Your opinion first, then mine. Tell me what you think of this line of prose, taken from the book All Together in One Place by Jane Kirkpatrick:
“Mazy Bacon embraced her life inside a pause that lacked premonition.”
Not much context necessary; it comes very near the beginning of the book. Mazy Bacon is the protagonist, an 1800s Midwestern farm wife, 19 years old.
Give your interpretation and your opinion of the line. I’ll update this post later after a few comments.
Update: Overwhelming majority in the comments says: Pretentious BS. Also the overwhelming majority made this judgment without going ahead and saying what they think the author is actually trying to say. And thus my point, in a nutshell: Be pretentious and you not only look pretentious but you drive people off of trying to figure out what you want to say. Anne and I were on the same wavelength–she said she’d stop reading right there. And I almost did, although since I already bought the book the fact that I might have stopped reading wouldn’t have affected the publisher’s bottom line–but it would affect the author’s exposure.
“Editors are ghouls and cannibals” was said by Harriet Vane in Dorothy Sayers’s Busman’s Honeymoon. I’m accustomed to taking the general drift of Harriet’s remarks as author’s voice, and if you surveyed a random sampling of authors on the question of “agree or disagree,” I’d lay money that the majority would come back “agree.” But the editor’s only job is to make the author look better. Whether it’s by correcting actual mistakes of grammar, spelling, punctuation, or usage or by adjusting wording for readability or by telling the author, “Look, this is pretentious BS, go back and fix it,” our only job is to make the author look good for publication. Of course there are officious editors who would like nothing better than to swap their own words in and the author’s out, but good editors use their BS detectors on the author’s behalf. Yet so many authors resist changes with everything they’ve got. I don’t blame them; I’ve been on the other side of the coin myself. It is an emotional battle. But if authors kept the basic tenet in mind–that our only job is to make them look better–both authors and editors would ultimately have an easier go of it.
Here’s the kicker: This is not a bad book. It’s not the Great American Novel, of course, but it’s not bad. It’s got a good basic story line, some interesting characters, and some good language … but stunners like this crop up from time to time and divert the flow of reader’s enjoyment right into an anger bucket. It’s not good. The kindest thing a good editor could have done for Ms. Kirkpatrick would be to have stopped her cold at lines like this and made her understand that if the reader has to wade through even one line of meaningless dreck to try to hazard what the author could possibly have meant by it, it takes away so much from the story that readers will even quit reading.
wg’s interpretation: That Mazy Bacon does not think about the consequences of her actions.
Anne’s interpretation: That Mazy Bacon is stupid and doesn’t see even what’s happening right in front of her.
My interpretation, with advantage of having read the back-cover blurb before beginning reading: That Mazy Bacon loves her life and doesn’t know it is about to change.
I believe mine is the correct interpretation (and, of course, I know the other two are incorrect because of what I already know about Mazy Bacon), but it took me a few tries even though I knew what was going on in the story, and the other two folks who hazarded guesses came up with two different ones. If a line is open to so many different interpretations, it doesn’t convey many facts about your protagonist, now does it?
I don’t know whether the problem here was an editor who embraces the pretentiousness a little too much, a dim or timid editor, or a mulish author who resisted whatever the editor might have tried to tell her about this kind of language, but the result was a book that is a lot worse than it needed to be. Sad.
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