[19 June 2006]
“That’s my calling—to put the blowjob back in literature,” Meg Cabot recently told The Book Standard when discussing her latest novel Queen of Babble. Though this is Cabot’s sixth “adult” book—excluding the romance novels she wrote under pseudonym Patricia Cabot—the writer is most beloved for teen series’ Princess Diaries, All-American Girl, and The Mediator. Cabot’s teens aren’t picking up men at Bergdorf’s and shagging them in the dressing room, like the girls in the popular Gossip Girls series. No, these ingénues delight in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, fret about the quadratic formula, and shriek at the thought of French kissing someone. Which makes the blowjob statement particularly shocking.
Queen of Babble, however, hardly puts the blowjob back in literature. Sure, there’s one (a “pity blowjob” as titular blabbermouth Lizzie calls it), and it’s mentioned often enough, but it’s only mentioned. There’s not much—or any—description of the technical and emotional difficulties giving one’s first blowjob presents (for a first-timer, the process goes much too smoothly). And while Lizzie regrets the fellatio, her reflections on it are more of the “I can’t believe I gave that icky boy a blowjob” variety, rather than the guilty Catholic or guilty feminist or shell-shocked naif variety. The blowjob barely affects Lizzie’s growth as a character, and it doesn’t scintillate. It’s just there.
The disappointing exploration of the blowjob is indicative of the entire novel: it’s unremarkable and pretty vapid, a carbon copy of chick lit staples of the Bridget Jones ilk, complete with adorably air-headed protagonist, cad boyfriend, and unattainable hunk who has an incredibly hot but incredibly bitchy girlfriend.
Lizzie Nichols has just graduated from the University of Michigan with a history of fashion major—or she thought she had graduated, until her advisor informs her of a thesis she has yet to begin, but that’s another story. She’s off to celebrate her graduation by visiting her long-distant boyfriend in London for the summer. But when her boyfriend (the pity blowjob recipient) reveals himself a sleaze-ball, she runs off to France, where her friends Shari and Chaz are catering weddings at a 16th-century chateau. The chateau belongs to the family of Chaz’s childhood friend Luke (the unattainable hunk), whom Lizzie harbors a crush on, despite his hot/bitchy girlfriend.
Cabot has previously displayed an ability to balance realism and fairy-tale whimsy in her writing. While the concept of the Princess Diaries is far-fetched (high-schooler Mia finds out her father in the prince of a tiny European country called Genovia and has to undergo Princess training), the adolescent self-consciousness and angst that plague Mia throughout her “transformation” ring true—as do the mundane happenings (finding a date for a dance, lunchroom seating drama, etc.) that transpire in Mia’s high school.
Queen of Babble, however, finds Cabot stuffing a more realistic story with clichéd types instead of characters and unbelievably convenient plot contrivances. Lizzie is one of the most frustratingly daft women to have graced the pages of chick lit—really, how can someone go through college without knowing she has to write a thesis? While Cabot nails Lizzie’s passion for vintage clothing, there doesn’t seem to be much else going on inside her protagonist. And there’s plenty of opportunity to flesh out Lizzie’s character. Lizzie (who also acts as narrator) mentions several times that she has recently lost 30 pounds, yet she doesn’t expound on any self-confidence issues she suffered from when overweight, particularly when immersed in the world of fashion.
The blowjob incident also screams for some moments of self-reflection, guilt or self-disgust. Since these situations—and the other problematic ones that arise in the novel—don’t make much of a dent in Lizzie’s character, they render any drama nonexistent (not helped by the predictability of the book’s many outcomes). Other characters are as one-dimensional as Queen of Babble‘s heroine: Luke’s rich girlfriend is materialistic, pushy, has fake boobs, and isn’t given an opportunity to show some motivation behind her bitchiness. Cabot never explains Luke’s initial attraction to his girlfriend and has not a shade of mystery or darkness to him. Even Lizzie’s friends Shari and Chaz just offer a shoulder for Lizzie to cry on and comic relief, respectively.
Cabot does, however, maintain a swift pace and the book breezes by. Her dialogue also has an effortless quality when she writes Lizzie’s and Shari’s exchanges. Even though the saturation of action and dialogue—instead of description—does make the book read too much like a movie, it does maintain the reader’s attention. But without the neurotic self-analysis or wry humor, this isn’t the Meg Cabot readers know and love, and while Queen of Babble is a painless read, it’s also a hollow one. Given Cabot’s entertaining and perceptive teen books, it makes the reader feel especially cheated.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/queen-of-babble/