Posted Monday, Sept. 14, 2009, at 11:40 AM
Dan Brown's publishers are guarding the plot to his new novel, The Lost Symbol , as the Priory of Sion guards the truth about Jesus' love life. Rumor has it that the Freemasons play an important role, but Brown's editor will reveal only that the story takes place over the course of 12 hours. Nevertheless, I have a prediction to make: Whatever else happens, the good guys will be really, really awesome.
Brown's penchant for lazy clichés is well-known. If a character is tired, we're told his legs "feel like stone"; if he's shocked, it's as if he's "been hit by a truck." Brown also can't help but make his protagonists cartoonishly gifted. Take David Becker, the male lead of Digital Fortress :
The youngest full professor at Georgetown University and a brilliant foreign-language specialist, he was practically a celebrity in the world of academia. Born with an eidetic memory and a love of languages, he'd mastered six Asian dialects as well as Spanish, French, and Italian. His university lectures on etymology and linguistics were standing-room-only, and he invariably stayed late to answer a barrage of questions. He spoke with authority and enthusiasm, apparently oblivious to the adoring gazes of his star-struck coeds.
Becker was dark—a rugged, youthful thirty-five with sharp green eyes and a wit to match. ... Over six feet tall, Becker moved across a squash court faster than any of his colleagues could comprehend. After soundly beating his opponent, he would cool off by dousing his head in a drinking fountain and soaking his tuft of thick, black hair. Then, still dripping, he'd treat his opponent to a fruit shake and a bagel.
Six languages, six feet tall, modest, and a gentleman who takes the sting out of his inevitable squash triumphs by treating you to a smoothie! He's peerless. Or he would be if Brown hadn't dreamt up an equally superlative female companion: Susan Fletcher, head of cryptography at the NSA, owner of a 170 IQ and a set of eyes like something out of an ad for a name-brand cosmetics line:
[David had] never been so attracted to a woman in his life. Her delicate European features and soft brown eyes reminded him of an ad for Estée Lauder. If Susan's body had been lanky and awkward as a teenager, it sure wasn't now. Somewhere along the way, she had developed a willowy grace—slender and tall with full, firm breasts and a perfect abdomen. David often joked that she was the first swimsuit model he'd ever met with a doctorate in applied mathematics and number theory.
You don't need a doctorate in number theory to know that the chances of a woman possessing such a vibrant mind and a perfect abdomen are highly unlikely.
In his next book, Angels & Demons , Brown actually shows a little restraint when first describing Robert Langdon, conceding that he's "not overly handsome in a classical sense." But soon enough he reverts back to hyperbolic form:
[T]he forty-year-old Langdon had what his female colleagues referred to as an "erudite" appeal—wisps of gray in his thick brown hair, probing blue eyes, an arresting deep voice, and the strong, carefree smile of a collegiate athlete. A varsity diver in prep school and college, Langdon still had the body of a swimmer, a stoned, six-foot physique that he vigilantly maintained with fifty laps a day in the university pool.
... Although a tough teacher and a strict disciplinarian, Langdon was the first to embrace what he hailed as the "lost art of good clean fun." He relished recreation with an infectious fanaticism that had earned him a fraternal acceptance among his students. His campus nickname—"The Dolphin"—was a reference both to his affable nature and his legendary ability to dive into a pool and outmaneuver the entire opposing squad in a water polo match.
When we next meet "The Dolphin" in The Da Vinci Code , he's still got it. Here's how Brown has Boston Magazine , which picks Langdon as one of the city's "top ten most intriguing people," describe the erudite, blue-eyed, affable, chlorine-soaked symbologist:
Although Professor Langdon might not be considered hunk-handsome like some of our younger awardees, this forty-something academic has more than his share of scholarly allure. His captivating presence is punctuated by an unusually low, baritone speaking voice, which his female students describe as "chocolate for the ears."
Slate readers, as you make your way through The Lost Symbol— you know you're going to—keep an eye out for Brown's heroic hyperbole and send along your favorite examples to SlateBrowBeat@gmail.com . Becker was a champ at squash and Langdon at water polo. In the new novel, will we meet a tall, dark, and ruggedly handsome Phi Beta Kappa member who's earned the respect of his colleagues and students for his prowess on the lacrosse field?