Those Who Trespass: A Novel of Murder and Television, by Bill O’Reilly, Read by The Author, Random House Audio, 2001
I don’t normally listen to abridged audiobooks, but in this one instance I couldn’t possibly pass this up. Self-important blowhard pecksniff Bill O’Reilly read this bilious excrescence of a novel himself, and I can’t possibly imagine anyone with such an unwarranted and inflated sense of self not laying his heavy hand on the editing process. Thus, what remains of this novel, if my theory holds, shows not only the O’Reilly’s ridiculous judgment of his abilities as an author, but it stands as a curious kind of Rorschach in which we can try to discover exactly what is most important to the writer in this barely concealed revenge fantasy.
And believe me, this is nothing short of an embarrassing fantasy and the listening to it gives you that same kind of slightly sorry-for-the-guy sick feeling in your stomach. Not sorry as in, gosh, what bad luck, but sorry in that way where you feel so damn mortified for the person revealing themselves in this way, for letting the mask of decorum slip in order to show us the quaking little boy underneath all the bluster. Years and years ago, O’Reilly got slighted in the journalism profession, and this book is like some release valve for all the petulant anger he’s still got locked up inside himself that he just can’t let go.
This is just a terrible, terrible book, disgraceful, the kind of writing that imbeciles do but since they’re famous and powerful idiots, publishing houses don’t even care about quality just as long as the name on the cover moves the merch. O’Reilly, an infamous FoxNews personality couldn’t even let his ego deflate enough to pay good money for a quality ghost writer to put some snap and sizzle into this adolescent transparency. But, no matter how big an idiot a famous person may be, they’re famous and they have fans. Which means there are always even bigger dimwits willing to lap up their shitty drizzle.
It’s almost irrelevant, but the plot, so-called, to this farcical business involves the “mysterious” and brutal murders that are befalling several television personalities who work for Global News Network (GNN, get it? get it?) and their investigation by a young female journalist Ashley Van Buren as well as a no-bullshit style Irish cop named Tommy O’Malley, whose name bears an astonishing similarity to some other Irish guy — oh yeah, the author. It will surprise only the dullest IQ deficient types to learn that the main suspect, another side of the O’Reilly personality, Shannon Michaels is in fact — bum bum BUMMMMM — the killer.
Shannon falls for Ashley, Ashley falls for Shannon, Tommy falls for Ashley too, Ashley eventually falls for Tommy, Random House falls for Bill O’Reilly. I fall down laughing.
What follows plot-wise is a bunch of grotesque murders or murder scenes in which O’Reilly, clever dog that he is, hides the fact that they’re being committed by Shannon Michaels by the tricky literary device of not writing down the killer’s name. Scorching! One man is killed with a long-handled spoon, the cutlery in question being jammed up his nose into his brain. While this may have seemed “cool” or “awesome” or “far-out” during the writing process, from a practical aspect, a spoon, no matter how long the handle, is a weapon of last resort, like a prison-made shiv, and would be damn difficult to effectivly kill someone with. Then there is that kind Schwarzenegger meathead style toward morbid jokes like saying “you were always over the top” when a vicious bureaucrat at GNN is thrown over a balcony to her death. Burn!
Part of what’s especially ridiculous about the investigation by Ashley and O’Malley is that very little of the snooping into the killing involves investigating crime data or chasing leads. Actually, none of it does, strange as that might seem. Instead the investigation focuses on raking over the details of how poor Shannon Michaels been done wrong. And boy has he! When he was a pipsqueak reporter, a big name guy stole one of his stories; an enemy of Michaels faked research data to make him seem less popular than he really was; executives didn’t like him being a hot-tempered asshole and fired him; the list goes on. The investigation quickly turns into a series of interviews in which Michaels gets to hog the stage and denounce the world, all while declaring his innocence.
But there’s worse yet. It’s been mocked before, especially this particularly awful, awful passage:
Ashley was now wearing only brief white panties. She had signaled her desire by removing her shirt and skirt, and by leaning back on the couch. She closed her eyes, concentrating on nothing but Shannon's tongue and lips. He gently teased her by licking the areas around her most sensitive erogenous zone. Then he slipped her panties down her legs and, within seconds, his tongue was inside her, moving rapidly.
Egads, that’ll put you off oral sex if nothing else will. Let’s unpack for one sec: “signaled her desire by removing her shirt and skirt”? That’s a signal? Really? And here I always thought signals were a bit more subtle, say, a hand on one’s thigh or a coy comment or a lick of the lips, not complete undressing. Then there’s “licking the area around her most sensitive erogenous zone.” This clunky, awkward euphemism is a cake and eat it too, if I may be so bold. Clearly, O’Reilly wants Shannon to — let’s be blunt, shall we? — eat some snatch, but he’s got his FoxNews uptight conservative hat to wear, so he dances around various possible choices and settles for this ham-handed prudery like it’s some damn science text on anatomy, then like a man dashes straight away from the clitoris to put the tongue “inside her.” I’ll let the ladies ponder that particular technique.
At another point, O’Reilly writes of seduction:
[Shannon] shyly looked down at the table. The move was calculated. Shannon had learned a long time ago that being coy was an essential part of flirting. Women liked confident men, but they also liked little boys. For men, the trick was to combine the two qualities.
When you read this passage, then consider the source, and you endeavor to see in your mind O’Reilly trying to coyly act like a little boy, it’s too too unbearable. The stomach does rolls, flops, and churns with a greasy queasiness. One can only think of Andrea Mackris with a kind of sick sympathy.
Sex really is a major hang up for a lot of writers, but O’Reilly might just want to never, ever, ever get his characters naked again for all of our sakes. There seems, at times, a real disconnect between whatever the hell O’Reilly might be wishing to convey and what words he puts on the page. For example, when Shannon “barks” at Ashley to sit down while he massages her (and all the massage scenes read, as you may guess, as a kind of creepy smug pseudo-rape), she does as “he asked.” News flash that may surprise someone, somewhere, suffering from a severe blunt force trauma to the skull: barking commands isn’t asking. Later, when it gets hotter Shannon “gently tweaks” Ashley’s nipples. There’s an uncomfortable oxymoron as tweaking is suggestive of nothing in the realm of “gentle.”
Stylistically the most common problem bad writers expose is an overdependence on adjectives and adverbs. Every noun and verb is given its descriptive qualifier as though everything needed some kind of clarification. It’s curious that even with a master’s degree in journalism, O’Reilly still writes like he’s yet to pass a Freshman Comp 101. And so we are treated to such gems as: “Grotesque mask of hate,” “alcohol scented breath,” “black swivel chair,” “menacing squint,” “reality once again slapped him in the face,” “penetrating blue eyes,” among other literary sins. “Fury gripped him like a tourniquet,” O’Reilly writes at one point, a curious phrasing that sounds almost like the opposite of what he wants to convey. At another point, we are treated to the observation that one character possessed “a smile that made Shannon Michaels want to strangle Worthington with extreme prejudice.” I’m sorry, is there any other way to strangle someone I’m unfamiliar with? Aren’t most strangulations done with what we generally in polite society (even in non-polite society) think of automatically as “extreme prejudice”?
Of course there is literally almost no end of things to laugh at in this book from its onion-skin thin characters to its sub-sub literate styling to the fact that we never actually find out who “those who trespass” are and exactly where or how they’re trespassing. Even the book’s title exists more because “it sounds cool” than for any justifiable reason. But best of all is the complete and total psyche of the author in proud parade. And so, Tommy O’Malley gets to be the noble parts of O’Reilly he wishes to tout, while Shannon Michaels is constantly being described by one sock puppet of O’Reilly’s after another along the lines of “powerful, direct, and intelligent.”
We are again and again told that Shannon Michaels was incredibly intelligent, though we never actually see this save for a speech he gives Ashley about her family name which is mildly interesting in a trivial way. And then one time Shannon earned that praise because he buried one of his victims up to his neck in sand and the man drowned. Why does this make Shannon so brilliant? Because apparently the Vikings used to do it back in the middle ages. People got stabbed back then too, but that doesn’t make, say, O.J. Simpson the second coming of Einstein. Not that O’Reilly might have gotten it from this which is somewhat lower on the “brilliant” scale than knowing a not particularly obscure fact about Vikings.
The conclusion of the book has the “powerful, direct, and intelligent” Shannon Michaels killed by his own plan, too good, too tough to be taken out by a cop. Top of the world, ma! Top o’ the world! In this respect, O’Reilly’s psychology is clear. Even he is too big to be stopped by himself.
It’s funny. For such a book that so mirrors O’Reilly’s life, he still feels the need in the end to goose things a bit. A winner of two Emmy’s, he makes his Shannon Michaels alter ego the winner of four, doubling his value. Yet from the details lifted from his own life, it’s apparent O’Reilly can hold a grudge longer than can be healthy, and the book, as a revenge fantasy, is a pretty damned neutered substitute. And underneath all that bluster, we have that little boy he wrote about in the seduction scene.
For clearly, loudmouth blowhards who are always taking offense are, at heart, sensitive little things, their delicate souls ready to lift petticoats at a moment’s notice and flounce off in a huff. Only in O’Reilly’s case he’s coupled this bleeding heart with his own thirst for blood. O’Reilly himself, and some poor unsuspecting victims, are lucky he has his various media megaphones to let off this kind of steam lest he really begin to believe that he’s “powerful, direct, and intelligent” enough to get away with murder.
As a reader, O’Reilly evidently relishes the sound of his own voice, even though his delivery leans toward the wooden, kind of flat news voice and rarely gets into the screechier upper registers he displays when inflamed on his show or elsewhere. Of course, to hear an uber-honkey type like Bill O’Reilly deliver lines such as “gave him cred in the hood” is like watching Jay Leno breakdance, a cringe-inducing display as embarrassing as catching your uncle on the shitter.
In the end though, I suspect O’Reilly will suffer some kind of thrombosis, a blood vessel will split in his skull at some slight, real or imagined, too personal to let go of, and that will be that. In the meantime, who’s willing to take me up on a bet that in his basement late at night, our fine author is hammering away at some novel of revenge in which Phil O’Ballsy is ripping into the guts of Sal Franklin right this very minute?