A mildewy armpit and other stinky prose

A plaintive mew from Ms. Kitten. Mew. Mew. Please read the following excerpt and tell us truthfully: Is this bad writing or what? I mean, if you are going to foist an armpit-smelling scene on the reader (especially on the first page), at least describe it accurately (when was the last time you smelled a mildewed armpit? After it sat out overnight in the rain?). Something stinks, all right, and it ain't just an armpit.

We are both irritated and despairing that this was a book highlighted by the Quality Paperback Book Club—irritated, because there are so many better books to highlight than this one, and despairing, because, well, frankly, how does such doo-doo get published anyhow? This woman came to the United States from India when she was 21, so perhaps English is her second language; however, that doesn’t excuse any editors who may have been working on this book (I’m sparing the author publicity, bad or otherwise, by not mentioning the title). We suppose it takes a village to publish crap.

Well, this excerpt is probably just what we deserve, since we joined this book club primarily to bait the Bush-supporters in the Speaking Out forum. All we can say is thank heavens for Rohinton Mistry—now there’s an Indian writer with chops!

From Chapter One

Although it is dawn, inside Bhima's heart it is dusk.

Rolling onto her left side on the thin cotton mattress on the floor, she sits up abruptly, as she does every morning. She lifts one bony hand over her head in a yawn and a stretch, and a strong, mildewy smell wafts from her armpit and assails her nostrils. For an idle moment she sits at the edge of the mattress with her callused feet flat on the mud floor, her knees bent, and her head resting on her folded arms.

In that time she is almost at rest, her mind thankfully blank and empty of the trials that await her today and the next day and the next . . . To prolong this state of mindless grace, she reaches absently for the tin of chewing tobacco that she keeps by her bedside. She pushes a wad into her mouth, so that it protrudes out of her fleshless face like a cricket ball.

Bhima's idyll is short-lived. In the faint, delicate light of a new day, she makes out Maya's silhouette as she stirs on the mattress on the far left side of their hut. The girl is mumbling in her sleep, making soft, whimpering sounds, and despite herself, Bhima feels her heart soften and dissolve, the way it used to when she breast-fed Maya's mother, Pooja, all those years ago.

Propelled by Maya's puppylike sounds, Bhima gets up with a grunt from the mattress and makes her way to where her granddaughter lies asleep. But in the second that it takes to cross the small hut, something shifts in Bhima's heart, so that the milky, maternal feeling from a moment ago is replaced by that hard, merciless feeling of rage that has lived within her since several weeks ago. She stands towering over the sleeping girl, who is now snoring softly, blissfully unaware of the pinpoint anger in her grandmother's eyes as she stares at the slight swell of Maya's belly.


Stefanie said...

Oh my.

LK said...

I know, we have our crankypants on. But, later, we'll post a nice Proust piece -- ahhh, Proust.

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