Predictable writing annoys me.
Predictable books can fall into a few categories:
- Re-reads: for the most part, these don't annoy me. I only re-read books if they are truly wonderful, like To Kill a Mockingbird. These are the literary equivalent of comfort food. The fact that I can recite passages is part of the fun.
- Formulas: Some of these annoy me. Somepopular authors fall into a predictable pattern once you've read a few of their books. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series is one example. Her characters are well-developed but, after reading a few of these books, you know how each person will respond to a situation, and even the romantic tension between characters wears thin. Jodi Picoult is another author whose work becomes predictable after a while. She employs the same literary style (rotating points of view), and includes a trademark dramatic plot twist near the end. But even so, these books can be enjoyable, particularly if you're in the mood for light reading.
- Amateur Writing: These annoy me, big time. The plot is predictable, the characters are predictable, the ending is predictable, or all of the above.
Unfortunately, my current read falls into the final category. I'm about halfway through Daniel Mason's The Piano Tuner. This book started out in an odd Apocalypse Now sort of way: in 1886 the British army enlisted a London piano tuner to go visit a surgeon-major, stationed in the Burmese jungle, who 1) demanded that he have a piano, and 2) later demanded it be tuned or he would resign. I guess I am supposed to be hooked from the start, simply wondering why a quirky military guy would need a piano in such a setting. But halfway through, the piano tuner has yet to meet the surgeon-major. But even in his absence, it's clear from the stories told by other soldiers that the surgeon-major is a real character all right. Everybody has stories about him. But has anyone actually met him? It seems not (any resemblance to Apocalypse Now's Colonel Kurtz is purely coincidental). And then Edgar, the piano tuner, is the typical hapless innocent in a foreign land. He looks wide-eyed at the scenery in every Burmese town. He shudders at atrocities. He gets annoyed with British colonial beaurocracy. As each leg of his journey is delayed, and delayed again, I'm starting to wonder where all this is going. Will Edgar meet the surgeon-major? Will I care, or will I have lost interest?
This book was Mason's first novel, and it shows. More than once this weekend I've found myself walking past the book, not tempted, sneering at it even. There's been just enough foreshadowing to make me curious how this will all turn out, so I suppose I will finish it, but I just wish it weren't all so ... predictable.
Join The Sunday Salon here.