Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not worth the trip.

There's a reason why I don't think I could actually do book reviewing for a living - if I start a book, and it sucks, I don't finish it. Why? Well, I have many other things to do with my valuable time (eat a whole bag of sour candy and make my tongue bleed, chew off all of my hangnails, lie in wait with a water pistol for the fat squirrel that lives in my back yard, etc.) and I don't particularly want to waste it reading something that's awful. Which, you could argue, isn't necessarily fair to the author, since I'm reviewing something I haven't read in its entirety, to which I respond, I only need to take one bite of moldy cheese, not finish the whole damn wedge, to tell you that it's bad.

I picked up William Mueller's Rome Revisited because it's set during the fall of the Berlin Wall, and as anyone who has read much of this blog knows, I read compulsively about German history.

As it turns out, and I did not know this, Mueller's book is set in Old Town. Now, if you are writing a book about, say, the Zambezi River or the Shengdong Province or Iowa, you can write whatever you want about it, and I'm really just going to have to give you the benefit of the doubt, having not been to any of those places. But, as I've worked in Old Town off and on for years and now live not very far away from it, if you screw up the details of a place I know pretty intimately, I'm going to notice.

So. Mueller can't show, because he's not a very good writer, so he has to tell, which leads us to some epically bad sentences, like such:

"The rich, bright street lamps reflected prosperity in the warm spring air and through the windows of shops gleamed artistry of varied hues and intent."

Then, Mueller takes us to Murphy's Irish Pub:

"When after ordering drinks and two fish-and-chip platters to be dipped in beer batter and lightly fried, the girls found their way back to us..."

I don't know if Mueller's ever been to Murphy's, but the only light in the cook's vocabulary is that which comes after Miller or Bud, and it certainly doesn't apply to the fish and chips, which is roughly the same density and texture as a slab of cement. Mueller continues in this bizarre vein, describing some weird mirror-world image of Old Town and Alexandria in general that sounds like it was written by someone getting paid to shill for tourists - which he kind of is, since he's on appointment with the Alexandria Commission for the Arts.

The writing is awful, the dialogue is painfully bad, the author's desperate attempt to inject realism into the details is sloppily done, and the plot (at least, such one as I could find, which seems to involve some random trading companies and the insufferable main character and his equally repulsive love interest) is simply...well, nonexistent, as far as I can tell. Ultimately unsurprising for a book from AuthorHouse, which is essentially a vanity publishing company.


  1. I have the same complaint about some writers - I was told to 'write what you know' but some place their characters in a convenient place, but have never been there - don't know the weather, the lay of the land, etc. Like fake backgrounds in movies - hate that, too.

  2. It's all the more jarring when it's a place you know really well. I was initially excited to see that the book was set in Old Town, but the author was terrible at communicating the setting - this was seriously one of the worst pieces of writing I've had the misfortune to stumble across in the past year.