[19 March 2007]
Are we robots? Does true love exist? Why are we here?
If you’re looking for logical, coherent answers to these questions, then Dreaming of Gwen Stefani is not the book for you. Ultimate fan Mortimer Taylor Coleridge puts in his two cents on these topics, and if you’re not careful enough, it is easy to find yourself nodding along in agreement. Author Evan Mandery does his best to give Mortimer enough intelligence and verbal skill to seem rational, and a sufficient level of pop-star fanaticism that would outshine any middle schooler. His arguments are persuasive, well thought-out, and calmly expressed. In other words, he is completely crazy. Or is he?
Mandery lets Mortimer speak for himself every chapter or so in excerpts from his “journal”—a terrific way to accentuate the finer points of his disturbing person, if the third-person chapters had not been enough. There is something eerie about his simple, emotionless style of writing. He does not rant, he does not write in an overtly expressive fashion, nor does he recap events of the day—he plots. He plans. He goes over his Stefani-snaring strategies in a voice so devoid of human compassion that it is impossible to feel anything for him except a sort of uneasiness.
So, why then is it difficult to rule out this obsessed stalker as insane? Mortimer, convinced that nucleiotides and chemicals determine our actions instead of free will, manages to skip out on explanation and turn his beliefs onto the readers at the end of the novel: “You think you’re master of your life. You think you’re better than I am. Are you sure? Do you know?”
A sticky existential question, but one easily answered if, like me, you are a firm believer in the ability of the human mind to make decisions for itself. Mortimer, on the other hand, blaming his accursed life without Gwen Stefani on neurotransmitters, wants to come across as rational, but fails miserably once it is understood that he is only compensating for his own failure.
Mortimer is by far the most developed character here—the others are made empty due to the way Mortimer perceives them. Mandery comes up with some great names—Bertrand Fuddle, Fillmore Skinny, Violet Blayer—but never fleshes out any of them out enough to be anything more than obstacles and accessories for Mortimer’s plan for a future with Gwen. Unsatisfying, but essential; to Mortimer, people are nothing more than obstacles and accessories. Their very flatness is what makes them part of the story.
But this trend of monotony does take some getting used to. Not only do the characters lack personality, but language diversity as well. Even Mortimer’s speech and vocabulary are barely variable from that of the others. The only differing factor is content, and even that gets blurred between characters. I would have liked to see a drastic difference between styles of speaking, especially given the colorful names and Mortimer’s penchant for Papaya Queen hot dogs. It was disappointing to expect a cast full of Ignatius J. Reillys—the back cover promised “a Confederacy of Dunces for the VH1 generation”—and receive a slew of androids instead.
Despite these annoyances, I must admit that Dreaming of Gwen Stefani is quite a good representation of an utterly obsessed person. It shows not only the obsession, but the justification behind it as well. Mortimer is not simply preoccupied with Gwen—if that were the case, then this would have been a story about his “No Doubt” life and nothing more. Instead, he is preoccupied with himself, using evolutionary theories to make sense of his chaotic mental state. So when Mortimer speaks, be wary; only after hearing what he has to say, and after realizing that this is the philosophical assertion of a deeply disturbed man and not a suggestion for living life, only then can Mortimer’s words be taken seriously.