Wednesday, March 31, 2010

We’re Back: The Grammar Police

I’ve been on this rant before but I just can’t help myself. It makes me crazy to read a sentence like this:
“A few weeks ago, speaking to Helen about his sister, she’d suggested he consider bringing Charlotte to live with him in Rye.”
Who is doing the “speaking?” The “he”.
The “she” who did the suggesting is Helen.
Is it really so hard? Not if you learned to diagram sentences. I don’t claim to be the perfect grammarian. I still can’t tell the difference between a simile and a metaphor. But I do know about split infinitives, ending a sentence with a preposition (or not), and dangling constructions. This would be a good exercise in Handbook for Writers. But sadly it’s not. It’s from a writer whose previous work was considered for some of our most prestigious literary prizes; and from an editor Nan Talese and publisher Doubleday who should know better…much better. So if we really are going to have a program of National Standards for education, could it PLEASE include diagramming?!

But let’s move on. What did I think about Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett? It is nominally about a financial crisis at a big (too big to fail) bank in 2002 with a very odd assortment of actors: an aging spinster Charlotte who has never recovered from the death of her true love (a drug addict) when she was a graduate student and who now not only talks to her 2 dogs but also hears them talking back to her; an ex-Navy enlisted man Doug who was on the Vincennes when it shot down a passenger airliner killing more than 200 people and who is now in a strategic position at Union Atlantic Bank; and Nate an 18-year-old discovering gay sex in the aftermath of his father’s suicide. Would you believe it? These three are neighbors in a small town in Massachusetts. If this book is “a masterful portrait of our age” as asserted Malcolm Gladwell on the book jacket, then we are in more serious trouble than we know. If it has a kernel of truth, then you will never believe another word from the Federal Reserve Chairman or the Secretary of the Treasury in time of crisis.

1 comment:

  1. and at one point we learn about Doug that, as an adolescent, he was taller than his mother. And how is this related?

    ..."he was taller than her" ...

    You're quite right to point out that the problem is that this is a work "...from a writer whose previous work was considered for some of our most prestigious literary prizes;..."

    When editors' and publishers' competence goes the way of writers who simply don't know better, this is the result. Mediocre stuff which enjoys rave reviews from our culture "guides".