects. Isn’t this inconsistent? What’s the difference? Simple: Reality itself… We do not use a woman-authored text to figure out what women want (God, no). Rather, we use it to illustrate things we already know about women from observing reality.”
This point about females and intra-male violence is made at greater length by Whiskey here:
Women are obsessed with male status hierarchies.
Another example, in Ch 12. A male werewolf they have just joined up with is all entranced with the narrator’s female scent. (They’re all in wolf form at this point.) One of the narrator’s pack roughs up the newbie a little and the newbie waves off. This is doublehuff of ego airplane glue because her packmate is beating down a male from another pack, AND she herself is the cause of the conflict because she’s so astoundingly sexy. Barf. You guys should be glad I read this cheese so that you don’t have to.
One thing I’m not really conveying is the degree to which the outsider males are humiliated in these little scenes. Let me quote extensively from one of them to give the flavor. The setup is this: A member of an outside pack has found two of his relatives, in wolf form, dead in the woods. They were skinned and hung from a tree, so it was obviously murder. Someone is going after werewolves and this young werewolf has no one else to turn to, so he goes to get help from the narrator’s pack. Malcolm, a former outsider who was just brought into the pack in the last 48 hours or so, is brought along on their little investigation. In the presence of the dead, the narrator, and her husband Clay, Malcolm disses the dead, since they’re not members of his pack.
Clay hit him. It happened so fast I didn’t even see it coming. No growl of warning. No Snarl. Not even glare. One second, Clay was standing there, impassively listening. The next Malcolm was on the ground, rubbing his jaw, and Clay’s expression hadn’t changed.
Malcolm leaped up and rushed him. Clay feinted, grabbed him by the back of the jacket and slammed him into a tree, pinning him there.
“I put you down for disrespecting the Alpha,” he said. “This is for fighting back. I know it’s been a while, so here’s a reminder. I’m her enforcer. If I punish you, what do you do?” [The realistic response would be, “Kick your ass,” Malcolm said, as he elbowed Clay in the solar plexus. The actual answer:]
A moment of silence. Then Malcolm ground out between his teeth, “Take it.”
“I take it.”
He threw Malcolm aside.
Ick. It’s not enough that Clay beats Malcolm in a fight. He has to humiliate him in the most grindingly unpleasant way possible. Also, it’s not realistic that this supposedly amoral psychopathic killer would take this kind of treatment, but never mind that. We are well in to the realm of fantasy here, in more ways than one.
By the way, after this scene I reversed my prediction that Malcolm’s penis will be in the narrator’s vagina by the end of the book. Women aren’t attracted to men who are constantly getting dominated, let alone beaten up.
End of Ch 12, start of Ch 13: The same thing happens, but now after Malcolm, defeated, limps away from the victor (Clay), the victor and the narrator have sex. They change back to human form – they’re naked, natch – and she wraps her legs around him, talking about how he beat Malcolm down, then they fuck. In other words, “I’m so turned on that you humiliated that other male! Let’s now have sex!” Ugh! God! I thought I was red-pilled, but this little glimpse into female psychology is unpleasant even for me.
Well, that was all rather nasty, so let’s end on an amusing note.
After a book largely taken up with male-on-male violence in various forms, we get a hilarious blast of 8th-grade-girl chick crap toward the end, in Ch 20. The setup is that the narrator’s friend Vanessa has to make a terrible choice: Deciding whether or not to move in with her boyfriend! Oh no! The narrator and Vanessa debate this little dilemma for 600 pages. No, wait it just seems that long to this male reader. God, women love their trivial little made-up drama thingies. Anyway, here it is, very heavily excerpted (I don’t have the heart to inflict the whole thing on you; it actually does run three entire pages.)
“Nick asked me to move in with him.”
Pause for comparison here. The male version would be, Dude 1: “I’m moving in with that chick I’m banging.” Dude 2: “Okay, tell me the address so I can pick you up when we go to the game tomorrow.” End conversation. The female version…
“Nick asked me to move in with him.”
“And the estate?”
“That’s up to me. I can move in with him or we can get our own place. Adding another dilemma to the pile. [The “pile of dilemmas” now consists of two questions: Should we move in together, and if so where?] I valued my independence more than I valued living with a lover. Nick is different.”
“So you want to move in with him?”
“Hell, yes. Without question. Which scares the shit out of me.” [It’s so DRAMATIC!!!!!!!!]
“I know you’ve been cautious with Nick. He’s never been a model of monogamy.” [Heh. Excellent little social proof bit there.]
“Only because – before me – he never had a monogamous relationship last long enough. [Confirms social proof. Also note the “I’m special!” aside.] Moving in together takes it to a whole other level.”
“The problem is that for you, moving in says, ‘This is it.’ You’re acknowledging how you feel.”
Blah blah. After they dissect the question of whose emotions are what for another 17 pages, they eventually get around to ANOTHER topic of HOORAY, DRAMA!, which is how Nick’s kids will feel about Vanessa moving in with their Dad.
Our Heroine: “Which is the problem. It’s his home. It isn’t that you don’t want to move in. It’s that you feel you shouldn’t. It’s the Sorrentino estate, and it’s Pack territory. You’re fine with it. But will they be fine with having you there?”
She managed a weak smile. “Nailed it. I understand the territorial issue, but it’s more than that. I’m an interloper in every way.” [Thus my very presence there is bound to cause… DRAMA!!!]
Blah blah. This goes on for another ten years. Women’s ability to extract drama, no to CREATE drama out of nothing, never ceases to amaze me. “Should I move in with my boyfriend? Augh, the drama! So many questions! I need to debate this with my girlfriends for ten years first! It’s all so fraught – freighted, weighed down, like a freight train – with potential consequences and emotional thingies of emotionality! How will I react? How will my boyfriend react? How will the people he lives with react? How will the Trilateral Commission react? Will the Cato Institute write a position paper on it?! I sure hope so, because then there’d be more attention, and… DRAMA!!!”
What makes this whole scene especially funny is the fact that it comes after dozens of pages of murders – recall those two hanging werewolf corpses, etc. Who’s moving in together is not a dramatic topic. And the author doesn’t seem to have grasped then when your main characters have just barely escaped violent death, the question of who’s going to move in with whom is not even remotely interesting.
In summary, I give this book 8 out of 10 chunks of cheese.
Index page for my Red Pill in Fiction posts: