Thursday, April 08, 2010

Gotham Gal Review: My Own Personal Soap Opera by Libby Malin

Title:  MY OWN PERSONAL SOAP OPERA

Author: Libby Malin

Publisher: Sourcebooks, April 2010

What it's about:  Soap Opera Head Writer Frankie McNally has her hands full as she struggles to keep her failing show on the air--a leading man who broke his leg on Dancing with the Stars, staff writers who all want to be doing something else, and a real thief imitating a character on the show. If that weren't enough, she finds herself torn between two men, one who can give her everything she wants and the other who gives her everything she needs.

My thoughts: When Sourcebooks offered me the chance to review this book, I jumped at the chance. I've been watching soaps since I was six years old. I started out watching all the CBS shows with my grandmother until I discovered ABC and All My Children on my own.  Unfortunately, my excitement may have been premature. Despite the backdrop of the world of daytime drama, I found the book curiously uninvolving and frustrating. Perhaps I know too much about soaps now, having done extra work on them, and reading too many issues of Soap Opera Digest and Soap Opera Weekly.

Frankie works as the headwriter on the lowest rated show on daytime, LUST FOR LIFE. Given the brief excerpts that we are given from the shows breakdowns, I can see why. Although LUST FOR LIFE is a great name for a soap opera, none of the characters seemed appealing or engaging, nor the plots that we read about. The book had an interesting premise. A jewel thief starts copying the show's storyline - which could lead to the show's ratings soaring, if handled properly by the media. Victor Pendergrast, whose family Pendergrast Soaps is one of the sponsors of the show (nice nod to the days of early soaps and also Proctor and Gamble who owned several soaps that are no longer on the air, including GUIDING LIGHT, ANOTHER WORLD, SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, and AS THE WORLD TURNS which is leaving the air in September of this year), has been brought on as a marketing guru to help the show's ratings. He and Frankie clash immediately.

I didn't find the character of Frankie interesting. She has a giant size chip on her shoulder, because she went to Wellesley but her family didn't have money.  Her mother is a nurse and her father left them when she was a child. I found it hard to believe that someone was that class conscious in this day and age. More believable was her angst over her ex-husband's first novel being published, and freaking out because of his portrait of her. Frankie also has no management skills, she spends a lot of time on line putting books into her on-line cart on Amazon to help her deal with her employees. This is a running theme throughout the book, which was supposed to be amusing, but after awhile it just got old.  To me at least, Frankie seemed to spend most of her time whining, about her life, not writing the Great American Novel etc. I couldn't even get behind her romance with Victor, because I kept asking what he saw her, besides her potential. There was a nice subplot about the fact that he was older and had a vasectomy.

I found it hard to believe that the executive producer on a daytime soap could spend so much time being MIA, leaving so much of the work to Frankie. Not even on a low-rated soap would that kind of behavior go on.  There was one brilliant moment in the book that I think should be read by every writer who works on a daytime soap. Frankie is giving a press conference and she starts talking about soaps:

"As long as we writers set up the backstory and motivations of characters, the audience will follow them anywhere, even if it's to moral decisions that don't necessarily jibe with those the audience would make. We lose the audience when we cease to respect their natural sympathy for the characters and impose our own sermons, or, rather, plots - no matter how enobling or hoity-toity-on tthe characters' lives."

That's what soap writers need to remember. It's not so much the plots that we remember, it's the characters that we fall in love with, and the reason that people continue to watch soaps.  There are some nice nods in book to real soaps, the name of the VP in charge of daytime is named Iris Carrington. Anyone who watched ANOTHER WORLD in it's heyday knows that is the name of Mac Cory's daughter, Iris Cory Carrington Wheeler etc. And one of the lead actors makes the finals of DANCING WITH THE STARS.  Unfortunately, I really didn't care about who the thief was who was imitating the storyline on the show, maybe because even the writers didn't care about the storyline. I've read and enjoyed Malin's novels before but this one I just couldn't get behind.

Verdict:  A disappointing, mildly humorous look at the world of daytime soaps, and one woman's journey towards finding herself.

2 Apples/5

2 comments:

Libby Malin said...

No, no, say it isn't so! You didn't like my book. I'm wounded, hurt, despondent . . . I'll now slink into a corner and curl up in a fetal position.

Seriously, at least you read it. Other folks seem to be enjoying it, including Booklist which said it was a "world of wit and chaos . . . smart and insightfully written."

And yes, I remember Iris Carrington. Who could forget Iris?

Frankie, my protagonist, is named after Frankie Frame from Another World.

Another World, btw, really mastered that haves-versus-have-nots story arc. It was a theme that ran through ALL their plots. I loved that theme and tried to emulate it with Frankie's shoulder-chip. :-)

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I loved Frankie on Another World and hated it when they killed her off. I did love Frankie's speech at the press conference, it epitomizes exactly what I think is wrong with alot of soaps today. The disregard for character, instead relying on outlandish plots or twisting the character to fit the plot.