Kate Gosselin: How She Fooled the World, by Robert Hoffman

Short Take:  Kate Gosselin is a terrible person.  So is Robert Hoffman.  Both of them are also terrible writers.

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I’m not much of a gambler.  But I do love my Steelers.  So when a friend suggested that they MIGHT lose to the Eagles, OF COURSE I said “I’ll bet you ANYTHING (except money cause I’m cheap) that they win!”  

So the deal was, if Pittsburgh won, I would have to read and review a book I did NOT want to read, let alone review, and if Philly won, my friend would actually read a book.  Congratulations, M., you won fair and square.  Enjoy.

I’ll admit, when Jon & Kate + 8 first came on TLC, I was absolutely charmed by it.  The children were all adorable, Jon was clueless but loving, and Kate was trying to hold it all together and losing at times due to the stress – hey, who wouldn’t??

But then it morphed into something darker and uglier.  Like the rest of America, I watched as this sweet family story began to unravel.  Jon was cheating, Kate was an overbearing, nasty, joyless shrew who didn’t really like her kids that much, they were getting a divorce, and all of it played out on TV, in the tabloids, and across the internet for all the world to see.   It was morbidly fascinating and depressing at the same time, the proverbial train wreck we couldn’t look away from.  Were it not for the kids caught in the middle of all of it, it would’ve been just another all-American freak show, where ordinary people are granted some degree of fame and fortune, spiral out of control, and become another reality-tv cautionary tale.

But the unfortunate fact is that there were eight (EIGHT!!) innocent children at the heart of all of it, eight beautiful kids with broken hearts and a broken home.  Their mom was in ever more desperate pursuit of new ways to hold onto her fame, and their dad was an overgrown adolescent too busy partying and getting laid to deal with them.  How did this happen?  I was more than a little curious to see exactly what had unfolded behind the scenes, so I thought that this book might actually be a little bit interesting.

I was wrong.

For starters, I thought this would be a biography.  There is an opening chapter or two briefly outlining Kate’s early life, then it’s just paraphrased journal excerpts, and the author’s opinions of them.  Yes, Robert Hoffman got a hold of Kate’s private journals by going through her trash.  I suppose there’s something poetic about Kate’s trash being turned into this trash.

Robert Hoffman’s editorializing is horrendous.  Reading a grown man repeatedly say nasty things about a woman (even if she is no saint herself) just feels icky.  Some examples:

(after a list of entries in which Kate claims that God has provided this or that to her family) “No wonder the whole world is so screwed up. God is spending all of His time taking care of Kate Gosselin.”

“Kate called her kids boring because they didn’t do anything interesting like the trained monkeys they usually behave like apparently.”

And so on.  There’s a lot more, but I can’t bring myself to skim back through it.  Why not just state the facts & let readers sort it out for themselves?  If she’s that bad, it’ll be obvious, no need to add your own sarcasm to it.  This is a 500+ page burn book written by a teenage Mean Girl.

Hoffman writes quite a lot about his gut feeling that Kate is lying about trying to conceive sextuplets because she “protests too much”, in other words, she says over and over again that she wanted JUST ONE MORE child.  Meanwhile, he states over and over again that he has no interest in damaging Kate’s reputation, and that he verified everything he wrote over and over again, that he’s only telling the truth for the children and that even though Jon’s a good friend of his, he would tell the truth even if it made Jon look bad.   I couldn’t help but wonder if he was protesting too much.

For example, there were lots of words devoted to the fact that Kate didn’t try to stop her Twitter followers, fans, etc. to stop insulting Jon.  However, there’s not one sentence stating that Jon asked people to stop insulting Kate.  Robert Hoffman wrote a good 80 pages about Kate going tanning & getting her nails done, but barely mentioned Jon sleeping around and partying in Vegas.

The whole book is a mess.  It’s not organized in any coherent way, whole chapters seem to have been repeated several times, and the misspellings are plentiful.  For a man who mocked Kate Gosselin’s spelling (in her private journals no less), you’d think Hoffman would’ve learned the difference between roll and role at some point.   

There are long, drawn-out descriptions of the abuse Kate inflicted on her kids and pets.  There are painful recaps of the scenes in the show where the children’s privacy was violated over and over when they were sick, on the toilet, exhausted, upset, and so on.  It’s painful to read.  The worst part of all is that apparently it’s bad to exploit the Gosselin children for money, unless you are Robert Hoffman.  I must’ve missed the part where he took all of this information on child abuse to CPS, or pledged the profits of the book to child abuse charities.  How exactly does this book help the kids AT ALL??

Seriously, I wonder if Robert Hoffman and Kate Gosselin conspired to write this book together, drum up some controversy, and split the profits.  


The Nerd’s Rating:  One Happy Neuron.  I really need to get some sad ones, this might be the worst thing I’ve ever read.

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To Each Their Darkness, by Gary A. Braunbeck

Short Take: I’m not entirely sure what I just read, but I like it.

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To Each Their Darkness is Gary Braunbeck’s take on horror.  It’s part autobiography, part analysis of the genre as a whole, part reviews of other works, and part brutally honest take on his own work.

Before I elaborate on this particular book, I should probably give a little background on my experiences with this author.  I have a love/hate relationship with Gary Braunbeck that’s been going on for a few years.  Make no mistake, the man’s brilliant, and I’ve no idea why more people aren’t reading his work.

Oh wait, I also know exactly why more people aren’t reading it.  Braunbeck’s books are gut-wrenching.  I say that not because of the amount of gore and violence (oh, they are plentiful though!), but because of the deep emotional upset I experience with every one of his works.  Gary Braunbeck knows how to hit where it hurts, and then to drive the pain in deeper, and when you are saying “oh, that hurts too much, I can’t, please no more”, he says “Oh, you mean no more of THIS?” and hits harder.  And it’s a testament to his level of craftsmanship that at the end of it, you feel like you’ve experienced something beautiful and tender and loving.

That…. went to a weird place.

This review’s a little schizo, and all over the map.  So is To Each Their Darkness.  It’s not a straightforward narrative of “this happened to me, and later I wrote about it in this story”.  It’s not a simple guide to what makes horror writing effective, or a basic list of “these horror books/movies are excellent, and here’s why”.  It’s all of that, and a few other things, and in no certain order.

So, impressions:  The autobiographical sections were fascinating.  Gary Braunbeck puts the worst out there (at least, I hope it’s the worst.  If there’s more, and worse, I don’t think I can handle it).  He openly discusses his abusive but also loving childhood, his depression, failed marriages, suicide attempt, the death of his daughter, and his time in a mental institution.  There’s a streak of humor in all the pathos though.  Example:  “I worked for a short time as a clown for children’s birthday parties. Hand to God, I did. My professional name was Rags.  I wanted to call myself Scuzzo the Marginally Humorous or The Banal Mr. Wiggles, but was worried folks might get the wrong idea about the nature of my show.”

I’ll admit that the “how to write effectively” sections were a bit of a slog for me.  Obviously, I’m not a writer, but some of the peeks behind the curtain were fascinating.  The section on opening lines, titled “Brought To You By The Law Firm Of Beguile, Intrigue, and Assault” could have been written with me in mind. Brilliant opening lines make me all tingly, though I couldn’t compose one to save my life.

The only section that really lost me was titled “Opinions, and the One Who Offers Them”.  It consisted of pretty much just forewards & afterwards written by Braunbeck for other authors’ works.  It felt disjointed, like I went from reading a story or article written by one author, to reviews of the works by a bunch of other authors, several of whom I hadn’t heard of before.  In a couple of cases, I was interested enough to look for the books he mentioned, but overall, it felt shoehorned in, and far too long.

A few goodies for the non-writing reader:

  • The conversation between Gary Braunbeck and his shelf of Stephen King books is hilarious.
  • I can say I’ve now seen the longest chapter title I’ve ever seen (in Part Two, should you wonder), and it’s called “Statistics; Subtext; and Why Horror Will Never Be Considered Serious Lit-rah-chure, No Matter How Much We Stamp Our Feet and Threaten to Hold Our Breath Until Our Faces Turn Blue and We Pass Out From Lack of Oxygen, Which, If We’d Been Using it Properly in the First Place, Would Have Gone to Our Brains and Made Us Realize that We Need to Make Our Writing More Than Merely Competent, Only Now We’re All Passed Out on the Floor and Have Wet Ourselves and Little Kids Are Sticking Uncomfortable Things Up Our Noses and Who’s Going to Take Us Seriously After That?”
  • The new-to-me full text of Braunbeck’s short story, “Need”.  It’s one example of what he describes as “After-the-Fact” horror stories, a clever subgenre I had never really heard described, and rarely encountered, but which I’ll be looking for in the future.

 

Final Summary:  Gary Braunbeck is good enough that even when I’m not his target audience, I can still find a lot to enjoy in his book.  His novels are still better though.

The Nerd’s Rating:  FOUR HAPPY NEURONS

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Currently reading/Next review:  The Messenger, by Edward Lee