did not finish: Shadows in the Vineyard by Maximillian Potter

shadowsFull title, Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine. Briefly: I was excited about the concept of this book. History; true crime; alcohol!; and a strangely-spooky-but-real tale of apparent insanity, set in a vineyard, of all places. I recognized in this book the spirit of The Inheritor’s Powder and The Remedy, among others. (I may also have a burgeoning interest in amateur botany, based upon A Garden of Marvels, The Drunken Botanist, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.) Additionally, the author is an accomplished journalist, which I thought promising.

But where the concept hooked me, the text failed. I found a profusion of sentence fragments. And sometimes this works, for dramatic effect – although I think it still works best in limited dosages, because for gosh sake, sentence fragments are the breaking of a grammatical rule and should be used sparingly and with respect for the rule being broken. (I still recall Mrs. Smith, my sophomore and junior year English teacher, and her lecture about Hemingway’s use of the passive tense, wherein Cohn “was married by the first girl who was nice to him.” She taught us that you have to be a Hemingway-caliber writer before you get to go messing about with the passive tense like that.) And Potter has a tendency to tell his reader what character thought, felt, did or said in rather distant history, which I found off-putting and untrustworthy in a journalist. As intriguing as his story looked from afar, I found it insufficient to keep me on board through these difficulties. Oh, and there were rather too many references to God in the opening pages for my personal taste; if these were going to be drawn together and made relevant to the story, it didn’t happen in time for this reader.

Better luck next time.

One Response

  1. If you’re reading and you’re aware of the passive voice and the sentence fragments and the historical speculation, that means that the book isn’t working for you. I always think of it as being inside (or outside) a story. If you’re inside, then you’re caught up in what’s going on (which is obviously where you and the author want you to be). If you’re outside, you’re looking at the techniques and details critically.

    It’s funny, because sometimes I find I’m outside a story, or a movie, and even if I’m noticing things in a positive way (oh, that’s an interesting metaphor, and the change in tone was handled very well there) I’m still not involved in the story.

    I used to watch movies on DVD with my mother, and then we’d talk about them afterwards. When we watched Les Miserables, she had trouble even forming a comment for a while, other than “Wow.”

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