Trailer Park Nirvana image created by Stefany Kleeschulte.

Monday, October 22, 2012

As picky as a nit

The air was warm and rancid, like raccoon breath infused with the aroma of just-eaten sardines.

Okay, so that's just ridiculous. What do I know what raccoon breath smells like? And do raccoons even eat sardines? Wouldn't it have been better to leave that sentence at "warm and rancid" or to have written something like "The air was warm and rancid-smelling from the mounds of seaweed washed ashore, the gnats and sandflies feasting on the microscopic creatures tapped inside"?

Certainly a writer uses too many similes if they get in the way of the story. Not too far into Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke I found myself groaning over another simile, rolling my eyes, wondering how in the hell he comes up with these things. This is Burke's twentieth or so book - are they all like this, nearly every paragraph containing a "like" or an "as though"? Has he ever re-used a simile? Does he spend hours with a notebook and pen, looking at a cloud and thinking "how many ways can I describe that?"

The dialogue in this book made me cringe. Everyone from major lowlifes to "beaners" to the sheriff are all great philosophers, especially as they stand provoking the guy with the rifle pointed between their eyes. The bad guys were so similar I couldn't keep them straight. The story was too convoluted. And, seriously, as we near the end of the book with the big shoot-out/rescue scene, lose the backstory. I don't care about your thoughts about Nam as you prepare to face the baddest of the bad guys. I skimmed those paragraphs. BTW, Burke used "palpable" twice but at least they were three hundred pages apart.

In spite of all this I may buy the previous book in the series where we get introduced to Sheriff Hack and his wide-assed deputy Pam. I liked them. To me their characters were as intriguing as a box of Sees candies.


So on this particular day the air stunk. It was a couple days after the surf had been kicked up a little bit by that non-hurricane Pablo and the beach was covered with mounds of seaweed, as though hastily crocheted afghans had been tossed from above. On the day after the mini-storm the beach had pretty much been wiped clean but, in my experience, it's two days later that's good for shelling so I headed down to "jingle shell" beach.

Lately I've had a difficult time leaving the house. After four months of staying indoors, avoiding the heat and humidity, I'm out of the habit of walking. I'm out of the habit of doing anything outdoors. Whenever I open the sliding glass doors I expect to be met with a slap of hot wet air. But, no, the air is fresh and light and so I'm reestablishing old walking habits.

Jingle shell beach did not disappoint. After a few years of shell gathering I have the luxury of only picking up the perfect shells. These are jingle shells from just three beach excursions, along with a sand dollar and those wonderful fan-like shells that are so rare here.

Hopefully with this walking I'll lose my summer coat. I'll refurbish my winter tan. People who live in deserts do things backwards - out in the winter, holed up in the summer. My joy at winter days spent scouring the beach is nearly palpable.


  1. Nice shells, as lovely as the dried entrails of a road killed 'possum who was carrying her five prepubescent children.


    1. you've been reading too much Burke! good one, jd.

  2. Ha, you sound like me. I think I went outside once last week not including the several steps to the outside studio. Looking forward to southern warmer climes that perfect in between for walks. Suddenly I'm singing Jingle Shells to myself now after reading this.

    Remind me to bring a big fat book to you next visit. The writer's description in "Shantaram" of an Indian slum and Mumbai are great but then unfortunately he lapses into some really schlocky descriptions of his lover's green eyes every time he refers to her... but hey, he wrote the manuscript while imprisoned in a badass Australian prison which he then escaped successfully.

    1. do bring that book, kimberly, it sounds fascinating - in spite of the green eyes thing.

  3. Ahh, shell beaches. As lonely and as littered as a flea market after all the potential buyers have left, and only the vendors packing up remain.

    Books with embarrassingly bad metaphors are as plentiful as the trash left in a Mexican park at the end of a lovely Sunday afternoon.

    Gee, my metaphors and similes are as tortured as an Afghani in a US military prison in Cuba.

    OK. I'll stop now. Lovely shells, Annette. What will you do with them?

  4. OK, I picked Anonymous in order to make this thing publish my comment above. But I am really Marti In Mexico, AKA Ann Baker on FB.

  5. you are really a master of the similes, marti aka ann baker. i'm very impressed.

    that is the question - what to do with the shells? i've returned most of my shells to the sea but still hang on to the special ones which are still a lot.