OK, so I thought I’d start my survey with the obvious Aunt Sally, Prime, by Poppy Z Brite. (I haven’t necessarily stopped buying books yet: there’s a few more I’d like to pick up). This is a book so dire it should give my criteria a good workout; besides making me wonder about a) the judgement of the publishing industry, and b) the value added by creative writing courses.
- Basic Style. It’s written in a manner which very much makes me want to get out a pen and start crossing out unnecessary words. A dull style, often awkward.
- Micro-structure. There’s some genuinely dreadful stuff in the micro-structure.
Here’s a bit:
“I’m sorry – I forgot you know me better as Chase Haricot.”
Of course: the former Times-Picayune food critic who’d given Liquor a stellar review, then left the paper to write a book chronicling the weird events that took place shortly after the restaurant opened.
A nice unobtrusive piece of working in the plot there, I’m sure you’ll agree. The book goes on like this; you could pick out an example from any page. Information doesn’t seem to follow on very well from paragraph to paragraph, as if the author has no real idea how to construct narrative. – I mean, I know I don’t agree with it, but isn’t there some kind of famous slogan of the creative writing fraternity: “Show, don’t tell.”
- Paragraph Length. Outside of the dialogue, there are actually some pretty long paragraphs: sometimes almost half a page.
- Narrative Voice. None in particular.
- Degree of Obliqueness. Not particularly oblique; you’re right in the action, so to speak: – it’s just the action’s so irredeemably dull.
- Dialogue. At times stilted, unlikely. At one point, two characters are having an argument in the street, but I needed this pointed out to me by a third character: I thought they were just talking peaceably.
- Depth / Understanding of Humanity. Characters don’t appear to act like normal human beings; they seem to make all kinds of weird and baseless assumptions. The two central characters, a gay restauranteur and his chef we are told are in a relationship, but it would be impossible to guess this from their interaction.
- Abstraction. No; no abstraction here.
- Referentiality. None.
- Delight in language. None.
- Symbolism. Not noticed.
- Authorial Vision. None.
- Inoffensiveness. Yes, it’s a light comedy. There’s even a food critic called Chase Haricot – a sure sign of an inoffensive book which wouldn’t like itself to be taken at all seriously.
- Fundamental Interest. This is the plot. A food critic has written a bad review about a restaurant. The owners of the restaurant wonder whether he has any ulterior motive in writing this bad review. – I fear they’re going to murder him, but I don’t really understand their motivation or concern.
- Irritating Factors. None, aside from the aforementioned criticisms. Perhaps the purposeless commodity-name referencing.
- Hope for Wholesale Massacre. It’s set in New Orleans. I am thinking: perhaps the levee will break and everyone will be drowned; perhaps there will be an explosion on an oil rig somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico which will ruin their seafood restaurant. But no, these things aren’t going to happen, I can tell. It’s just going to go on and on like this.
I gave up at 30 pages. I didn’t have the will for any more.
Next up: probably Anne Enright’s The Gathering.