Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bad-er

We've probably established by now that I'm a pretty big fan of bad movies. Give me shoddy sets, leaden dialogue, a brain-damaged director and/or Ursula Andress vainly attempting to play Anna Karenina (as surely must have happened in some wonderful parallel universe), and I'm in hog heaven.


Books, however, are an entirely different issue.


I was reminded of this just yesterday, when I cracked open a copy of Eric Van Lustbader's thriller 'Pale Saint' that a friend had lent me. I was in the mood for a light trashy read.


I got through the first paragraph. Barely.


To demonstrate why, I transcribe it here in all its hideous majesty:


On the morning he was called to prosecute the country's most notorious serial killer Robert Austin was thinking of baseball. It was Friday, October 1 and the only thing that had been on his mind was taking his fifteen-year-old daughter, Sara, to the Yankees game tomorrow afternoon. The Orioles were in town for the AL Championship Series, and Andy Pettitte was pitching. Through one of his thousand-dollar-an-hour attorney acquaintances on Park Ave. Austin had gotten seats close enough so Sara could study the master hurler's form. Under Austin's tutelage, she was developing a better arm than most of the boys her age, and an even better eye. Since she had joined the NYC Inter-Borough League, he had watched her blossom as she had absorbed the tricks he had learned in his youth. Now, partly because of her expertise, her team was going to be playing for the city championship on October 21.


We can learn two things from this paragraph:


1. Eric Van Lustbader has incriminating photos of the CEO of Harper Collins with another woman, or more likely another man, or even more likely another goat, and is blackmailing him to get his novels published.


2. All of Harper Collins' editors were killed in some sort of awful fire, fuelled by highly inflammable printer's ink and the bottles of bourbon in their desk drawers.


There are two types of sentences here: those that are wrong, and those that are merely clunky. Let us perform a line by line fisking, as is the way of the internet:


On the morning he was called to prosecute the country's most notorious serial killer Robert Austin was thinking of baseball.

No, he was thinking about baseball. There's a difference, as you appreciate if you consider "I'm thinking of you" and "I'm thinking about you". And there should be a comma after "killer".


It was Friday, October 1 and the only thing that had been on his mind was taking his fifteen-year-old daughter, Sara, to the Yankees game tomorrow afternoon.

"October 1" should be in parenthesis. This sentence has shifted tense from the previous sentence. "Tomorrow afternoon" should be "the next afternoon". And there's no reason at this point for the reader to know three details about the girl (her name, her age and her relation to the hero). She should be called "Sara" or "his daughter" now, and the other details inserted in subsequent paragraphs. The reader will keep track; he's an idiot, not a goldfish.


The Orioles were in town for the AL Championship Series, and Andy Pettitte was pitching.

There's nothing particularly wrong here, thus lulling the reader into a false sense of security before the next sentence's horrors are released.


Through one of his thousand-dollar-an-hour attorney acquaintances on Park Ave. Austin had gotten seats close enough so Sara could study the master hurler's form.

We already know that Austin in a lawyer, so "attorney acquaintances" could be the far less clunky "colleagues". The fact that they work on Park Avenue is irrelevant. The abbreviation of Avenue inserts a full stop into the middle of the sentence, ruining the flow. "Gotten" is a verbal expression, not a written one; it should be "acquired". "So Sara could" should be "for Sara to". According to Google, this is the only time Andy Pettitte has ever been called a "master hurler"...


You know what? I'm losing both my will to live and my faith in a benevolent God, so I'm stopping here. But you see the problem, or rather, three distinct problems. Eric Van Lustbader doesn't understand tense, vocabulary, structure, rhythm, parenthesis or prepositions. Harper Collins doesn't believe that this is an issue. And the readers don't seem to care that the prose doesn't caress their minds so much as repeatedly jab them in the nose. Frankly it makes Dan Brown look like D.H. Lawrence.


Alternatively, imagine all of this as a Venn diagram, with "People who like the English language" on the left, "People who read Eric Van Lustbader novels" on the right, and, in the hairsbreadth overlap, "People with severe masochistic perversions".


Now I have to go stuff my head with Colm Tóibín and Ian McEwan until all of the Van Lustbader falls out.

7 Comments:

Blogger inkspot said...

Don't come the raw prawn with me, you just wish you were called Lustbader.

Like I do.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

Actually I'd prefer to be called Lustgooder. Or possibly Lustexcellenter.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Prudence says said...

Did you, perhaps, wonder at the intent of the friend who lent this to you?

7:28 AM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

Not so much at his intent than at his disturbing lack of literacy, Prudence.

11:02 AM  
Blogger TimT said...

I prefer openings where very famous (albeit fictional) have very nasty things happen to them in the first chapter, with evil albinos somehow involved in it all.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Troy G said...

"von Lustbader" is a German name. And you were surprised by this tortuous, torturous prose?

However, this is the sort of verbiage you could expect from a lawyer. Maybe EvL is a character writer. In which case, better not let him know about the post; you might find yourself the target of a throwing star.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

According to Library of Congress Subject Authorities "Van" is Mr Lustbader's middle name not part of his surname.

http://authorities.loc.gov/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?AuthRecID=2362875&v1=1&HC=1&SEQ=20101207063853&PID=As2eFS1jIkvYQ5IKgATa5o8BF8j

7:39 PM  

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