Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Absentee Editor

I'm reading The Hills of Tuscany by Ferenc Mate. Mate has published thirteen books, I believe. Most are about either living in Tuscany on a wine estate, or building and sailing boats. Doesn't he just look like a sailor?
I like Mate's books. I read his A Vineyard in Tuscany several years ago, and enjoyed it very much. He has a relaxed, easy style. He sounds like a man you'd like to meet and have lunch with.

But. (You know me.) I have a gripe. I'm finding little editing flaws in this book, things that either the author or his editor should have caught. I know writers, even non-fiction writers, can get by with a lot, but still there are limits. I don't remember these kinds of flaws in A Vineyard in Tuscany, but it was published later, and perhaps was given a more careful grooming before it went out on stage; I don't know.
So, if you're interested in this kind of thing, here are the little irritations that have rubbed me the wrong way, thus far. I'm only on p. 93.

1. Repetition of words. A good writer should go back over his text and notice if he uses the same word twice in close proximity -- too close. If he's too in love with his own prose to discover them, his editor should. Here are two examples:
a)  "Behind us stood the fortress, and across the bay, a small hotel and its hanging gardens clung to the cliff, above the handful of hostile rocks it called its beach. On a small stone platform were a handful of blue beach umbrellas ...."
Did you notice it? The word handful? It's a noticeable word; it evokes interesting imagery here, and thus one is jerked awake when it is used a second time in the next sentence. Somebody should have fixed that. If you think that's way too nit-picky, that's because you're not a writer or an editor. Fixing these things is our bread and butter.
b) Mate uses the word "mercilessly" on p. 85, and then uses it again about 12 lines later. This is not so egregious, but it's still noticeable, and it caught my reader's ear immediately. It's safer to get rid of it, so it catches no reader's ear.

2. Consistency. On p. 91 Mate describes some seafood and says, "My god, I'm like Pavlov's dog just thinking about them all." I don't know why it stuck in my head. The lower-case "g"? The taking of the Lord's name in vain? Eh, that happens a lot in these books. Anyway, two pages later, he says this: "My God life is grand." Hmm. This time he uses upper-case, but he leaves out the comma - argh! What does he mean? Isn't he talking to God this time? Perhaps he's describing his existence as a "God life"? No, I'm sure it was just one of the glaring inconsistencies that his sleeping editor should have caught.

3. Grammar. Don't hit me, I didn't invent grammar. And I know Mate is not afraid of the Grammar Police. Still, there are certain loose rules which we should all attempt to obey. Here's the sentence in question: "We asked some polite questions, paid polite compliments then went out and looked at the nonexistent view." Yes, you read that correctly. The world's ugliest run-on sentence. No comma, and no conjunction of any kind. And no, the word "then" never, ever counts as a conjunction. I don't care a toot if this is the way people talk. I'm not listening to Mate talk. (I'm sure I'd have to pay money for that privilege.) I'm reading. He's writing. Do a little grammar work, Mr. Editor!

4. Style. I'm aware that I'm now on shaky ground. Each writer's style is his own, and above question, right? So Mate uses one-word paragraphs? I overlook that. So his Tuscan descriptions are often sappy, melodramatic and downright feminine? I smile and read on. But this? "The moon poked through morose, wind-whipped clouds, but a strange red haze hung before it, like a harvest moon. But duller. The air was warm. Like August."
I kid you not. He wrote that. I went "bleh," gagged slightly, and turned the page. A flaccid attempt at a Hemingway imitation? I guess. He failed.

Would I recommend Mate's book? Sure! It's a fun read. I prefer it to several others in the same genre of sunny Italian lore. But I'd like to give his editor a piece of my mind! Or ... maybe I can have her job?

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