I don’t mentally edit everything I read. Really, I don’t. I don’t go looking for trouble. But then I generally read good books and don’t usually encounter this sort of thing. So I have to wonder—where was the substantive editor? the copyeditor? the proofer?
• Anna hears “a high peel [sic] of laughter like crystals rising in the air” and the girl Joseph has a crush on sounds “as if her voice formed crystals in the air”—I mean, what does that even mean? What is the significance or correlation of crystals and air? (That peel, of course, should have been peal.)
• The timeline is never nailed down. At one point we’re told Joseph competed in wrestling in Ireland “over the next several months”; then just a few pages later we’re told that Anna had arrived “nearly six weeks ago”—but she and Joseph arrived at the same time. Further on, we read, “she had known Glenis for only a few months” and then we’re told nearly three months has passed. Do several and a few mean the same thing? They don’t to me.
• In a poverty-stricken Ireland of 1844, hunger is an issue for Anna. In one scene we’re told “the warm custard only partially addressed Anna’s hunger,” then just four paragraphs later we read Anna was fortified by that same custard, “felt the protein running through her body like a sentinel, ringing bells and declaring a holiday on hunger.” Which is it, really?
• Did I mention the purple prose? The book has aspirations of literary-ness (hence, I think, the crystals rising in the air), and there are all sorts of overwrought passages like protein ringing bells and declaring holidays. Joseph’s Anglo-Irish benefactor is not a particularly nice guy; no one likes him. At one point we read “even the mansion itself heaved with relief at the colonel’s departure.” (Seriously?) A character says, “It must have made things worse [for you], with so much time going by, building up a steam of misery.” (What?) Anna tells us “her mother felt damp, as if her skin had been weeping.” (Ick.)
• There are all sorts of convenient coincidences. For example, Anna learns Irish (Gaelic) easily because of all those years of taking bassoon lessons. (Bassoon, really?) Then she hurries to tell us that’s because kids who study music also learn languages easier. (There is, actually, some truth to this, but still—Irish is not an easy language.) Early on in the Irish section, Anna is desperate for some shampoo. So she asks for some ashes and a little bit of cider or vinegar. Would you have known that chemistry? Oh, but the author explains it as having been a project in her college chemistry class to make personal care products out of household items. Then a couple dozen pages later she says, “[but] who’d had time to learn about anything else when they’d been on the fast track through law school, then to coveted spots in a major law firm?” This seems to contradict the shampoo story and, of course, sounds more like marketing copy than prose.
• Redundancy abounds in this novel. We are told several times how far the drive is from Anna’s house to the airport, for example. Anna has a friend who exists only to call her up and say something silly that doesn’t sound like real conversation, possibly for comic relief, and … Every. Single. Time. He is mentioned we read —“Jasper, her buddy from law school, who left Boston and went to LA to specialize in entertainment law” as if we’re not capable of tracking this. We are similarly reminded repeatedly that Anna was dropped unexpectedly in 1844 by a “time chasm” or something equally over the top.
• Lots of awkward sentences and word use: “How hard could the transaction be after working in a law firm?” Really, the transaction was working in a law firm? (I guess the transaction could be very hard after working in a gym.) Or “Anna had been unseen by him.” Or “But the boy would need to wait until Anna learned more about the fate of Patrick before she would leave.” What? Or “She turned her head from him and wretched [sic], the vomit splashing on the stone floor.” What she meant, of course, was retched.
• In the middle of a piece of dialogue, there is a parenthetical statement that is narrative. The Chicago Manual of Style has a method of dealing with this …
“Dialogue dialogue”—narrative commentary—“finish up the dialogue.”
… but the inexperienced copyeditor did it like this …
“Dialogue dialogue (narrative commentary) finish up the dialogue.”
… which is incorrect. And you can see why.
I could go on and on enumerating copyediting mistakes; there are tons of them. The author should have used past perfect tense sometimes but did not; these scenes are awkward to read. There’s lots of telling (as in show-don’t-tell). There are far too many scenes that don’t advance the plot.
There is plenty of sex, this being a romance and all. Most of it seems uncomfortable. There’s a lot of focusing on body parts, and I’ll just say I heard more about sixteen-year-old Joseph’s penis than I really wanted to. And not much more can be said about that in a family blog, kids.
I think the biggest problem Now & Then has is it’s confused. It doesn’t know if it’s supposed to be a sweet romance, an edgier chick lit, family drama, historical fiction, or … what. It can’t be all of those things. One thing we’re told—through cover art and hook statements on the front and back covers—is this is a book about a dog. By now, though, you won’t be surprised if I tell you it’s not. (It’s not.) We’ll talk about that in the final post in this series.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”