Thursday, January 22, 2009

Three and Change

The branch library: a casualty of popular taste. I mean, I enjoy my trashy novels as much as the next person, but couldn't we have, in addition to the collected works of Fern Michaels, a single copy of To the Lighthouse? Or more than one book by Anne Tyler? Is that really too much to ask?


Ah, well. The branch library's selection may be anything but catholic (does this make it Protestant? Hahahahahaha!! Wow, I'm lame), but restricted range does have one interesting side effect. You inevitably, in the course of skirting the Anne Rices whilst trying to prevent an effluence of Nora Robertses from crushing your feet, pick up something you ordinarily wouldn't have gotten around to.

In my case it's a novel called Mrs. Kimble, in which first-time novelist Jennifer Haigh portrays a ne'er do well swain who loves and leaves a succession of women. It's an enjoyable enough book: a little MFA-y, but I'm used to that. The problem is that I just can't seem to lower myself into it, can't descend into the damp/wet/dark like you would in caving, like you should in literature.

I'm hung up, you see. Just one detail, just a teensy snag. The daughter of the first wife, described as "three and change," is also described as knowing "only about a dozen words." In dialogue, she repeats them, very occasionally combining two at a time.

My professional alarm bells ring like a glockenspiel in the grip of demonic possession. Never mind details of plot or character; forget graceful turns of phrase. I'm consumed by the desire to grab mother by the shoulders and scream THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOUR KID. At three and change we should be talking 900 words, 3-5 word sentences. AND HAVE YOU CONSIDERED SPECIAL SERVICES FOR YOUR CHILD, MA'AM?

From a writer's perspective, it's kind of scary how a little ignorance can torpedo your narrative. But even scarier is how difficult it is to guard against. Think about it: not only was the author -and presumably the editor- ignorant of developmental language milestones, all parties were ignorant of their ignorance! How many bodies of knowledge I don't even know exist are out there? How many things do I not know that I don't know?

The world may look like a grassy field, but it's rotten with rabbit holes.

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