If you a) like brunch and b) live in London, you should know that I have two friends who do a brunch blog! I guest-wrote for their most recent post about Bad Egg! You can still enjoy it even if you don’t live in London: we made jokes, that way everyone can enjoy it!
Sweet Valley Confidential: Chapter 9
The chapter kicks off from Todd’s perspective, with a dramatic scene where Todd goes for a jog, runs into Ken, and can’t pretend he didn’t see Ken. Seriously, the book really wants us to think this is dramatic for some reason.
There was no way Todd could pretend he hadn’t seen him.
There was nothing to do but wait up for him.
My god, and then what happened?!?! Did the writing in the book continue to be super, super weird?
Todd [was] not close enough [with Ken] for him to talk about his elephant in the room, but better than just bullshit guy talk. Besides, Ken had his own elephant.
I am 100% certain that this is not how that expression conventionally works.
Ken Matthews fills us in on his life, talking about how he’s been married to Lila for two years, he’s in the NFL, he kinda wonders if between those two things if he’s still acting like he’s still in high school. I know that almost sounds deep for this book, but I assure you the actual dialogue is most definitely not:
“Sometimes I think I’m still in high school, chasing the cheerleader. Sick, huh? […] It’s like I’m still on the varsity team. Okay, it’s NFL”
Todd listens to Ken’s story and wonders if he, too, is just stuck in high school by pursuing Jessica. Or, as he puts it, “that whirlwind of sexual obsession and heart-ripping passion that charged in and knocked you out of reality”, because if there’s one thing that can be said for this book, at least it’s not dry.
This transitions into a Todd flashback to when Jessica first arrived back from fleeing her husband, and how awkward it was because Elizabeth frequently left the two of them alone and they put in a lot of effort to avoid each other. I honestly already forgot if this is our first Todd flashback or not, because even when this book in in first-person, every character sounds exactly the same: overwritten and kind of an asshole.
Turns out [her husband was] a monster, or she thinks he is, anyway. Of course Elizabeth, the big, protective sister, goes along with anything she says. […] Right from the get-go I thought he sucked. He was arrogant, too full of himself, and looked like a dumb mistake that only Jessica could make.
Yeah, I’m angry, and I don’t even know why. […]
Seriously, everyone just became really awful and gross since Sweet Valley High, which isn’t what you’d expect from a book where everyone stopped being teenagers.
[H]aving Jessica in the house should be good discipline. It should keep me locked away in my office, where I have no choice but to work. Or YouTube some old game or watch porn.
The flashback ends with Todd and Jessica running into each other at home and getting snippy with each other. After two incredibly short third-person sections from Jessica and, uh, Ken (why?), we then get a Jessica flashback that starts with that same fight. Because the one thing that everybody probably wanted from a Sweet Valley High sequel was almost certainly Game of Thrones-level narrative complexity.
Now, you remember how I just recently brought up that everyone in this book is awful, and it’s not really as much fun now that they’re not teenagers anymore? You might have thought, “Sure, but wasn’t that example just a dude being frank about watching porn? That’s not a huge shortcoming.” Well, here’s Jessica not giving a shit that one of her high school friends has cancer:
[I’m so angry, I] storm out the front door, where I practically run into Caroline Pearce. In fact, she’s blocking my way with her big, ugly body.
“Wow! Lovers’ quarrel?” Caroline says.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Sorry.” But, of course, no one could be less sorry. “I thought you were Elizabeth,” Caroline says, running her hand through the new growth of red hair that’s just beginning to grow back after her chemotherapy.
“You’re sick,” I say. Then it hits me: She really is. […] I suppose anyone else might have spent a little more time trying to rectify that unkind error, but unfortunately for Caroline, she hit the wrong sister.
BOOM. Jessica don’t give a fuck about Caroline’s cancer! Aren’t you glad you learned what happened to these characters from that light-hearted, silly book series you liked in high school?
But it’s about to get so much worse. After she storms off, she gets in the car and drives to the beach. She muses about her brother Steven and catches us up on his storied infidelity, which is super convenient since we haven’t seen him in this book yet and Jessica’s driving to a new scene, so…
A nice walk along the beach will cure everything, right? [It’s] not three minutes [before] I see a familiar figure about a hundred feet away.
Why, I wonder if it’s Steven!
He’s an absolute hunk, even if he is my brother.
…I wonder if this book could get a little less weird!
It is Steven, but it isn’t Lila.
I’m stunned. It can’t be! It’s not possible! Not Steven!
“It can’t be”? Didn’t Jessica just tell us she already knew Steven was cheating on his wife? That’s a weird thing for Jessica to…
No one moves. Not me, not Steven, and not Aaron Dallas.
…wait a second.
So let’s break this down. This is a surprise reveal that Jessica and Elizabeth’s brother, Steven, is secretly gay (or bi). So Jessica’s reaction to learning that Steven is gay is “It can’t be! It’s not possible! Not Steven!”
Soooo this is bad. Jessica (and possibly the book and the author, but thus far all we can really say with certainly is Jessica) is pretty homophobic. Maybe not like Ted Cruz homophobic, but it’s at least “ohhhhh, Friends hasn’t aged well” homophobic.
Not that Jessica sees it that way, of course.
I’m the one he should be confiding in now. I’m the one who really understands that world. Like I lived with this gay guy for practically my whole sophomore year and we got on great.
Well, if Jessica “It can’t be! Not Steven!” Wakefield says the gays just love her, then it must be true!
Just in case none of this is weird enough, Jessica responds to the news by… telling Todd that she doesn’t think Aaron is that attractive. In front of Aaron.
“I know he was a great soccer player, but I never thought he was that cute, even in high school. I mean, you know he’s got one brown eye and one blue eye and he’s never—”
“Jessica!” Steven says, cutting me off.
I’m not going to stand here and have this kind of argument in front of Aaron.
The chapter then shifts perspective to Steven (this is another chapter that won’t just fucking end already) and his sexual awakening when he crossed paths again with Aaron after ten years. Despite that, it is somehow not any less gay panicky than the rest of the chapter.
The next time they met, Aaron told him. Steven was uncomfortable with the information, but he was able to rationalize it: So what, he can’t have a gay friend? Hell, it’s the twenty-first century, he can have any kind of friend he wants.
So, this is the point where I should point out that I’m straight and pretty much always knew that, so I’m not the person to muse about the coming out experience. But I do feel pretty confident stating that Francine Pascal isn’t that person either.
And not just because the jokes are only funny because they’re so stupid.
I’m going to land on foreign territory where I don’t even know how anything works. I’m a lawyer; I need to know the rules.
Anyway, you’re probably wondering how Jessica makes all of this worse.
Imagine having such a secret and not being able to live your life the way you want to. That’s really wrong. If he’s gay, and he must be, like he should come out. You only have one life, right?
That’s when I know what I have to do.
It has to be done with kindness and love. It’s hard news, and it takes a lot of courage to tackle it.
So, ok, this isn’t totally black and white. Steven is cheating on his wife and it does feel like Cara should know about that. (And even with that there’s not really one way right to go about handling that.) But at the same time, Jessica’s talking about outing someone who’s still clearly in the closet, which is bad for more reasons than I can really go into in a comedy blog.
And it’s also bad because… well, because Jessica.
It’s the only way to free my brother. And I do love him dearly.
Elizabeth would make this sacrifice.
Jessica immediately goes to Steven’s wife, Cara, at her home and embraces her messiah complex. I mean outs her closeted gay brother against his wishes. I mean… wow, Jessica’s just a really bad person.
I feel my words cutting into the sweetness and turning the kitchen sour, then rancid with the bitterness of unasked-for-truth, but a hero doesn’t stop just because it’s uncomfortable.
Look, Jessica. You aren’t fun anymore. It was one thing when you were a terrible person and you were a teenager and you had these wacky, convoluted plans. But now you’re an adult outing your gay brother without his consent and somehow found a way to make it all about you. And there’s nothing wrong with a story – or a comedy – about terrible people. But Sweet Valley High wasn’t that story. Sweet Valley Confidential is like if the Power Puff Girls reboot recycled jokes from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.