I’m back from my UK adventures everyone! Ok, back to Sweet Valley.
Sweet Valley Confidential Chapter 4:
Chapter 4 is more of what we’ve already unfortunately come to expect from the ten-years-later Sweet Valley sequel: endless narration about how seriously the characters feel about everything.
[Jessica had] never really seen [Todd] until that night. The night of Jim Regis’s party; that terrible night in their senior year at SVU when Elizabeth was sick and Jessica did another of her fabulous favors.
It is seriously endless.
And that something so precious as their love, hers and Todd’s, should have had such an ugly nascence was an unalterable truth, and no matter how far and how gloriously it had transformed, there was no escaping its beginning.
There are a few basic Writing 101 things we talk about a lot and Sweet Valley Confidential are not getting right. Things like “show, don’t tell” and “why does Sweet Valley Confidential keep jumping back and forth between third- and first-person but tell us basically the same things in both of them?”
When it comes to committed relationships, I’m a moving target. […] Sometimes it bothers me that I lose interest so quickly.
To be clear, telling the present story in third-person and telling the flashbacks in first-person is not necessarily a bad thing! That could be interesting if there were a reason, if the two perspectives and timelines showed different sides of a character, perhaps. Just one example! The problem, however, is that both sections are both being used to tell us how the characters feel, while neither of them simply show us, and why have two things for that?
Speaking of voice, there’s, like, another problem with that…
The discomfort is like excruciating, forcing me to make another effort.
Ariel and I talked about how odd this is, and we’re pretty sure that the only way that Confidential could figure out how to differentiate Elizabeth and Jessica as narrators was to have Jessica constantly say “like”. Constantly. Not that I’m doubting that you all don’t know what “constantly” means, but…
At some point [at the party] Todd breaks away from Lianne and finds me. We’re standing together when Jim comes over and introduces us to some of his frat brothers.
That’s like when it first happens.
So not only is it constant, but it’s not even grammatically correct. Which is a weird criticism to make about slang, since that’s the part of language where you get into its inherent fluidity (I can really go on here, but I’ll spare the 99% of you who would rather I don’t). But not only Jessica is constantly using “like” as slang to the point where it doesn’t feel natural, but she’s pretty frequently using it in ways that don’t even make sense. “That’s like when it first happens”? Was it when it first happened at all? Was it only reminiscent of the time it happened? Was it somehow especially the first time it happened? Is Jessica just pausing? Who is she pausing to? She’s the fucking narrator!
And to briefly get (more) pedantic here (I’m an editor as my day job, so it’s literally my job to point out stuff like this), why couldn’t all the “likes” at least be separated from the sentence with commas? There’s a real difference between “Jessica is, like, a bad person” and “Jessica is like a bad person”, if not just for the sake of clarity. And this is something to contend with throughout the entire book.
Anyway, moving on from today’s episode of “Matthew has thoughts about language and grammar”, we finally learn what happened that brought Jessica and Todd together. And learn that – like basically every Sweet Valley plot – it’s all because someone mistakes Jessica and Elizabeth. What a great new development for the series.
Jim says, almost as an aside, “And this is Elizabeth Wakefield.” […]
I’m not even sure Todd hears the mistake. The moment passes, and I feel like it would be awkward and unimportant to correct them. I can see they don’t really care who I am, so I just let it go.
Then Jessica starts playing along, and then Todd starts playing along.
Now we’re beginning to get outrageous about it. Holding hands
HOLDING HANDS? MY GOD, WHAT HAS SOCIETY COME TO?
In the process we have a few too many beers. […] For the first time I’m beginning to see what Elizabeth is so crazy about Todd. He is totally sexier than I’d realized and, now that he’s relaxed, is fun and warm.
…is no one else underwhelmed that the answer to this dramatic Elizabeth/Jessica as Todd’s love interest switcheroo is just “they got drunk”?
We are having like such a good time
Maybe. It’s like hard to tell.
So what happens after the party? They just acted like a couple for a laugh, but when do they actually share a moment? A moment so powerful it tears Todd away from Elizabeth and towards this other person he’s known as a friend(ish) for years and years?
At one point in the story, being funny, just as we stop at a light, I poke Todd in the chest and say, “Mr. Basketball!”
Todd takes my hand and holds it for a second against his chest
I assure you this is just as underwhelming in context as it is out of it.
For me, the next few moments like don’t register in my mind
SO DID THEY OR NOT? A drinking game where you drink every time Jessica says “like” in this book would kill a person.
We’re out of control; our mouths furiously pressing, kissing, sucking, inhaling each other. […] For the first time in my life, I don’t care about anything or anyone. I don’t even care about Elizabeth.
Girl, I’ve only read two of the original Sweet Valley books and I know that’s not true.
They go back to Todd’s (AKA Mr. Basketball’s) room and things happen with one of the greatest “and then they fucked” sentences I’ve ever read ever.
We make love with an otherwordly passion that is so powerful neither of us would hear a knock on the door if there were one.
We learn that “the affair goes on for a month” and that “It’s like a wild, out-of-control time” (drink). And then we learn that they… meet every day in a diner on the outskirts of town. Okay, you guys. You do you.
The chapter goes back to the present for a page, where we find that Todd is also having trouble sleeping and having flashbacks about how they got together. Peas in a pod, these two.
Todd kicks off his flashback by trying to explain this whole “I got drunk and hooked up with my girlfriend’s identical twin and this made me realize I wanted her all along, so badly that we just couldn’t stop ourselves from getting lunch in a crappy diner every single day” thing.
It doesn’t matter that we made love only that first night. Each time we see each other after that is the equivalent of making love again, so powerful is our connection.
I guess we have to take that one at face value, since the only evidence we have of this connection is that she called him “Mr. Basketball”. Whatever floats your boat, dude.
We go back to yet another Jessica flashback. She tells us that every day “I like beg myself to do it, to end it” (drink), and that one of Todd’s friends even finds out, only just covering it up before Elizabeth figures it out too:
Looking at Elizabeth, [Winston] says, “I knocked, but you guys were very busy.” […]
“What are you talking-” Then it hits Todd what night Winston is referring to, and his face freezes. […]
It is only the strange silence that makes [Elizabeth] turn around.
“Huh? What’s up? Something wrong?”
Strangely, it’s Winston, the insensitive clown, who so saves the moment for us by doing a really funny bit about mistaking his girlfriend for her dog. He like tells it so fabulously that Elizabeth practically falls off the ladder
I don’t know where to start, really. I guess, 1) wow, Jessica really can’t stop judging people, even when describing a time someone saved her ass, 2) what the fuck story was this about mistaking a dog and literal human being you’re dating, 3) drink, 4) presumably we’re supposed to guess she fell off the ladder of laughter rather than because of his storytelling prowess.
The chapter ends with one last blow against Jessica and Todd’s social standing: this moment somehow ruins Todd and Winston’s friendship, because Winston immediately moves out “with some cliched excuse about like needing his own space” (drink), which “Elizabeth like sort of notices” (drink).
Also, one more time for the road: Mr. Basketball. Don’t forget that all of the plot in this ten-years-later book is happening because Jessica flirtatiously called Todd, “Mr. Basketball”.