The “What?!” Moment: When a Book Jumps the Shark

We’ve all been there. You’re reading a book and then boom! Out of nowhere comes something totally jarring that makes you stop and exclaim, “What?!” You reread it several times because it’s so confusing and/or because it’s so ridiculous that you can’t believe it’s there. But no matter how many times you read it, it doesn’t change. Can you get past it? Does it annoy you so much that you can’t continue reading the book? In television, when a show reaches the point of no return and becomes so outlandish that it should probably be canceled, it’s referred to as “jumping the shark.” This phrase stems from an episode of Happy Days when Fonzie literally jumps over a shark while water skiing during a trip to California. See what I mean?

Sadly, a “what?!” moment happened while I was reading Sophie Kinsella’s new novel, Wedding Night. Let me preface what I’m about to say by making it clear that I’m a fan of her stand-alone novels. Twenties Girl is one of my favorite books of all-time, and I've Got Your Number is brilliant. I’ve never read the Shopaholic series. (I know, I know.) I saw the movie and loved it, though. But from what I hear, the movie is very different from the books.

Anyway, I was all revved up to read Wedding Night, had been counting down for months, pre-ordered it, and tweeted and posted on Facebook with glee when it finally arrived. To my utter disappointment, it didn't take long for me to become really frustrated. While at her son’s school, Fliss must make a hot air balloon project with him because her forgetful ex-husband failed to do so. She searches for something to make it with, and well, let’s just say that her choice is incredibly inappropriate. It’s ironic because she’s so upset with her ex and constantly trying to prove what a negligent parent he is and in general what a bad person he is, and then she does this. What a way to show how much better you are…humiliate yourself and your young son. When something is too idiotic and too unrealistic, it loses the comedy. I know Kinsella was going for funny with this scene, but comedy is grounded in reality. Ninety nine percent of parents wouldn’t do what Fliss did. That’s the problem. Unrealistic = unfunny. And that was all it took. I was out of the story. I had a lot of trouble getting past that, but I pushed on…and then boom! Fliss is having drinks with Lorcan and more “balloons” fly out of her purse for a repeat appearance. Please. Again, unrealistic. A contrived attempt at getting a laugh from readers.

I was also turned off by how over-the-top flaky Lottie is, and by how late into the book her marriage to Ben happens…I think 160 pages in or so. The book’s description already tells us that they get married and her sister tries to stop the honeymoon, so the build up to something we already know will happen is incredibly long. By page 300, I skipped to the end to confirm my prediction for the outcome, which was right. I can forgive a predictable story and actually quite enjoy them if they’re engaging. Unfortunately, this is not Kinsella’s best work. But that’s just my opinion. I’m still a fan of hers, and I’ll buy her next book, but my hopes won’t be quite as high. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I’ll have to wait and see…

Note: This post isn’t meant to be hurtful or disrespectful toward Kinsella at all. Please don’t misinterpret it. I respect her and have said many times that she is one of the best chick lit writers out there. I know how much time, effort, and hard work goes into writing and publishing a book, so I know this was no small feat. I appreciate her dedication to the genre we all love so much. However, chick lit has evolved and moved past the bumbling heroines, or at least I want it to, and I know she can write a much better story with much better characters than Wedding Night. I look forward to what she comes up with next.
Did you read Wedding Night? What did you think of it? Can you continue reading a book after it jumps the shark? Which books have you read that have a "what?!" moment?