The thing is, writers can be inordinately pretentious and blissfully unaware of the fact. Part of the whole living in your head while trying to describe the most banal processes using language that elevates them to art will do that to you, I guess.
I’m reading The Girls now and had just finished Sweetbitter before it. I loved the latter and struggled with the former at first, before giving myself over to the strangely familiar creepiness of the story. Both are debut novels by pretty young blonde women. Both are firmly evocative of a particular time and place—California in the late ‘60s and New York City in the early oughts. And, both showcase prose that is sometimes pretentious to the point of hilarity.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great writing in these books. The authors are nothing if not exquisitely attentive to their craft. It’s just that as I read, my eyes occasionally rolled back into the universal expression for “Girl, get over yourself!”
Anyway, this parody in The Millions of Natalie Portman and Jonathan Safran Foer’s e-mail exchange for T The New York Times Style Magazine in which the hyper-educated actress and Cormac McCarthy trade brilliant observations, cracked me up, precisely because it’s really not that farfetched. Writers who are allowed to indulge their bombast without check (i.e., a strong editor with a finely sharpened red pencil) can very quickly veer into self-parody.
Personally, I don’t mind a little purple mixed in with the black ink, but it is one of the things that authors need to be vigilant about. A momentary lapse is forgivable and even endearing, too many and you’re headed for the rejection pile.
Can you think of any fun examples of affected, self-important writing you’ve seen recently?