Book Review: ‘W is for Wasted’ by Sue Grafton—good story, but grammatical errors disconcerting

W Is for WastedI have said it before and will say it again: I’m a decades-long fan of Sue Grafton and her character Kinsey Millhone, but some of my previous criticisms remain.

However, I shall begin with the positive. I enjoyed Grafton’s W is for Wasted (hardback edition) in which a fellow PI has been gunned down and a homeless man has died under suspicious circumstances. Of course, Kinsey cannot keep her nose out of these seemingly unrelated deaths.

The book kept me reading into the wee hours for a couple of nights, until my eyelids refused to remain in the up position and my brain spun off into dreamland. Nice plot twist with the homeless folks and clinical drug testing, two themes that don’t normally intersect and which are relevant social issues today. It’d like to give this book 4.5 stars (out of five), but the system doesn’t allow it, so I will settle with 4.

The downside: Continuing with what I fear has become a trend—for Grafton as well as novel writing in general—the now over-used multiple points of view (IMHO) that, at times, seemed forced and in some instances unnecessary and intrusive. (Yes, Barbara Kingsolver used multiple POVs masterfully in The Poisonwood Bible, but in a separate genre.)

In addition, Grafton (or her editor) padded it with unnecessary description of minor characters and places (a long-held criticism of mine for most of her books), that I skip over. Many of the descriptions seem as if they have been copied and pasted from earlier works.

And I could have done without the cat nonsense, although the cat did eventually play a role in the story. (No, I won’t spoil it for you.)

I also found disconcerting grammatical errors in what should be an error-free text, what with it coming from Putnam/Penguin, an established and respected New York publisher.

More troubling for me: How did these errors creep into the text to begin with? I can’t imagine Grafton does not know better. Mind you, there are plenty of writers who rely on editors to find and fix grammatical and spelling errors. But if Grafton is at fault, her editor(s) should have been on high-alert. This is, after all, not her first book. (I probably would have fought to capitalize the “i” in the title as well, given that “wasted” is capitalized.)

Even more troubling: Perhaps the editor(s) didn’t catch the errors because they didn’t know any better. If that’s the case, then it’s a sad day for book publishing. I am not surprised (but still dismayed) at finding such errors in self-published books, but in a book from the establishment? Oops!

Most troubling: Could an editor have changed Grafton’s original text, introducing the errors? Unforgivable.

The essence of writing is clarity in communication, and when the wrong words are used—even though they may sound alike—it breeds confusion and frustration in the (knowledgeable) reader, not to mention undermining the author’s and the publisher’s reputations. And it can lead to less knowledgeable readers, who assume Grafton is correct, to draw incorrect conclusions about which words are appropriate in a given context.

These are the errors of which I speak:

Page 71: He’d get paid whether the jury found for the plaintive or not. If the plaintive prevailed . . .

The plaintiff may have been plaintive when cross-examined, but I hardly believe the jury would find for a tone of voice.

Page 98: . . . which meant that by judicial placement among similar cans, the Boggarts could have their trash picked up on a regular basis . . .

Seriously? A judge ruled on the placement of trash cans? Well, I suppose that could happen in a hoity-toity neighborhood, but a homeless encampment?

Page 122: The next document was a divorce decree in which Evelyn Chastain Dace was named as the plaintive . . .

I rest my case.

Page 283: We affected our farewells and I . . .

Really? What affect did y’all have on your farewells? I hope it did not result in anyone getting hurt.

Granted, “affected” could imply insincerity, but I didn’t get that from the context. If that were the case, why not say: “We feigned our farewells . . .” or some such thing.

I am gratified to note that I did not find any lay/lie errors, which, as an editor/publisher, is the most common grammatical error I come across, and which I see routinely in self-published works. However, I did encounter that error in a recent book review in the Los Angeles Times. Another publication that should not propagate that type of an error.

In the review of Mona Simpson’s Casebook (print edition), Darcey Steinke wrote: “The book opens with him laying in wait under his parents’ bed . . .”

Question: What does one actually do when “laying in wait”? I know about laying in provisions for the winter, but what does “wait” consist of and why would one wish to lay it in? Oh, right. Obviously, it would be laid in under one’s parents’ bed, where it would gather up those pesky dust motes.

The review also contained the punctuation error “ ‘cause”—it should have been “ ’cause” (apostrophe, not single quotation mark). I see this error often in manuscripts and self-published books (e.g., ‘em), but generally not from established publishers.

More troubling: How do such obvious errors get past the eyes of the copy editors at a newspaper as prestigious as the Los Angeles Times?

I hope these instances are isolated and not indicative of a trend.

More on this topic in the not-too-distant future . . .

. . . and, yes, my daddy at times invoked the old adage: He who lives in a glass house should not throw stones.

I am not being critical (some would say picking nits) for its own sake. I want to see professionalism in publishing. And if anyone wants to throw stones at me for grammatical errors or questionable style decisions I may have made, step right up.

Links

Grammar Girl: Lay Versus Lie

Grammar Girl: Affect Versus Effect

The Chicago Manual of Style Online

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About Polishing Your Prose

Larry M Edwards is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, editor and publishing consultant. He is the author of three books, and has edited dozens of nonfiction and fiction book manuscripts. Under Wigeon Publishing, he has produced six books. As author, "Dare I Call It Murder? A Memoir of Violent Loss" won First Place in the San Diego Book Awards in 2012 (unpublished memoir) and 2014, Best Published Memoir. The book has also been nominated for a number of awards, including: Pulitzer Prize, Benjamin Franklin Award, Washington State Book Award, and One Book, One San Diego. As Editor, "Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources" won the Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Self-Help. For a sample edit and cost estimate, contact Larry: larry [at] larryedwards [dot] com -- www.larryedwards.com -- www.dareicallitmurder.com -- www.wigeonpublishing.com
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4 Responses to Book Review: ‘W is for Wasted’ by Sue Grafton—good story, but grammatical errors disconcerting

  1. susanpjames says:

    I can’t understand a popular writer or her editor making such a notorious mistake as “plaintive” instead of “plaintiff” or -ouch! – “affected” instead of “effected.” Another example of careless editing. However, you say you stayed reading this book even when your eyelids were drooping. That is a good recommendation. By the way, take a look at your blurb above. The editor left out a word..

  2. Angela Spencer says:

    In A is for Alibi, a character says, “Who shall I say is calling?” That is grammatically correct. However, the narrator interjects with the supposed correction, “WHOM shall I say is calling?” That is appallingly ignorant. I note Ms. Grafton has a degree in English. Obviously, she failed to learn some basic rules. For those who believe “whom” is correct, I suppose you would have no problem saying, “Him/Her is calling.” I also found “altogether” confused with “all together”. Tut, tut.

  3. Here’s a related piece by Jack Smith, one of my favorite columnists: Ask Not for Whom Shall I Say Is Calling.”
    http://articles.latimes.com/1989-08-17/news/vw-917_1_modern-english-usage

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