Thursday, August 8, 2019

THE TALE TELLER – Anne Hillerman

I am so disappointed, my critical faculties so disarrayed by The Tale Tellers bad writing, I must warn you any gaps you might discover in this review’s syntax might well be the fault of my falling asleep during the writing. I’m not trying to excuse such lapses, but merely to note that in my hurry to complete this exercise for the week’s Friday’s Forgotten Books blogging feature readability may suffer a tad in the struggle with fatigue my lips incurred death marching thru the 320 tedious pages of Tale Teller’s leviathan swamp of redundancies, non-sequiturs, blizzard of characters, infantile dialogue, detail overkill, and virtually zero suspense. Truth be told I might just cave at some point, and file whatever I’ve written without so much as a glance for errors of any kind or attempting a snappy ending (please don’t judge me for moving my lips when I read, you know I have excuses).
So why? Why did I slog thru the damned thing and not hurl the book against a wall? Well, I didn’t have the book. OK, so why didn’t I cruelly delete it from my Kindle archive? Because books in Kindle archives cannot be deleted, so far as I know. I’ve tried, and the covers just blink as if silently laughing at me. So why didn’t I just stop reading, return it to the archive, and read something else? Good question. Not sure how to answer it. I’m stubborn--part Norwegian—I started it, and had to finish it (I almost wrote to see what came next, but the narrative fell far short of being so compelling). Maybe there was a glimmer of hope if I kept reading I’d of a sudden burst from the swamp into a musical meadow, and my heart would begin whirling and leaping and urging my lips to cease flapping sullenly and dance into song. Maybe that was the ticket. More likely it was my Hillerman jones, my addiction to Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police series and its memorable characters and engaging plots and just enough well-placed Navajo lore and descriptive scenic beauty to pull me into his world and leave me with enough of its taste and lyrical ambience to draw me back for more and more. And then he died in 2008 and his daughter Anne picked up the legacy and kept it alive, extending the series, with the same principal characters—Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee—and adding several others, including Chee’s bride, Officer Bernadette Manuelita. I was less than ecstatic, but I read her first effort, Spider Woman’s Daughter, and found it so un-enchanting I’d forgotten I read it when I started re-reading it for last week’s FFB.
The re-read was un-enchanting, too, but I decided to give Anne Hillerman another chance. She’d written four more, so I picked Tale Teller, the most recent, figuring her craft must have improved since Spider Woman. I was encouraged by professional reviewers, one noting in the Library Journal that her writing grew “stronger with every new installment in the series.” It would have behooved me to read some of the Amazon “customer reviews,” as well, especially the pans, some of which indicated Tale Teller was the worst book they had ever tried to read. Alas, I read these comments after the fact, and found most of them expressed my feelings precisely. Altho I wouldn’t go so far as to say Tale Teller is the worst I’ve read, it is, sadly, an unmitigated stinker.
Boiling Anne Hillerman’s problem down the best I can, I would say she suffered from notebook-dumping syndrome. Writers in the newspaper business rushing toward deadline, lacking either the energy or skill, or both, to craft readable narrative from their notes have been known to simply dump everything they’ve gathered for the story onto the page. This includes the newsworthy stuff as well as all of the smidgeons, detritus, and extraneous crap they’ve scribbled down. This puts the burden on editors to shape this raw material into a story.
Anne Hillerman gives us more than we could ever wish to know about road numbers and conditions--The hogback, the road’s most interesting geologic feature, sat a few miles west of Farmington’s sprawl. She took US 64 across the bridge over the La Plata River and it became Main Street. Traffic was light, typical for a Sunday morning--geographical landmarks and traditions, weather conditions and implications—both historical and present—and...o, lort, I’m getting sleepy again… Whew! How long was I out? Anyway, even the characters dump their notebooks whenever they’re conversing. Remember the old Dragnet trope, when Sgt. Joe Friday would be questioning a witness or suspect for “just the facts,” and the dumb slobs would start telling Friday everything from the time he or she kicked his or her slats out of his or her crib up to the present including non sequiturs about uncles and aunts and cousins and neighbors and their cats and turtles and...holy Christmas, even on the show it got tedious even tho it usually made us all laff. Time was more forgiving back then. And we knew the language. Tale Teller has so many Navajo expressions, with their plethora of accent marks and pronunciation squiggles my lips damned near got charley horsed moving along with the ink.
What? You think my example of tedious unnecessary description above isn’t so bad? Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just a wee sample. Not enuf for a skeptic like you. Want a better example? I have one here? Just for you? You might be sorry you wished for it, but that happens in life. No? Anyway, take a deep breath. If you move your lips like I do you’ll want to spit out or swallow whatever you have there. You might try reading this real fast. Maybe I’ve missed some poetry in the cadences or something. Anyway, you asked for it. Here goes:
Interstate 40, the quickest way to Winslow, drew an abundance of truck traffic and, in the summer, a bevy of tourists in sticker-covered RVs. Unlike the orange barrels and shoulder repair work he had encountered on his way west, the two eastbound lanes lay clear of construction. They left ponderosa pine country for red rocks, piñon and juniper trees, and then flatter, emptier landscape. As many times as he had driven this route, Leaphorn never tired of it. The vast sky where he’d seen double rainbows and clouds bigger than skyscrapers made whatever problem he puzzled over seem insignificant.
...zzzzzZZZZZT!!! Uh...oh. Sorry. I was dreaming of giving you an idea of the plot, but now that I’m awake I can’t remember what I’d planned to say. How sad. And it really is time for a serious nap. I can tell you this, tho, what the title means: All Navajo weavings could be described as Tale Tellers. Each uniquely reflected its creator and the time of its creation.
And how might this fit into one of the several disparate plots in The Tale Teller? Well...frankly I can’t rightly recall. I would advise anyone who’s read this far and who might be chomping at the bit for a little something about one or more of the hodgepodge of plots to scroll up to the hyperlinked The Tale Teller (I just now hyperlinked it again, for you!), which will take you to the book’s Amazon page, where you can read the publisher’s summary. And while you’re at it you might wish also to read some of the “customer reviews,” to see how right I am with this one.
Snappy ending? Who in hell do you think I am, Norman Mailer?

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]


  1. I am assuming she is Tony's kid. Is that the sole reason for her publications, I wonder. Is that enough?

    1. She is, Patti. She sorta followed in his footsteps, news writing, studying Navajo culture, etc. What she needs is an editor who's not still in a swoon from her father. A brutally honest, good editor. I expected her writing to improve after Spider Woman's Daughter, which actually wasn't so bad, but this last one is awful.

  2. I have found her books at least as interesting as her Dad's were! I think - to each his/her own!

  3. I had a comment here, then lost it ... my fault, not Blogger's.

    As I said in your first review of one of her books, I have plenty of Tony Hillerman's books to read so will wait and see what I think of hers sometime in the future.

    I liked your comment: "I’m stubborn--part Norwegian". We have a close friend with Norwegian roots and he has many strange characteristics, including being stubborn.

    1. LOL I'm 3/4 German. Those are pretty stubborn genes, too. I should probly be called "Cranky," but that name's already taken by a friend.