Omigod. I made it to page 55 before I gave up in disgust. I kept thinking, until then, that perhaps the narrator's odd voice was the result of something he was going to reveal to us, maybe a childhood spent watching bad tv shows that he would identify. You know, like the voice of the narrator in The Curious Indident of the Dog in the Night-Time. That one worked fabulously, and I even gave a copy to a friend (a rarity). But this did not happen, and after 55 pages, I couldn't take it any more. Wonder what I'm talking about? Well, alrighty, then! Here are some examples of just completely intolerable writing:
"When I opened my eyes, the sun was up and shifting red across the face of the loose billowy clouds above. Only the gradual slowing of the bus seemed to break my slumber."
First off, you've got to tell me why a 12-year-old boy talks/writes this way. And then you have to stop and think about what you've just written: he opens his eyes and sees the sun, and then--then!--the gradual slowing of the bus seems to break his slumber. What's wrong here is that, to make any sense, the two sentences need to be switched. The gradual slowing wakes him up, and then he opens his eyes. Or you could get around this by changing it to "seemed to have broken my slumber." But bleah.
He doesn't introduce himself to us as a fan of 18th century Romantic British literature, though, so "break my slumber" is really jarring.
OK. Another example.
"The old Marine punched the driver hard several times across the face and reached for the wheel. The bus swerved in the lane as the Greyhound version of Frank Burns was shaken from the blows and became severely disoriented. Several people gasped, and a woman crossed herself and cried out to 'sweet Jesus' a few seats in front of me. The man with red hair laughed out loud. I was awestruck and froze. When I shook it off, I moved forward a few seats to get a better view. Everyone else seemed like department store mannequins. It was a singular moment of role reversal."
I don't even know what to say about this paragraph. I kept thinking this would be where the narrator would give us some explanation for his combination of sometimes flowery language (see description of sun, above) and his lack of narrative skills (the shift to passive voice in the second sentence, above, in narrating A BEATING, when you'd use passive voice only very deliberately for effect, which doesn't seem (lord help us) to be the case here). And then the little things, things I might not notice if the rest of the writing were riveting and I were totally engrossed in the story. Things like the third sentence up there, which should read "and a woman a few seats in front of me crossed herself. . . ." because otherwise you're wondering if "sweet Jesus" is sitting up ahead of him on the bus. It would be difficult for a full-size Greyhound bus to swerve *in* the lane; it would swerve from lane to lane. And you don't punch someone across the face. You punch them *in* the face. You slap them across the face. How did he know the woman crossed herself? She's a few seats in front of him. He's 12 years old and is frozen in his seat. The seatbacks are high: how could he see her hands?
You get the idea. Once I start to hate a piece of writing, it obsesses me in a most annoying way.
Want more? OK!
"I became dizzy with the crashing sounds of what was apparently commonplace to everyone else. I followed close behind the other passengers as we walked to the ticket counter, escorted by the manager. Another man, older and distinguished with a trimmed mustache and wearing a hat, stood by authorizing the refunds and passing out cafe tickets. I began to worry that I wouldn't be in the right place to meet my Aunt Sharon. I started to look around nervously for her stern but manly gaze."
This is when I became pretty sure that there was a joke in this book, but for the life of me, I wasn't getting it. I was starting to re-write sentences in my head as I read: "I followed closely behind the other passengers as the manager escorted us to the ticket counter. Another man, older and distinguished and wearing a trimmed mustache and a hat, authorized the refunds and handed out cafe tickets." But that last sentence? I slapped myself in the forehead. Why "stern but manly"? Why not "stern AND manly"?
The last straw was when a fellow passenger recites part of a poem:
"He hammered out the words with immediacy and I could almost see them with my own two eyes. Each one was sharp and flew at me like an object, sending my thoughts reeling."
That was it. I put the book down and didn't pick it up again until right now. Hammering is always immediate. To say so is redundant. And why "hammering" with "out"? He pounded out the words, perhaps. "He hammered the words into my head," perhaps. If each one was sharp and flew at him, of course it would be "like an object." I noticed I was gritting my teeth as I read, and when I realized I reallyreallyreally wanted to smack this child just to shut him up, I knew it was time to move on.
Whew. Sorry about that. It's why I try to avoid books that don't grab me right away: if I try to read them anyway, it gets ugly. But, you know: recommended by a friend. I was so, so sure it would get better quickly and All Would Be Revealed.
OK! So on the The Good Stuff. And aren't you glad? Me, too.
First, The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton, recommended by someone recently, but dang if I can find who it was (someone either here or on Facebook).
Anyway, thank you! I enjoyed it. Although it's not a Gothic Romance, it reminded me, for some reason, of the Victoria Holt books I loved when I was about 11. It was a good story, and that's always fun to read.
Erin Perry over on Facebook recommended Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson, and I loved it. Really loved it. I figured out right off what was going to happen, of course; it's pretty easy. But the writing keeps you reading and loving it, never mind that you know how it's going to end (spoiler alert: it reminded me a lot of the ending of The Dead Zone, which I also loved (both book and movie.)
I'm going to read it again because I read much of it on the trip to New Orleans, so we were out late having long, long dinners with wine and dessert, and then I'd come back and get in the creepy bed and try to remember which life we'd been in the night before. So I got a little lost several times. I think you might well get lost even if you were sitting and reading huge chunks of it at one time. I really like the way she writes. If you decide to give Greyhound a try, despite my warning, make sure you have some Atkinson for after to rinse out your brain.
I liked it so much I ordered Behind the Scenes at The Museum, also by Atkinson, which I also liked a lot, even though I hate it when there's supposed to be some mystery that you don't know but of course you figure it out early on and are just waiting to read The Rest of The Story. But that was OK; I loved it, too.
This is supposed to be the cover of the paperback, but mine's different. Remember: you can usually find these books for very cheap, used, on amazon.com. I usually get them for a penny plus $3.99 shipping, and $4 for a book is pretty good, even if I do come away with a dog (a Greyhound. Get it? (Sorry.)) every now and then.
Now I'm reading Case Histories, also by Atkinson, and I'm pretty sure I've read it before.
Since my memory is so horrid, though, it's just a sentence every now and then that makes me go, "Hmmmmm. That sounds familiar." I have a couple vague images in my head, and if I come across those—one is something about a large picture window, but that's it—I'll know I have read it sometime in the not-too-distant past.
And now The Best Part! What are you reading? Do you love it? Hate it? I've got a little pile left from the last time y'all rec. books, but that's not a bad thing: I love having books waiting for me. So tell us, please: what should we read next? Or avoid like the plague? Tell us, please~~