September 16, 2003

The Tender Mercies of Plot Summaries

Yesterday, one of the invaluable blowhards at noted a terrible truth about the current and deeply sad state of reviewing:

Are you as amazed as I am at the amount of space movie and book reviewers these days devote to plot summaries? It's common for more than half a review to be spent telling the movie or fiction-book's story. Who wants this amount of plot synopsis? I may be an extreme case, but I hate it when a work's story is given away; I want a work's surprises to be allowed to surprise me.
In general, we are in complete agreement with this. Plot summaries seem to us to be simply the hapless reviewer's way of saying, "I have nothing to say and I am saying it." Still there are times when a plot summary is a gentle mercy, as in this morning's WSJ review of Madonna's book for children when we are given:
Briefly put, "The English Roses" is about an eponymous clique of four girls who out of jealousy behave frostily to a radiantly beautiful fifth girl. The mother of one of the clique members remonstrates with the girls about this. At their slumber party that night, the girls are visited in their sleep by a plump, cookie-gobbling fairy godmother who offers them a glimpse into what they assume is the fabulous and spoiled life of the envied girl. They are chagrined to find that the girl they've shunned is motherless, loaded with chores and desperately lonely. This changes their attitude, and they all become friends and "grow up to be incredible women one day."
Here the summary is not only saving a lot of parents a lot of pain and a chunk of change, but, if it were properly employed it would save a lot of children from literary abuse. All a caring parent has to do is to clip this paragraph out of the Journal, whip it out at bedtime, rattle it off, and the child would be up-to-date on Madonna's literary pretensions. Nothing like keeping your kid on the cutting edge without exposing them to toxic prose. Posted by Vanderleun at September 16, 2003 9:03 AM
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