Writer's Rehab #19: Stuck in the Middle

The middle part of Madame Bovary feels like it slows down, and it is one of those books in the middle that I feel would be a challenge to get through if I were assigned to read this for a class. You almost get the sense that the reader's life falls into the same doldrums as Emma's, with things that go nowhere, a lumbering narrative with little focus, and we are experiencing what she is - her life is dying a slow death by expectation.

It is frustrating, because I want to pull things from this section 33% of the way in and I am having problems putting a coherent thought together because the novel feels like it fell on a slow spot and never got over it. I get the feeling this is the sort of section editing would clear up, but the words are the words and I search to find a deeper meaning here other than, "Her life sucks and she is a terrible mother."

And she is a terrible mother,which makes me dislike her even more. She is disconnected, spends no time with her daughter, and sends he child to be cared for by a nanny all day and night so she can...do nothing all day except read romance novels and daydream. She pushes her child away so forcefully she cuts the toddler's cheek. What Norman Bates was to the hospitality industry Emma is to motherhood.

The rest of the characters in the book ban her from reading any more romance novels at a point, and she still sneaks out to read them. I know, this is the ugly face of addiction, and it only resonates with me because I get this whole 'addicting people to fantasy' thing and how there can be too much of a good thing - especially when there are profits involved.

But Emma as a character and that critical 'reader investment' thing? I get to that 'why should I care?' moment. I can only watch slow motions of train-wrecks so long before I get the point.

And her first fling, Leon,leaves for Paris, and we get a new dashing rogue, Rodolphe, who wanders into the book like a deus-ex-machina to her listless life. Flaubert's style wanders and head-jumps, which in this day is frowned upon and jumping into his head as he plots to seduce her and then dump her was a queasy moment for me.

Queasy in that yes, there are men like this, but also queasy in that he seems like such a forced change to liven things up to her life. Yes, stuff in people's lives drops out of nowhere, but you ever play one of those physics games where you can setup a train and put a boulder on the track ahead of it - and then watch what happens? That is this, for me.

The head-jump also feels unnecessary. I know when a guy is being manipulative, for the most part, and I would have loved to see this from Emma's perspective rather than have the whole plot given away by a head-jump. I know what Flaubert was trying to do here, be this 'movie camera' that can go anywhere, be anywhere, and see anyone - even their thoughts - to maintain that 'the writer is an omniscient god' sort of thing, but the head jump is too far. With the first flip from Charles to Emma that was fine, that was his per-marriage life and now her post-Charles life. The book stayed with Emma the whole time, with no head jumps, and kept its consistent point of view.

But now, another character inserts their thoughts into the mix, and I am like, "Three is a crowd, and get your head out of my narrative."


Rodolphe smiled, so a Miss Sylvia Storm is reviewing my book! How novel and grande! He twirled the end of his long mustache as he sat in the parlor with his smoking jacket, knee high boots, and top hat with glee. He stared at the fire-haired lass from across the room, noting her ample bosom, shapely thighs, pouty lips, and hourglass waist with keen interest. Her face was as if a Greek goddess had stepped off a pedestal and graced us with her presence. The lines on her supple neck were well defined, diving down towards her rounded bosoms in a way that directed his eyes to her chest like a magnet to a wrought iron ingot.

How would he get her into his bed? And more importantly, how would he get rid of her from the same after he was done? Oh, how he hated clingy and opinionated women, and how he loathed women that got too attached to him. All he wanted was a roll between the sheets, a night of passion, and then to be on his way. A simple request for a simple man.

She glared at him with eyes that could shoot daggers through a solid block of ice.

Her mind took back the narrative in one fell swoop, as if she had been the goddess writing this all along and demanded the head jump happen now, at this very moment in time, so she could get a word in or two before-

He leaned over the table further, staring into her eyes with an intensity of the morning sun shining bright through a glass prism. No! It was his narrative to control! His conquest to climb! Her supple skin shall be in my touch, her rounded and full breasts in my hands, and her soft gasps for breath as I take her shall blow in my ear. 'Tis my narrative, and 'tis my will to be obeyed, fair lady and sassy lass writer of words! Obey me and follow my point-of-view!

Sylvie leaned down into her notebook and wrote, "Rodolphe stood up and left the cafe."

He left himself stand, and he watched in horror as his legs moved him towards the door.

No! How could she do this to me! I have control of this narrative! These are my words to weave, and my perspective to be had! Stop, my legs! Stop I say! Do not keep me from my sweet conquest! Do not carry me away from my love, although she shall be a part-time one, if I manage to seduce such a fair lass. No! My legs carry thee from this cafe and towards such yawning portal, and an exit from the scene I fear to never return from! No, my legs, I beg of you, please stop this instant!

Rodolphe walked out of the cafe, and returned...nevermore.

Sylvie smiled. "That is what happens when you let your head be ruled by the lower half of your body."