Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cannibals, Snow Days, and the Most Depressing Day of the Year

I heard yesterday morning that, based on someone's calculations, January 22 is the most depressing day of the year. I wasn't surprised, since I was pretty blue when I caught this story on the radio. First, I shouldn't even have been in my car driving to work yesterday--the weatherman had predicted some serious snow for the first time this year, so everyone in my school was expecting a snow day on Monday. Alas, the snow stopped falling and started melting sooner than expected Sunday, so we only had an hour delay. Which is good in theory, but ends up feeling like a longer, more hectic day than a full school day.

I also had started reading Hannibal Rising over the weekend, and I'm just as bummed about it as I thought I would be when the first reviews of it came out. I asked for it for Christmas long before I started hearing all the negative comments, but I put off reading it because I didn't want to be disappointed by one of my favorite authors. Since I am one of those people who always must have something to read (I'm truly addicted--I've been known to read the same issue of TV Guide three or four times if there's nothing else in house), I found myself craving a book on Sunday with only Hannibal Rising as an option. I'm sad to say that it's as big a letdown as I was afraid it would be.

When the Silence of the Lambs film came out, I was a poor student with no disposable income and no car of my own. I didn't get to see it in the theater. My sister loaned me the paperback, and I went into reading it thinking it would at best be a pleasant diversion until the movie came out on video. I was shocked by how good a book it was. It wasn't just a thriller; it was a work of art. I've always been a member of the "the book is always better than the movie" camp, but I had expected this to be the exception to that rule. When I finally did get to see the movie, I was spellbound and awed. But for years afterward, I would pick up The Slience of the Lambs in that old, grocery-store-bought paperback edition when I wanted to visit Hannibal and Clarice again. Thomas Harris made them--and "Buffalo Bill", and Jack Crawford--such rich, interesting characters that I preferred his dramatizations over even the award-winning ones created by Foster and Hopkins.

Eventually I devoured Red Dragon, too, and when I took a creative writing class in college with visiting author Larry Brown, he listed Thomas Harris as one of his favorite authors. Mr. Brown spoke so highly of Harris' gift for detail, for being so accurate and well-researched in his desciptions that you become a part of the world he creates. I forgave him the long lapse he was taking between novels, and anxiously awaited Hannibal.

And I didn't hate Hannibal. Yes, I was frustrated over how it seemed to be more a sequel to the movie of The Silence of the Lambs than of the book. And I was as disgusted by that turkey of an ending as anyone else. But I was hoping Hannibal was Thomas Harris' way of thumbing his nose at Hollywood, of giving them what they wanted for a lackluster sequel and then dispatching Dr. Lecter forever so he could go back to writing his novels his way.

Now I don't know what to think. I'm trying to go into Hannibal Rising with an open mind, but it hasn't taken long to become disenchanted. This early in, I can't even put my finger on what it is that I don't like. Though I think I can come pretty close by saying it's just too, well....ordinary. This is not the Thomas Harris who knocked my socks off so long ago.

A snow day sometime soon would allow me to finish the book and to make up my mind about it. If not that, then it would at least help me recover from the most depressing day of the year.

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