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Literary Glance: The Chef by James Patterson and some other guy

March 12, 2019

The Chef by James Patterson and some other guy is a top five bestseller right now, and there’s one thing I’ll say about it; The Chef has James Patterson written all over it, even if the other guy contributed.

Scenes written by James Patterson rarely have a strong sense of place, and this applies to The Chef.  Here in the first chapter, the protagonist is working at his food truck in New Orleans.  A food truck is an interesting place.  New Orleans is an interesting place.  Put a food truck and New Orleans together, and it should make an interesting scene.  Instead, this is what Patterson (and some other guy) come up with:

A collision of food, music, history, passion, and chaos… yep, that pretty much sums up New Orleans for you.  “Nawlins,” as us locals say it.  NOLA.  The Crescent City.  The Big Easy.  Different names for the same magical, one-of-a-kind place.  My hometown of three-and-a-half decades.  The capital of the world, as far as I’m concerned.  A city where anything can happen, and nothing is ever as it seems.

Ugh, that sounds like something from Wikipedia or a brochure.  It makes me wonder if James Patterson (or the other guy) has ever been to New Orleans.  You don’t necessarily have had to visit a place to write about it.  But an author should be able to imagine being there and put that imagined scene into words.

If I had written this first chapter, I would have dropped this paragraph altogether and slowly brought New Orleans into it, maybe with some naked guy ordering food at the truck with nobody being offended.  Yeah, maybe that’s a stereotype, but it’s not the first time Patterson (or any other author) has relied on a stereotype.

Next is the food truck.  Here, Patterson (or the other guy) at least tries.

Last, I make the “shake.” I dump a batch of twisted strips of raw dough into the metal deep-fryer basket, then plunge them into the scalding vat of oil.  Once they’re golden brown and perfectly flaky, I slide them into a serving boat and dust them with precisely six shakes of powdered sugar.  Most New Orleans joints serve beignets, a similar, more common pastry.  But I’ve always preferred these, known as angel wings.  And I’ve never been one to follow the crowd, either here or in my other career.

There’s a lot of food description, enough to make me wonder if Patterson is trying to write one of those foodie murder mysteries.  Maybe there are some New Orleans recipes in the book and I just haven’t read far enough yet.  At any rate, there’s no sense of space or claustrophobia inside the truck.  He should be bumping into stuff and getting frustrated with any coworkers (whom I’m about to mention).

And then there’s the James Patterson dialogue.  Patterson tends to overwrite his banter, using long sentences that nobody in real life would ever say.

For example, here’s a scene where a female customer is flirting with the male protagonist.  I’ve never seen a female flirt with a guy working in a food truck.  I’ve seen male customers try to flirt with women who work in food trucks, but never the other way around.  Maybe it happens, but I don’t think it does.  This just shows how awesome the protagonist is, I guess.

Here’s how the protagonist’s ex-wife (yeah, his ex-wife works with him in the food truck… hack!) responds to the flirtatious drunk chick.

“Oh, honey,” she says, her (the ex-wife’s) voice dripping with experience and sarcasm.  “Don’t let Caleb’s two hundred pounds of hunkiness fool you.  That man’s a lot like the sun.  Plenty hot when he shines on you, but try to get close and he’ll burn you to a crisp.  Believe me, I know.”

“Don’t let Caleb’s two hundred pounds of hunkiness fool you?”  Nobody talks like that.

Maybe I’m arrogant to rewrite the words of the bestselling author of all time, but seriously, an editor should have done this:

“Don’t let him fool you, honey,” she says.  “The man’s a lot like the sun; he’s hot, but he’ll burn you to a crisp.”

The line is still hacky, but maybe somebody would actually say it.

So there we have it, another co-written James Patterson novel that feels like a first draft.  Sometimes my own writing can feel like a first draft, but I don’t write/publish 10+ books a year like Patterson.  As a masterclass author, he should have higher standards.  If any writer deserves to get bashed (not physically), it’s a masterclass-teaching bestselling author who puts out rough drafts as final copies, like James Patterson.

To be fair, I should also bash the coauthor, the other guy, for writing this too.  It’s disrespectful of me to leave out the other guy.  I’m sorry, other guy.

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