It seemed like some big portent had just been swooped in and dropped onto us by twittering birds.

[Her voice] enables readers to overlook the occasional moments of awful writing (“It seemed like some big portent had just been swooped in and dropped onto us by twittering birds”).

—from the book review.

Such lines with such site-specific criticism call into doubt every word I’ve ever written, thought, or said. Is that truly bad? Is my writing truly bad? Yes I’m aware of the gangly stilting lilting germanical awkwardness of the had been tense and am likewise aware that I write purple in the face, quite a contrast to the watery restraint of various New Yorkish publications—but purple blood is thicker than water. I’ve never forgotten, but also never put into practice, the technique espoused by Benjamin Franklin—to take a favored essay, and attempt to rewrite it and make it better. Now can we do the same with this mere line? As Orlando Bloom asks, what man is a man who does not try to make the world better?

First, let’s diagnose.

It seemed like some big portent had just been swooped in and dropped onto us by twittering birds.

Seemed. As always, fellow purple-facer Shakespeare says it best—Seems, madam, Nay, it is. I know not ‘seems. So remove it! It either is or it isn’t! Like. The metaphor is the key to this line but it requires some untangling; if I’m right, and I’m probably not, the line could be some reference to the proverbial Homeric eagle or bird or falcon or whatever carrying a snake in its talons, which is often taken as a metaphor for something or other, depending on whether the snake sinks its fangs into the bird’s thigh and pumps it full of green toxins, or whether it’s flying to the left or to the right—at any rate such sights are rarities enough in the real world to count for something, even though they aren’t rare at all in Homerland—so birds drop portents, or snakes, sometimes, that’s what she’s possibly obliquely referencing, but the had been is what mucks it all up, I think, and after that everything flies apart—the birds here are swooping passively, and to add insult to injury, they’re swooping in, almost like delivery boys rather than sparrows or hawks or sparrowhawks. Dropped onto us sounds like the birds are shitting on our heads and the twittering is, like my existence, superfluous.

So now that we have identified the problems, or, at the very least, scratched the iceberg-tip of the blackheaded nose, we may prescribe a cure!

It seemed like some big portent had just been swooped in and dropped onto us by twittering birds.

Let’s make things active and begin at a basic level, making sure to preserve the meaning. It was as if a flock of birds had dropped a portent in my lap. I just left that and came back after a minute and concluded with this thought: No, no, that still sounds like shit. Only the woman who wrote that book about eating and praying and loving and Julia Roberts and pedophiliac sex tourists talk about things falling in laps. We can assume that the line before said something like: things got bad, or, obviously, things were starting to look bad…etc., etc…

…therefore let us try a different approach, preserving meaning (more or less) but abandoning absolutely everything else: it was like seeing a bird fly by with a writhing snake in its grasp, on the left, no less, and the moment you look at it the snake bites the bird and the bird goes screaming down to the house of death. I’m confident that—in the Flaubertian mode—if I look away from that sentence and return to it I will inevitably conclude that it is nothing except an example of his fabled supershit…mmm, no, maybe not, it’s ridiculous, but at least it’s fun, and while it’s probably totally out of keeping with the rest of the book, written in the voice of one who does not read the prescribed ten pages for every page that you write, ten pages of, like, literature—it’s still preferable to that which I must repeat again:

It seemed like some big portent had just been swooped in and dropped onto us by twittering birds.

It was like seeing a bird fly by with a writhing snake in its grasp, on the left, no less, and the moment you look at it the snake bites the bird and the bird goes screaming down to the house of death.

If it’s better, then it’s hardly a triumph to triumph over something weak, or stupid. Let’s try saying the first line of Moby Dick better than Herman Melville, let’s rewrite an aphorism of Nietzsche—two challenges, two examples of those few things that are truly impossible

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One thought on “It seemed like some big portent had just been swooped in and dropped onto us by twittering birds.

  1. Jessabelle says:

    What review? Anyway, you’re not supposed to split your verb tenses, as in your “had just been,” should be “just had been” or “had been just.”

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