London Fields, Cliches, and the Trope of All-Knowing/Nothing Writer

Waiting for my wife to wake up so we can celebrate her on Mother’s Day, I was running through my progressions (what I call my morning Internet ritual visiting various sites, a nervous tic, really [thanks OCD]), and when I got to Rotten Tomatoes, this article caught my attention.

It’s a scathing review of the film London Fields, which I’ve never seen. Didn’t even know they made a movie. I vaguely recall the book from grad school. Other classmates loved Martin Amos’s wit. I remember the dart player Keith and some (mildly) funny lines. Then again, grad school almost killed me. Apparently the film stars Amber Heard (with an uncredited cameo from then-husband Johnny Depp before that shit show), with the most interest parts of the film being its making and subsequent lawsuits, as well as the its abject, utter failure (current score on the Tomatometer: 0%). But that isn’t the part that I wanted to write about. It’s this line:

Thornton is uncharacteristically terrible as one of the most exhausted cliches in fiction: the desperate writer who functions as the all-powerful God of the world they’ve created but who can’t begin to figure out the complexities of real life. 

Thornton, as in Billy Bob, an actor I generally like. Can’t vow for his performance in the film. The review is so vicious and seemingly astute, I will trust that the reviewer’s account is accurate. No, it’s that take on the “cliched” writer: the all-powerful God of the world they’ve created but who can’t begin to figure out the complexities of real life.

It gets me because, well, it gets me for a couple reasons: 1.) This is why I generally never (rarely) have a writer as a protagonist in my own work. There are countless examples of when it works (um, Misery), but I think it’s just one of those eye-rolling tropes, unless you are really, really good at it (um, Stephen King). I’ve had a couple short stories with a writer, I think. One in particular comes to mind, “Red Pistachios,” which is probably the best I’ve ever written. But I really only wrote that story because I wanted to be in Thuglit, and its editor, Todd Robinson, had a whole list of shit not to do if you wanted to be in his magazine. I was younger then, more defiant (i.e., stupid), and took it as a challenge. Robinson closed up shop a few years back, but you can find that story in my collection Choice Cuts (Snubnose Press, which also closed up shop; long is not the life of small noir presses).

But really it’s that line “the all-powerful God” who can’t figure out “the complexities of real life.” Because, well, it’s fucking true. Most writers I know fall into that camp. It’s a cliche, sure, but don’t make it any fucking less true. The “washed-up alcoholics” with their “inability to maintain functional relationships” get slapped on the writer because a lot of writers drink, or are recovering, and they aren’t the most graceful social creatures. This isn’t to imply all, of course. There are plenty of well-adjusted, happily married, sober writers who can manage finances, I’m sure. I’m just not friends with (m)any of them. 

I think that’s the appeal of writing for a lot of people. You do get to be a god. You get to create worlds and make people love in the right way, and you decide who dies and wins and loves and loses; and, yeah, there is an element of megalomania I there. I mean this is hyper analyzing (I have a lot of time to kill and wanted to write something to keep my muscle moving). The primary goal of the storyteller is to … tell a story. And entertain and elucidate, with ethos and all that other crap. But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the safety of fiction. Even when people are meeting perilous fates, there is no guessing or dread of when the hammer will drop. I’m the one dropping it.