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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Feel free to mock the Sanskrit periods that showed up in my NPR post now: An ex-proofreader vs. Rick Moody

So I already knew Rick Moody was kind of a cunt; not only did he declare that he didn’t like any of the music-hall stuff on the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, but I was young and dumb enough once to take a college creative writing course, where I was force-fed part of his first novel. This made me feel a little bit less like a cunt myself when I joined the ULA and Karl Wenclas mandated Pavlovian training to make us vomit every time Moody’s name got mentioned; at least I knew what I was vomiting about. But I never had worked up the nerve to read The Ice Storm... until this weekend, when I force-fed it to myself.

See, in my second novel (out late this year on Nine-Banded Books), there also chances to be an ice storm; as a backdrop to my fictional action I was following, with reasonable faithfulness, local and global public events of the winter of 2006-2007, and the damn thing went and occurred. Two of them, actually. It would have been awkward to write around them, so I didn’t. And at some point I gave in to the nagging reality that Moody’s book is, unfortunately, known to enough people that I would have to at least try to turn my ice storm into a bit of a Moody joke, or at least get familiar enough with his text to stop the joke from being on me. So, grumbling, I trudged to the library, because I’ll be damned if I’m giving any money to a so-called Mag Fields fan who can actually suspend his depression long enough to sucker-punch showtunes, for Christ’s sake.

To my relief, not only did Moody not wring all metaphorical possibilities from the subject, he also didn't waste my time completely. Frankly, I expected The Ice Storm to be a lot more boring than it was. Sure, I could have spent that time better. Yes, I had to do some drinking to get all the way through it. But it was nowhere near the torment that followed when I was dumb enough to volunteer to review the second Dave Eggers novel for the Chicago Reader. ( I thought I was going to have to cave my frontal lobes in with a Sanskrit dictionary to get through that one.)

Moody’s second novel was actually entertaining in parts. I laughed out loud once. It even had a reasonably workmanlike structure, despite the occasional mechanical peek through the fourth wall on the part of the pompous narrator (was his pompousness supposed to be funny? Was the tacked-on feeling of these peeks meant as a spoof on the overuse of metafiction? I doubt it); despite the overwritten bits, despite the underwritten ones; despite the pointless concealment of the narrator’s identity as the family’s eldest son and this fact's tiresome revelation at the end (no shit, Holden!)...

OK, so it wasn’t what I would call good. But I had to admit it was better than reading nothing at all. I definitely would not have preferred staring at the wall. And the above are complaints that could be lodged against any number of overrated writers; the experience reminded me that ‘overrated’ is not a shorter way to say ‘devoid of merit.’

And yet, by the time I was finished, I was pissed off and actually kind of shocked. Sure, I laughed once – but that’s nowhere near as often as I choked on a typo. Has nobody else noticed all the errors in this novel? For fuck’s sake, did he publish it himself? My first novel has a couple of typos – but I’m the only one who read it before it went up as a POD, and by the time the sample copy came in the mail I was so goddamn sick of it I didn’t open it for a month. But people presumably got paid to keep Moody from looking stupid. Even my cost-free typos make me feel a bit ill. Did he gasp with horror when he saw the finished work? Did he show up at the publishing house a week after it came out, grab some underpaid copy monkey by the collar, and shake it till its ears rang? (Did the Carbondale university library, which always finds funds for physical refurbishments but not for books, get its copy from the ‘not-quite-perfect’ bin? Always a possibility...)

Actually, part of me hopes he did go in and raise hell. When I was a copy monkey, I would have never gotten away with letting a supposedly major author go to print saying things like “These last eight pages were enough to life Paul Hood from the murky bog of self-recrimination” (p. 193) and “The worse such storm in thirty years, according to Mike Powers, spokesman for Connecticut Light and Power.” Come ON, copy monkey! And come on, Rick! OK, so the first example was almost certainly somebody else’s typo; it’s the kind of thing that happens, however unfortunately. And I suppose ‘worse’ could be meant as a direct quotation from Mr. Powers. But it ain’t in quotes, buddy! Fuck! At least try to look like you know what you’re doing! I know how to use the superlative in eight different languages, you can’t do it in one, and I’m sitting down HERE while you’re sitting up THERE?! Don’t even bother to ponder the mystery of whether there’s a god, Rick. ‘NO’ has left its fingerprints everywhere.

Of course, these are petty errors. Whadya want, I'm an old monkey. I can't stop feeling nebulous Catholic guilt either. I suppose a fan might even consider infractions like 'worse' to be charmingly human (why is ‘human’ so often used as a compliment?). But these are but a representative fraction of the typo-age, and I’ve saved the real fuck-up for last.

Dorothy Halford, the hostess of a suburban key party (which is as tiresome as it sounds) is described, on page 107, in a fashionably incomplete sentence, as: “No makeup.” OK. So she’s a minor character, and you’re trying to say something about her personality with one efficient, tangible detail. And we all slip in the odd incomplete sentence once in a while, especially when we’re trying to remind reviewers of how streamlined and energetic and muscular we are as we move four-gram plastic keys up and down. Fair enough. But we shouldn’t employ techniques like this quite so mechanically, so easily, so... so... so ‘just-how-drunk-were-you, Rick?’-ily that we forget ourselves and, a mere eight pages later, toss off another admirably efficient snapshot of the same character by claiming that “For a moment she was frozen, with her carefully lipsticked mouth open wide...”

I guess we’re to take the fact that she carefully lipsticks her mouth as a slam on her character, since worthy people -- literary geniuses for instance -- are never so clench-pussied as to be careful about anything. I know, I know... my old job as a proofreader doesn’t exist anymore. The general public doesn’t need, want, or care about people who read every line to make sure it’s pretty. I see their point; if an emoticon is worth a thousand love poems, does a missing comma keep anybody who isn’t being deliberately obtuse from catching anyone else’s drift?

But think about it, Dicky. What non-nerd reads novels anymore anyway, now that Hollywood can put Beowulf in an ass-kicking (I say this without a hint of sarcasm) CGI epic? That’s right: a rising proportion of the book audience will now be made of nit-picking shits like me. People to whom typos are as painful as a Bic spattered on a Renoir (even if it’s not actually a Renoir, but Dogs Playing Poker). Think about it. You’ve made your pile, I suppose, and we can’t take that away from you, unless we become exotic dancers. But I’m going to go proofread my new book again now, before carefully attributing an example of ignorant-sounding use of the language to a radio announcer during my own ice storm. Most writers, darling, frozen or not, can’t afford to be floppy.


  1. I hate to stand up for Mr. Moody, but your criticisms are nitpicking. Have you never read Shakespeare?
    We have enough constipated overregulated writing out there. . . .

  2. No, Karl, I have never read Shakespeare. Nor have I ever taken a piss.

    But I hear tell that Ophelia doesn't show up a blonde in one scene and a brunette in the next.

    There's a difference between non-constipated and FUCKING CARELESS.


  4. I've just downloaded iStripper, and now I enjoy having the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.


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