Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron

A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron, Ballantine Books, 2005

May This Reviewer suggest peppermint tea? It's supposed to aid in digestion, and this book will make you sick. It made me sick, but I'm rather delicate about appallingly bad grammar and astonishingly inept editing.

I plodded my way through this awful Ballantine book, which is part of HarperCollins (I will never forgive them! I respected them!) for ONE REASON: I was FORCED to read A Cup of Tea for a book club that meets next week.

The best thing about this book was its length: one hundred and forty eight pages was all I could have endured.

Here's a random example of both her writing and of the high-school-level of editing. This is from page 30 and is exactly reproduced:

"Eleanor walked over and bought herself a pretzel. She took a bite, savoring the taste of the salt on the warm dough. Down the street, a young boy hawking newspapers screamed out in an adolescent voice, 'U.S. breaks diplomatic relations with Germany! Uncle Sam supports'-- his voice went up on this--'European allies.' And Eleanor was left to wonder whether he, too, would be sent to war next year. And whether three squares and the regimen wouldn't be good for him or, at least, only as hard as this."

Oh, and on another page, Eleanor (who was very hungry, being poor) was offered a tea cake and the author had her taking "a ravenous bite." How can--am I being picky?--how can one bite be "ravenous?" Maybe two or three bites--let me think:

If I were "ravenous," and were offered a teacake, I suspect I would eat it all at once--just chuck it in and swallow.

But how can a single bite--

I digress.

The plot, which is the only competent component of this "novel," is lifted from a short story that was written, presumably much more cleverly, by Katherine Mansfield back in the twenties.

And here's the plot: a rich woman has just bought on a whim a lovely box and a letter opener. She walks out of the antique shop and sees a lovely, thin woman wearing a gray sweater. She asks the woman, who looks cold, if she's all right, and the woman says, "Could I have money for a cup of tea?" The rich woman impulsively and unwisely takes the poor woman home in her chauffeured car, and the poor woman is immediately attracted to the rich woman's fiance. Oh, dear.

For the reader’s amusement, I'll offer one more gagworthy sample of her prose, which clanks in my head so much that I'm surprised I can write a straight sentence. Here's the rich woman talking about war with her father:

"'Will you think I'm terrible,' asked Rosemary petulantly, 'if I tell you that I'm sick of Archduke Ferdinand?'

"Her father chided her softly. 'Are you going to tell me that you're sick of the Archduchess Sophia, too?' he asked. He was teasing but trying to elicit a more human response, for although history would forget this, the Archduchess was killed alongside her husband and whatever Rosemary's mood, she had always been a defender of women.

"'No,' she answered soberly, 'but their legacy lives after them. I don't want to hear about Bismarck or how they feel in France.'"

Enough--sorry. (And is it so obvious that the author did some Wiki research before penning this prose and didn't want to waste a single juicy tidbit?)

I just did my own Wiki research and found out that Amy Ephron is one of the famous Ephron screenwriters—she worked on A Little Princess, Born on the Fourth of July, and Out of Africa.

I'm stunned. I don't know what to say. That's heavy hitting--Out of Africa. A Little Princess.

No wonder she got in with HarperCollins.

Just go make yourself some tea. Put about six Oreos on a little plate, and eat them ravenously, bite by bite.

B&N link

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