RARA-AVIS: Re: God Is a Bullet

John Woolley (jwoolley@dna420.mcit.com)
Tue, 20 Apr 1999 12:37:38 -0600 (MDT) I picked up _God Is a Bullet_, and I enjoyed the first
paragraph, which is sparely and unusually constructed, though
not above criticism. The second paragraph is bad, and I gave
the book up early in the eighth. Here's why.

In paragraph two, we read:

They drive without sirens through Barstow, passing the
ghost mining town of Calico, all clapboard and tin just
north of the freeway.

"Passing" should have been "and pass"; as it stands, the text
implies that Calico is inside or right next to Barstow. But it
isn't -- it's maybe eight or ten miles from town and a good two
miles from the freeway. (And "ghost mining town" -- hmmm.)
Sloppiness of language and error of fact is a bad omen this
early in a book that seems (already) to pride itself on
language and detail.

Here's paragraph five, complete:

The wind grows worse, blowing its poisonous alkali
chlorides and carbonates down from Inyo County and China
Lake. Moving up through the Mojave Desert they pass the
Calico Early Man Site, where scattered on the shores of
ancient, dry Coyote Lake are the oldest known remains of
our ancestors in North America. Here a solitary core
of studied diggers found rudimentary tools of stone and
arrows, fossilized fletchings, and puzzle parts of
clay jugs. The crude trappings of commerce, the crude
trappings of war.

OK, the first sentence is all right, I guess. But then, who
are the "they" who move up through the desert and pass the
Early Man Site? The most recent candidates for an antecedent
are "chlorides and carbonates", but one suspects, without
really knowing, that "they" refers to the sheriff's deputies.
Putting aside a passing doubt as to whether the human remains
at Calico are actually "scattered on the shores" of Coyote Lake
(which would seem to imply careless stewardship by the managers
of the Early Man Site), and another doubt as to whether Teran
really meant "remains" (as opposed to, say, "artifacts"), one
pauses puzzled on "our ancestors". (Is Teran, are his readers,
descended from the Early Men who lived at Calico? Should he
maybe have written "predecessors", or simply "the oldest known
human remains in North America"?) And about this "solitary
core of studied diggers" -- where to begin? Why did it take
diggers to find things "scattered on the shores"? And a "core"
of diggers -- what's that? (Did Teran mean "corps", maybe?)
If there were several diggers, they're not really solitary, are
they? (Or is it their core that's solitary? What's a solitary
core?) And "studied"? Surely it's the Early Men who were
studied, and the diggers perhaps "learned", or "studious".
"Rudimentary tools of stone and arrows" needs some editing, or
thought, to avoid the implication that the tools were made of
stone and arrows, or the arrows made of stone, or whatever.
And what could "fossilized fletchings" possibly be? Fletching
is the act of feathering an arrow, not anything that could be
fossilized. (Although those stone arrows still worry me.)

In paragraph six, we find:

Their vehicles rock and heave over the sifting climb of
slow dunes.

While this sentence is kind of cool, the adjectives are spooky;
and by this time I'm inclined to think Teran just likes the
sounds of all these words, regardless of their meanings.

Paragraph seven. The boy's

legs arch onto the seat in an almost fetal position.

I'll bet Teran doesn't mean "arch" -- your legs aren't "arched"
when you're in a fetal position, they're bent or flexed --, and
surely it's the boy whose position is "almost fetal", not his

The eighth paragraph begins:

The blowing sand is like cut glass against their skin.

Like so much else on these pages, this sounds all right until
you think about it for a moment. But in what way is blowing
sand like cut glass? If this means anything, it has to mean
that the blowing sand against their skin feels like cut glass;
but that's absurd. (Find some cut glass -- a decanter or
something. Brush it or press it against your skin. Does that
feel *anything* like blown sand? No.) My guess is that the
writer began with a thought something like "The blowing sand
cut their skin", considered that glass cuts skin, inverted the
words into "cut glass", and voila`, a meaningless but wordy

At this point, I was halfway down the second page of the book,
it was looking like a really long evening, and I hadn't read
any Chandler for weeks. So I chucked Teran like pre-stressed
besoms of glittering concrete.

-- Fr. John Woolley

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