Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review: Mousetrapped by Catherine Ryan Howard

Books read in 2011: 2

I feel it necessary to start this review with a simple statement: This book should not be called Mousetrapped.

Instead, it should be called "Unprepared Irish Girl Lives in Orlando for a Year and a Half"...or something along those lines. And just as an FYI, this is coming from a woman who worked for Disney in some capacity or another for about five years and lived in Orlando for a combined total of 15 months (and continues to visit at least once a year, many times more than that).

I'll give the author some credit: Nowhere on the front or back cover does it say that this book is supposed to be mainly about Disney and its inner workings. Unfortunately, the title and the fact that "working in Walt Disney World" is the first thing mentioned in the "what this book is about" blurb on the back cover are a bit misleading. Because first of all, although Ms. Howard worked on Disney property, she worked for an operating participant. And not even in a park. To be specific, she worked for the Swan & Dolphin hotels, and working there didn't even get her free access to the Disney theme parks.

Consequently, it shouldn't be surprising that there is very little about Walt Disney World (and in fact, very little about her job) in this memoir. What few things she does write, she tends to get incorrect--for example, she refers to Walt Disney World as the "happiest place on Earth". Constantly. Disneyland is actually touted as "the happiest place on Earth". Disney World is actually deemed "the most magical place on Earth". And yes, it has always been that way. Another example is when she writes about the Jungle Cruise skippers on page 97, claiming that Disney hires amateur comedians (incorrect: anyone who walks into casting off the street and is hired for attractions could end up at the Jungle Cruise). And just to put a nail in the coffin on this one, Ms. Howard writes about the time she rode Thunder Mountain "while a biblical thunderstorm unleashed hell directly above" her. As this is an outdoor ride, it shuts down during thunderstorms. For the safety of the guests. So.

Of course, Ms. Howard sums up her own memoir in one sentence on page 80. "A cursory glance at my life might lead you to believe that I had arrived in Florida recklessly unprepared and thus found myself in an unfavourable situation designed by my own hand." This is, in fact, exactly what happened. Because who in the world moves across the Atlantic ocean without studying what needs to happen once she gets to the US in order for her to actually have the ability to go to work? Who, with four months to prepare, doesn't get on the internet and look for a place to live? Because had the author done either of these things, a good third--or at least a quarter--of this book would have gone unwritten. Because it wouldn't have happened.

On the same topic of mistakes, this book needs a new editor. Just a few times I noticed spelling, grammar, or general mistakes include at the bottom of page 78, where the word "taunt" is used when I'm pretty sure she meant "taut"; pages 186 and 190, when she spells the last name of the astronaut William Oefelein "Oefelien"; and on page 159 when she names the architect of the Swan and Dolphin hotels and actually calls the hotels by their proper names, despite the fact that throughout the rest of the book she refers to them as the Duck and Tuna. I could go on regarding more issues--mainly spelling and grammar--but I think three examples is plenty at the moment.

Beyond these issues, I was under the impression that even if this isn't a book about Walt Disney World or working there, it is a book about Orlando, but instead of describing places like Universal and Sea World in detail (try extremely brief mentions of them, maybe half a page apiece), Ms. Howard spends approximately 35 pages of her 237 page book writing about the Kennedy Space Center/NASA/the Apollo program/shuttle launches, most of which is information that could be found on Wikipedia. Still, imagine my surprise when she tacks on a chapter about one of those lesser-known Orlando attractions--The Holy Land Experience--and instead of just using those pages to write boring descriptions of what goes on there (a la her chapters on Kennedy Space Center), she uses them for her own atheist diatribe.

To make a point, I am not an atheist. I am a Christian. But I have friends who are atheists and whereas our religious/spiritual views obviously differ, I don't appreciate being lumped into a "people of faith" category that (a) supposedly thinks atheists are all horrible people and (b) is apparently "abnormal" per this gem from page 209: "...they all seemed pretty normal. Outwardly, at least.", which was written about the people who were visiting The Holy Land Experience because they believe in it, not because they think they're some sort of undercover journalist. Ms. Howard, being raised a Catholic--in Ireland, no less-and then coming to the States and watching a few Kirk Cameron specials and Bill O'Reilly shows does not make you an expert on Christianity any more than I am an expert on atheism. I'm not one, and I do not think atheists are horrible people nor am I some abnormal freak of nature simply because I choose to believe in God and Jesus Christ and that there may be something better than the ups and downs of living a few years or decades or more on this Earth.

Ms. Howard writes, "When people of faith discover that you're an atheist, they inevitably adopt a tone of two parts incredulity and three parts condescension..." Pot, meet kettle.

The thing is, I probably could have sucked it up and given this book 2 or even 3 stars were it not for the fourteen pages the author spent haranguing not just The Holy Land Experience (which may or may not be authentic at all; I've never been and therefore wouldn't know) but Christianity and all Christians in general. I honestly can't even rate this book because I can't imagine ever condemning a friend of mine--Christians and atheists alike--to reading it.

My suggestion? Before this book goes into much heavier circulation, Ms. Howard should re-write the whole thing. She is interesting and funny at many points. Her story isn't a completely boring one. But she does need to learn a bit of accountability.

And she can leave the 35 pages on space programs and shuttles and the 14 pages on atheism out of it. Maybe replace them with the story of how she and her brother got to travel to the airport in a stretch limo that we were teased with but not told.

"I thought being realistic was what being an adult was all about."

"...the worst thought of all, the one that kept me up night after night, alone in my apartment and starved of sleep and perspective, was the thought that this was it. This was what my life would always be like, moving from place to place, starting from scratch over and over, always looking, never finding."

"I was languishing in that little room in Orlando, acutely aware that my twenties--the one decade when you're both old enough and young enough to do whatever it is you want and get away with it--were steaming full speed to the mid-way point..."

"Either only stupid people come to Florida on vacation or there's some weird wrinkle in the space/time continuum that dumbs down everybody upon arrival." Pin It

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