Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Author's affection for alliteration is annoying

On BART this morning I started reading American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the "It" Girl and the Crime of the Century, by Paula Uruburu. (New York: Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group USA, 2oo8.) According to the book-jacket, the author is an English professor. My impression is that she may have spent too much time in grad school reading Victorian three-decker novels.

The book demonstrates both a mania for alliteration and a dedication to adjectives and adverbs that scream for an editor. The four-page introduction alone includes, in part, "a winsome, waif-like, and wide-eyed Evelyn Nesbit," "class of calculating Calvinists," "priapic city over which the preternaturally and passionately inspired [Stanford] White," plus a number of shorter alliterative phrases: betrayed and broken-hearted, purveyor and pillager, minted mansions, magnificent mansions, empires of excess, creator whose corrupted Garden, and tiled and terra-cotta confines. Chapter one includes this phrase in a longer (believe it or not) sentence: "a thrilling and ingenious decade of crusaders and con men, cakewalks and coon songs, contradictions and coincidences, class wars and conspicuous consumption ...." Unfortunately, all of the foregoing examples are only a small sample of what's available.

Chapter one also includes this sentence, for a change with few adverbs and little alliteration, but still plenty of adjectives: "The anticipation of a new millennium was absolutely electric as the last minutes of the withering 1800s hung suspended in the frigid air, overripe and ready to drop." I'm up to page 38 and am, without being withered, ready to drop my interest in the book due to the overripe prose.

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