Thursday, July 24, 2008

Funny tragedy

Did you ever see a movie or read a book that was supposed to be tragic, but instead was unintentionally funny? This is the essence of camp -- the reason why “The Valley of the Dolls,” for example, has a huge cult following of people who laugh at every pill-popping scene.

I found a new example of this kind of melodramatic hyperbole Tuesday night while reading a novel. The book shall remain nameless, but suffice to say I found it on someone’s stoop among a stack being given away for free. (Which should have told me something, right?)

Allow me to set the scene. A man is visiting his catatonic, religious-fanatic friend in the psychiatric hospital. He is trying to break her out of her stupor by bringing her a Bible.

“Pray for me, Selina. Let me hear you pray.”

I place the palms of her hands together.

“I’ll pray with you, Selina. What do you say? I don’t know how to pray. You’ll have to show me.”

The same blank stare. I put her hands back on the Bible.

Dr. Towbridge pulls me away. “No use. She won’t accept anything in the real world.”

I turn back to her. Touch her hands. “Look at me, Selina. Please!”

She doesn’t stir. Like a mannequin propped in a chair.

“It’s no good.” The doctor touches my arm. “She doesn’t know you’re here.”

“Make her know.” I challenge the doctor.

“Only God can do that.” The doctor sighs. “I can’t reach her. Neither can you. She’s in a different world now.”

“What is to become of her?” I stare into the doctor’s face.

“Nothing.” His lips barely move. “She’s a vegetable.”

“Meaning?” The horror of it defeats me.

“She’ll be hospitalized forever.” He turns away.

Now, am I being mean and cynical, or is this not truly cringe-inducing dialogue? Who would actually say, “What is to become of her?” I picture this entire exchange taking place in dramatic stentorian tones, with wide sweeps of their limbs and exaggerated facial expressions. My Advanced Placement English teacher from high school would weep -- not because of the tragedy, but because of the tragic writing.

(Photo: SoHo, September 2007)


  1. the only thing missing are a few extra stage directions as in:

    wringing my hands, I beseech her:"Pray for me, Selina. Let me hear your pray."

    clutching at my hair, I ask "what is to become of her?"

    reeling under the shock, I step forward and challenge the doctor: "make her know."

    etc and
    and so on

    in other words: add me to the mean and cynical list immediately. Thank you :-)

  2. The real tragedy is that people continue to pay for crap like this! At least you got it for free...

    Seriously, there is a Bell curve for writing and this falls onto one of the tails!

  3. you are too cruel!! I'm dying to know what this novel is and who wrote it.

    some of my favorite books have been those that are both tragic and funny - but I guess that's different than those creations that are supposed to be solely tragic.....

    a confederacy of dunces is one of my favorite of the tragic yet hysterically funny genre....

    have you ever known anyone with the name selina? even the name sounds melodramatic to me!

    hey is that some street art on a door in soho? if so perhaps you unintentionally played theme day thursday!

  4. She's a vegetable! sounds like the punch line to the Mr. Carrot Joke.

    (The doctor says I have good news and bad news, the good news is...Mrs. Carrot survived the accident--she's alive."

    What's the bad news?

  5. That is painful to read. It must be what visitors to my blog feel like.

  6. I'm with Kimmy Mouse ... It would be great to know the who, what, when, where's and how's of this drab exchange. I hope it's not a friend or we may all have to take them aside ... otherwise, good post, and thanks for honoring me with a link to me from you. We are traveling a few of the same places in and around this big old world. I'm digging these days and think you would enjoy checking her out. Love from the prairie, my friend !!