Sunday, February 12, 2006

The First Draft of History Dept.

The Star had the good sense to edit my review of Leah’s new “book.” I’m not being facetious – good editors are like the senate, a repository of sober, second thought.

But lucky for you, dear reader, I lack the good sense to keep the first draft sequestered away in a lock box, and will thus provide for you at no extra charge the original Leah review in all its knives out glory.

The Continuity Girl by Leah McLaren, HarperCollins, 336 pages, $18.95

Many creative writing instructors employ the Sandwich Method when providing student feedback: a slice of praise, followed by the “meat” (the critical suggestions), followed by a final slab of positive reinforcement.


Well … the typesetting in Leah McLaren’s new novel is certainly praiseworthy. The font selected, Electra, is an eye-pleasing serif. Unfortunately, poor Electra has endured unspeakable molestation courtesy of McLaren’s prose:

He owed her this baby, but that was not the only reason he was here in this phoneless phone booth, cock in hand, pumping away (well, okay, more squeezing and pulling, at this point), trying to draft a few million able-bodied DNA servicemen. No, the truth was, he wanted a child as much as she did, but for entirely different reasons. Not for the cutsy clothes and mashed banana stuff, which was as frightening as it was a turnoff, but for the continuation of the larger narrative.

The Continuity Girl illuminates the limitations of my thesaurus. Uber-lousy? Fifth-rate? Super-bad? None of above. There exists no English word that adequately describes the residuum, offal and drek that slosh through the pages of this novel. Even the German word SaumassigeSchreibmaschiene, which roughly translates into “putrid garbage typewriter prose,” fails to convey the stench of this slushpile.

Lacking the tools to adequately assess this book, I am donating my allotted real estate to the other reviewers sharing this page. This strategy will deprive McLaren of the crucial element that sustains her entire oeuvre – attention. Each week that spoiled brat throws an entitlement tantrum in her Globe column, and each week far too many people eavesdrop. Her fishwrap is ostensibly harmless, but this brand extension disguised as a novel is where it ends: the joke isn’t funny anymore, especially at $18.95 plus tax. McLaren is a provocative pool toy that is kept inflated only by the warm air of the chattering classes. Stop reading her SaumassigeSchreibmaschiene, stop talking about her between sips at the water cooler, and she will soon shrivel into nothingness. It’s that simple.

Before I can take my leave, I must provide a final slice for my book review sandwich, but finding another praise-worthy element of The Continuity Girl is the most difficult task this humble reviewer has ever encountered. I finally discovered that which I required in Stephen King’s book On Writing. “One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose,” he writes, explaining that one novel like Valley of the Dolls or Flowers in the Attic “is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in.”

If King is correct, then reading Ms. McLaren’s new novel is equivalent to a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing.

From Oxford.