Is it just me?

How do you respond when you read the following? It’s wrenched out of context here, but I’ve tried to include enough so you have a sense of what’s going on.

Susan, Bessie calls out, Susan, the plums are spoiling and splitting and there’s flies all over. […]

The only gauges in the district says Stan. Stan has his eye on the girl; the bench lined with jars, the plums in pails repelling the water. They are barely outlined in the dark kitchen, Stan and the Dimboola girl, Stan and Susan.

Never mind the idiosyncratic punctuation, how about them gauges? I’m genuinely interested. Did you:

a) Take it in your stride, thinking something like, ‘I have no idea what gauges he’s talking about, maybe he’s got railways or shotguns on his mind and we’ll find out about it in a minute’?

b) Read as a child reads, accept that there are some things you won’t understand in any piece of writing, and move on?

c) Worry at it for a bit, realise Stan is talking about the plums and referring obliquely to Susan as the only available female in the district, and think in passing that the author can’t spell.

d) Same as c), but wonder if perhaps the author got it right only to have the copy editor introduce the confusing error?

e) Understand the meaning and read on without breaking stride, perhaps unaware that a gage is a plum and a gauge is something to do with measurement, or possessed of an enviable ability to read with the working assumption that the words as written may occasionally be mere approximations of the words intended?

See, what I don’t know is how atypical my response is. I was somewhere between c and d, and the whole story (‘New Gold Mountain’ by Michelle Moo in Heat Nº 22 – it’s a good story) ground momentarily to a halt.

5 responses to “Is it just me?

  1. (a) as in I had no idea what he was talking about and assumed that was because it was out of context.

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  2. Since you asked – a).

    But first f) – the punctuation free prose. If the speech marks have been removed to slow the story up and require slow, careful reading to discern which words are characters and which are the author’s, then mission accomplished.
    I think this is placing writer above written and it annoys me.

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  3. a).

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  4. Thanks for replying, Paul, franzy & Douglas. You confirm my assumption that proofreading matters: Stan’s comment on the plums/gages is a key moment in the plot, but the misspelling erases it for some readers, perhaps for any reader who isn’t afflicted with proofreaderitis.

    The absence of speech marks isn’t such a problem in the story as a whole, franzy, but I’m not going in to bat for it.

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  5. c) though with this little context I certainly didn’t pick up the oblique reference.
    To be in the c) group you have to know what gages are for a start, and I fairly confidently suggest this is not common knowledge.
    I think only an editor or author is at all likely to be in the even gloomier d) category.

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