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[whitespace] Tears for Spears

Britney and Lynne Spears' novel, 'A Mother's Gift,' is a pop-culture family crime

By Gina Arnold

YOU KNOW how some people theorize that TV rots the juvenile mind? "You should read a book instead," they say disapprovingly. Well, I just finished a new book of children's fiction that was more corrosive to the ol' gray matter than a thousand episodes of Jackass played back to back. It's called A Mother's Gift: A Novel, and it was written by Britney Spears and her mother, Lynne.

Of course, making fun of Britney's literary prowess is like shooting very large fish in a very small barrel. And joking aside, respect is due to anyone who finishes writing a full-length novel; it is probably the top unfulfilled ambition of the masses. The fact that Britney Spears and her mother have actually completed a manuscript with a beginning, a middle and an end is really nothing to scoff at.

The fact that it happens to be possibly the worst book ever written is a different matter. That's well worth ridiculing, especially in light of the fact that the pair reportedly received a publishing advance of a million dollars for the finished product.

A Mother's Gift tells the story of a single parent-single child household. Wanda Lovell, the mother, is a poor but saintly seamstress--the daughter an angelic hottie with a great singing voice. They live in a small town in Mississippi, where the townsfolk are uniformly kind, gentle and understanding, just like most poor, isolated white Southerners today. She and her daughter, 14-year-old Holly Faye, are so wrapped up in each other that Holly Faye often foregoes a date with her hunky boyfriend to stay home and watch TV with Mom.

Then one day, Holly Faye wins a scholarship to an extremely fancy music school that happens to be located in nearby Hattiesburg, Miss., a town well known for being the cultural capital of America. There, Holly Faye is immediately recognized as a musical genius and, incidentally, the nicest girl on campus.

Luckily for Holly Faye--whose avowed favorite artists are Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and Barbra Streisand--at her hifalutin music school, where the faculty is made up entirely of Grammy winners and "former members of all leading American orchestras, as well as ... the London Symphony and the New Zealand Philharmonic," they don't teach boring things like music theory, composition or classical history.

Instead, she is allowed to sing "Wind Beneath My Wings" at her big debut concert, at which everyone in the entire school leaps to their feet, crying copious tears of joy because one so talented is so incredibly soulful.

SUFFICE IT TO SAY, the book is not autobiographical, except in one detail: both Holly and Britney are known for wearing tacky clothes. But then the book also isn't really about Britney, since given her ubiquity on TV, video and radio right now, she simply just hasn't had the time to sit down at her laptop and type.

That's probably why the book is really about Wanda, not Holly Faye, and why--like many first novels--it is pure wish fulfillment. But if this is Lynne Spears' fantasy world, it shows her to have one of the most conflicted souls on the planet. Conflicted, or dishonest, take your pick.

For example, the book is anti-rich. The villains (if there are any) are the parents of Holly's troubled roommate, Ditz, who are rich (a lawyer and a working mom), evil (ditto), sophisticated (their house, we are told with faint contempt, is full of antique furniture) and, finally, extremely bad parents, leaving Ditz's recital before she even performs.

Turns out, money can't buy you love, and to be poor, like the Lovells, is a virtue in itself. Does this mean the Spears family is filled with self-loathing over the millions of dollars they've earned in the last two years? Or is this just a general rule of thumb meant to make us little people feel better about ourselves?

Even weirder is the fact that the book is anti-sex. Not only does Holly Faye not sleep with her boyfriend, Tyler (they like to kiss and hug instead), but anyone who does sleep with a boy--like Ditz--is not only bad but miserably unhappy. Even Wanda, it turns out, has not had sex, in a plot twist that verges on a virgin-birth scenario.

In fact, it so happens there are no significant male characters in this book at all, except Tyler, who is practically a girl except that he is able to fix cars (which is all men are good for, right?).

Now, there's nothing wrong with a female-centric novel, but it does seem odd given that in real life, Britney Spears' entire oeuvre is based on attempting to make boys and men of all ages get aroused by a digitally enhanced version of her face or breasts. (Her current multimillion-dollar Pepsi commercial is a case in point: it shows various males and even Viagra-hawker Bob Dole's dog slobbering over her midriff.)

Or maybe that's the secret to her psyche: what she does for money is so gross and soul destroying, it has caused her to turn away from everything she so easily manipulates. Certainly, after I finished A Mother's Gift, I found myself wondering what mother and daughter were trying to say. That money and sex are bad? That an ideal world contains no men?

Whatever they're attempting to get at, it's hard to imagine even the most stone-cold Britney fan cottoning to this drivel. And yet I would have said that about her music, too, so see how much I know.

Stop in the Name of Love

ACCORDING TO A recent media report, the second most widely reported arts story in the American media in the year 2000 was the one about the study that found that the entertainment industry is deliberately marketing sex and violence to kids. It came out well ahead of stories on Napster, Gladiator or even Harry Potter.

This week, a second study has been released, saying that, although the television and movie industries have addressed the problem, the music business has not. According to a music-business spokesperson, that's because "we market artists to music fans, not violence to kids," and sadly, I believe him.

I mean, where do you draw the line between "Stagger Lee" and an Eminem song like "Kill Ya"? The one is a respected folk/blues number; the other is an idiotic paean to uncontrolled rage. Both, however, contain the same amount of violence. Heck, "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley" is about murder, and "Barbara Allen" is about suicide. Should we ban them from the lexicon of folk?

Anyway, there's still a lot less violence in pop music than there is in the movies or TV. The majority of pop songs are about love, sweet love. But The Sopranos, that wildly praised TV show, is often lauded as real art, and it features rape, murder and torture every week. Hannibal was the No. 1 movie in America for months on end, and it's gross, cruel and bloody.

Proportionally speaking, rock music has a long way to go before it contains as much sadistic stuff as film and TV, and until that stops being the case, I can't take any finger-pointing directed at music very seriously.

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From the May 3-9, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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