Friday, August 21, 2020

The Motion of the Body Through Space: Troll-tastic Shriver Takes on Fitness

Professional provocateur Lionel Shriver has written a novel, The Motion of the Body Through Space (I'm purposefully not including a link, because no one should buy this book), positioned as a "send-up of today's cult of exercise." As a runner, I thought it’d be fun or at least amusing to read a novel satirizing the “cult of exercise.” Haha, you got me there, Shriver. Runners ARE a little weird. But there's nothing light-hearted, amusing, or even remotely clever about this. Instead, it's just mean-spirited, mocking, grouchy, and devoid of any parody value whatsoever. I haven't read Shriver before, but I guess that's at least partially her schtick

It's about a mid-sixties man named Remington who has been forced into retirement, and so takes up endurance sports, despite no experience. This new endeavor annoys his wife, Serenata, who used to run and bike, but can't anymore because of a bum knee. Serenata also happens to be one of the most insufferable people in any book I've read in a long time. (To give you an idea of how much I disliked her, at one point in the novel, she injures her knee riding her bike, and I was delighted that this fictional character is in intense pain.) 

Anyway, Serenata is upset at her husband for having a new ambition she doesn't deem worthy of him (she literally tells him that it's "unworthy of him" — what a snob!). She doesn't understand the point, and she frequently compares people who exercise, run marathons, and do triathlons to brainwashed members of a cult — and even, in one memorably horrendous paragraph, to Nazis. (Is this Serenata or Shriver making this claim? Does it matter? That’s not parody or satire. That’s just being an asshole.) 

What's sad is how ridiculous Shriver clearly thinks this new "fad" is, but then she couldn't come up with a more original story to make this point. Old man has late-life crisis, tries to develop fountain of youth. Good one, Shriver — wholly originally. Shriver even names Remington's comely, booby fitness trainer Bambi Buffer, for fuck’s sake! Bambi Buffer! 

It's Bambi who convinces Remington (of course, for her own personal gain in the form of a $1,200 per month fee) that the next natural step after he completes a marathon is to do a "MettleMan" triathlon, which only serves to annoy Serenata that much more. Of course, things don't go well for Remington, and the marriage moves to the brink.

Look, if you’re going to write satire, you owe your reader at least a passable understanding of what you’re satirizing. Amateur athletes do marathons, sure. But no seven-hour marathoner in his 60s is signing up for a full-distance IronMan triathlon, no matter how persuasive his devastatingly beautiful personal trainer is. It's patently ridiculous, to the point of being hilarious. So that's about the only shimmer of satire here. But because Shriver's so mean-spirited the rest of the time, you're not reading this as satire anymore. And beyond that detail, Shriver gets so much else wrong about these sports and the training and the culture she's trying to mock. It’s embarrassing. 

I only finished this because I was enjoying how much I hated it. If Shriver's goal here was to troll people who enjoy running, then kudos to you, Shriver. You done pissed me off good.

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