If you do not know what the Millennium books are, you not need continue reading, just crawl back under your rock. You can't lay on a beach or board an airplane these days without seeing someone devouring one of the late Stieg Larsson's series. The books are fast becoming Harry Potter for grown-ups, between the word-of-mouth and the impeccable book-movie-home video release synergy. In the past few months, the brand's canny marketing has crescendoed in the U.S. with the DVD release of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the paperback edition of its first sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and the hardcover of the third entry, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. The series has also been parodied in the New Yorker (by Nora Ephron), rubber-stamping its cultural significance; like the Potter books, they're a ray of hope in an era of A.D.D. and diminishing literacy.
I was in the middle of the second book when I realized the true genius of Larsson's vision. It's not the world he captures, a familiar landscape of wet streets, shady businessmen, and the ethical insomniacs out to expose them. Nor is it the author's often flat literary style, which -- for any serious reader -- is apt to induce as much guilt as adrenaline. Nor is it even the far-fetched creation of the admittedly compelling Lisbeth Salander, a pierced and tatted street urchin with the body of Patti Smith and the brain of Stephen Hawking.
Larsson's real breakthrough is a veritable Final Solution for abused women: Bad men cannot be tamed, controlled, negotiated with or reasoned with -- they simply must be tortured or killed. That this message has been delivered by a man (a dead one, no less) may even be the key to its success; one wonders if the books would have sold as well in America had a woman written them. No doubt a female author imagining such cunning retribution would have gotten commercially cock-blocked by the theatrical, often illogical wrath of our current Executive VPs of Broadcast Misogyny, Limbaugh and O'Reilly.
It's not just because she can tell you which magazine she reads -- why, Millennium, of course -- that Salander is the anti-Palin. Here is a woman who doesn't bother to try to beat men at their own game -- she simply makes up her own game. And it changes every time. Rape me and I'll tape you -- with video, not duct, so that the world can see. Violate my body and I will scar you for life. And whatever you do, asshole, don't be sitting in your car when I've got a book of matches in my hand.
Hey, I liked Death Wish and Gran Torino as much as the next guy. But the real kick in reading Larsson's trilogy is his clever, repeated expression of a rarely spoken truth:
In a world that underpays and undervalues their very existence, women aren't out for revenge. They're out for justice.
Now that Meryl Streep and Betty White have risen from the ashes, I say let's bring back "Celebrity Deathmatch" -- MTV's brilliant claymation series -- and sic Lisbeth Salander on Mel Gibson. That'll shut him up.