Monday, May 30, 2011


I hate to complain about the writing in big books, as I do often, but here we go again. (By big, I mean very popular.)  

Recently, I wanted to read "Lord of Misrule," by Jaimy Gordon, because it won the 2010 National Book Award for fiction.

That is a pretty big deal for us writers.

So I got the book from the library--thank Buddha for libraries--and opened it with great anticipation.

I thought, this is going to be great.

But I was brought up short by the first two sentences:

"Inside the gate of Indian Mound Downs, a hot-walking machine creaked round and round. In the judgment of Medicine Ed, walking a horse himself on the shedrow of Barn Z, the going-nowhere contraption must be the lost soul of this cheap racetrack where he been ended up at."

What? "Indian Mound Downs"? An Indian mound is a burial ground. A horse track on a burial ground? Is this supposed to be funny? There is no other obvious humor in the first page or two, so I couldn't tell. Maybe it was the writer's own private joke.

I found it confusing.

And then the second sentence: "...where he been ended up at"? What the hell is that? At first, I thought it must be my mistake. I must be reading it wrong, all wrong.

But I read it over and over, and yes, that is a sentence with profoundly mixed grammar. It starts off OK, and then it turns bad, very bad.

Whose bad grammar is that? It couldn't belong to the writer, and if it did, why did the book win such a big award? If it's the character's, why is not the whole sentence, or indeed the whole passage in the character's grammar?

I read the first two or three pages of "Lord of Misrule" and felt lost and annoyed, not well oriented and entranced.

Suffice it to say, that was enough for me. I couldn't get into it. To me, the first few pages should be the best written and most engaging part of any book.

Anyway, another one bites the dust. Another big book not read. Oh, well, back to The New Yorker and other writers, including Aimee Bender and John Gregory Dunne.

-- Roger
PS: You can read more of "Lord of Misrule" at:

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

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