Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Star Lake Saloon and Housekeeping Cottages by Sara Rath

Some readers forgive bad prose if the plot is compelling. Not me. I forgive problematic plots if the writing is good enough. I said as much in yesterday’s post about the title short story in Ursula LeGuin’s Unlocking the Air; I failed to understand the point of this story, set in some unnamed Eastern European capital on the verge of revolution, where in the end, instead of storming the palace, the demonstrators stand around and jingle their keys. I didn’t care that I didn’t understand it. The writing was so beautiful, so evocative, that my lack of comprehension didn’t spoil it for me.

Perhaps readers on the other side of the fence are the ones who liked Star Lake Saloon and Housekeeping Cottages. This got good reviews, and the plot sounds pretty good: city-dwelling woman inherits Northwoods resort and learns to love it. Yet I couldn’t get more than ten pages into it without tossing it aside in disgust. It violates several of the rules for good fiction writing*, including:

1. Never start the book with a discussion of the protagonist’s name (page 3).

2. Avoid using dialogue to provide back story (page 5).

3. Show, don’t tell (page 4).

4. Avoid physical descriptions of characters, especially by means of having someone look in a mirror and think about her appearance (page 6).

*Some of these rules come from Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing but some are my own personal biases. My favorite one of his is "Leave out the parts that readers tend to skip."

This book's grade is D. I only read 10 pages, so I can't count it in my running total.


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