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verisimilitude

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palmer



Joined: 30 Mar 2004
Posts: 1324
verisimilitude  Reply with quote  

I'm reading a novel by a fellow Torontonian. It didn't appeal to me whatsoever in the bookstore, and it appeals to me even less so now. I picked it only because I met him thirty years ago -- God, am I old! -- he's with a major publisher (Random House), has written six books (which get great reviews), and I wanted to see what he has that I don't have (aside from the published books, that is).

Well!

Not much, as it turns out. Actually, I thought it full of howlers, nowhere more so than in the area of those little details that give the feel of realism. Let me list two.

His main character is a supply teacher in Toronto, and goes to teach one day in a "level 3 school for slow learners". I work as a full time English teacher (which is probably why I torment people with words like "verisimilitude") in Toronto, and I have never heard of a "level 3" school.

His main character goes to a bar. Someone in the band he's listening to counts in a 12 bar blues song (four beats in a bar, if you please) in the following manner: one, two, three, four, -- are you sitting down? -- FIVE!

I shit thee not!

Now, I don't trust the author on ANYTHING. When he writes about guns, for instance -- something that I know very little about -- I am suspicious of every word he writes. Verisimilitude: it's a bitch!

From another angle, I remember another Canadian author, who wrote a pretty decent book I read. HE threw in lots and lots of accurate details about the main setting: the Royal Ontario Museum and its immediate surroundings. Aside from having been there numerous times, I did my music degree at the Edward Johnson Building, which is a stone's throw away. But I didn't find his verisimilitude satisfying at all. I kept hoping for some little detail that I DIDN'T know. It was accurate, extensive, flawless, but somehow not revealing or satisfying: one dimensional, mere details, didn't help the story along a whit.

BTW -- guess the authors, and win a prize.

Just sharing...

Post Tue Apr 05, 2005 6:34 am   View user's profile Send private message
Regina



Joined: 02 Mar 2005
Posts: 952
Location: Northeast U.S
 Reply with quote  

Wow - thats an interesting question, and I wish I had a clear answer- I guess when I write my goal is to be descriptive and detailed enough to give the reader the information they need while remaining true to the "meat" of the story (which to me is all about characters and plot)

I find sometimes the amount of detailed information included depends on issues of POV - in a close third or first person narrative, its important (I think) to include details/info and questions that would be important or honed in on by the character... but again, that has to be balanced by what the reader needs, which is really tricky when working with the unreliable narrator...

As for too much detail- I find that a lot of the authors of what are considered "classics" are king demons of this- Hawthorne made me crazy with that and some of Anee Rice's works dwell a little too lovingly on stuff like wallpaper patterns... (yes, I admit it, I read Anne Rice- what can I say? Guilty pleasure.) There are other writers who go nuts with detail but its so entertaining that it doesn't make me want to stop reading- Neal Stephenson, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace come to mind for me ....

Post Tue Apr 05, 2005 6:55 pm   View user's profile Send private message
sgt_steve



Joined: 18 Jan 2005
Posts: 5197
Location: Michissippi
 Reply with quote  

Boy, I haven't a clue who the two authors are, but am kind of looking forward to their eventual unveiling.
Regina wrote:
There are other writers who go nuts with detail but its so entertaining that it doesn't make me want to stop reading- Neal Stephenson, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace come to mind for me ....
Oh Lordy, you're so right about Stephenson. I was reading Cryptonomicon and would come across these long passages about how to eat Cap'n Crunch cereal. I'd read, chuckle or gawk, and then realize I'd just enjoyed another hundred pages while the plot advanced about three inches.

His Baroque Cycle is almost 3,000 pages of detailed history of science, full of wonderful little bits that leaves you wondering what is real and what he made up. It starts slow (not unlike Cryptonomicon did) but gathers speed all the way, ending like a freight train. Cryptonomicon just sputtered out.

Post Tue Apr 05, 2005 7:04 pm   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
palmer



Joined: 30 Mar 2004
Posts: 1324
Re: verisimilitude  Reply with quote  

Okay. My bad. One of the instances of faulty verisimilitude I cited was, in fact, kosher. This one:

palmer wrote:
His main character is a supply teacher in Toronto, and goes to teach one day in a "level 3 school for slow learners". I work as a full time English teacher (which is probably why I torment people with words like "verisimilitude") in Toronto, and I have never heard of a "level 3" school.


I did some checking and found a teacher old enough to remember when they distinguished schools this way -- about thirty years ago. It was an internal sort of designation that the public was not aware of. I have been teaching fifteen years, and I had never heard it. And the book was published in 1993. So he was technically on the right side of the line, but I still think it's not effective.

My bad, Dave!

But I will wager my left repository of generations yet unborn that no musician in the history of the blues has ever led into a 12 bar by counting up to FIVE, not even if he had six digits and one of them was up his keister.

Post Wed Apr 06, 2005 5:28 am   View user's profile Send private message
palmer



Joined: 30 Mar 2004
Posts: 1324
 Reply with quote  

sgt_steve wrote:
Boy, I haven't a clue who the two authors are, but am kind of looking forward to their eventual unveiling.


Unveiling? Who said anything about unveiling. If you guess them correctly, acknowledgement will be made. "Unveiling" would be too easy.

In all seriousness and fairness, I think that people would have a real shot at figuring out who used the Royal Ontario Museum as a setting, but the blues fan will almost certainly forever remain a mystery.

Post Wed Apr 06, 2005 5:33 am   View user's profile Send private message
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