Life is too short to drag oneself through a really lousy book. That’s how I roll.
When I first selected Ben Mezrich’s Sex on the Moon at the library three weeks ago, I was somewhat excited to read it, having enjoyed his more famous book, The Accidental Billionaires (and the movie it inspired). Although The Accidental Billionaires was fun and compulsively readable, it wasn’t what I would consider pure nonfiction. If you’re wondering what I mean by that, here’s an example: both The Accidental Billionaires AND Sex on the Moon begin with the following disclaimer:
“Details of settings and descriptions have been changed to protect identities; certain names, individuals’ characterizations, physical descriptions, and histories have been altered to protect privacy, in some cases at the characters’ own request. I do employ the technique of re-created dialogue.”
It was nice to know at the start of the book, before I got emotionally involved with any of the characters or formed opinions about their actions, that some of it would be made up. It was almost reassuring, in a way.
For some reason, I was okay with this in The Accidental Billionaires, mostly because I was already somewhat familiar with the main characters and all the drama surrounding the founding of Facebook. Plus he didn’t change the names of most of the main characters in Billionaires, so I had a frame of reference. I could look them up on Wikipedia if I wanted to. Mezrich described them just as they were. Even though I ended up not liking any of Mezrich’s characters in Billionaires, the collaboration of all of these unlikeable characters resulted in something that had an impact on my life.
Unfortunately for Sex on the Moon, I had no frame of reference. I knew nothing about the premise of the book or any of the characters. Google searches of character names either turned up nothing, or turned up their real names and pictures of people who looked nothing like they were described. The sense of unreality heightened as Mezrich populated NASA’s premier research center with supermodel-gorgeous engineering students, making me wonder if NASA picked interns for its selective program based on pictures rather than SAT scores. No one drove anything worse than a BMW. Interns could seemingly wander in and out of high security areas with ease, no questions asked. And it didn’t help that I hated the main character, Thad Roberts, a dumb-ass, thrill-seeking NASA intern who stole moon rocks as a way to impress his girlfriend and make people think he was cool. Never mind that he was married when he had the girlfriend, betrayed nearly everyone who trusted him personally and professionally, and wrecked any chance at what looked like a promising career with NASA. How can you root for a guy like that? Who wants to spend 300 pages watching someone flush their life down the drain for some chick? Plus Mezrich weirdly intersperses the chapters with excerpts of hyperdramatic love letters Roberts apparently sent to his girlfriend while serving time in jail (which were all returned to him unopened–it was nice to see someone had some common sense. It was the most realistic part of the book). And in the end, I just couldn’t care. It was like some stupid fraternity prank gone horribly wrong.
I read nonfiction because I like true stories, about real people and real things that happened, so I was disappointed in this book on many levels. Although it’s undisputed that Roberts stole the moon rocks and served many years of jail time, the rest of the book is fluff. Many reviews out there suggested that Mezrich is now writing more with the Hollywood screen in mind than real fact, so I suspect we’ll see this one at our local movie theater before too long. Maybe someone should suggest to Mezrich that his real calling lies in screenwriting rather than nonfiction. It would save many of us hours we’ll never get back.