Back to the future, past perfect, in a pronounmobile

I keep puzzling over this “Talk of the Town” piece from The New Yorker.

  • It starts out describing “the first time Grant met Barbra Streisand.”
  • Then it says “He recently recalled the encounter, which took place at a house party … in 1991.” So we’ve gone back in time.
  • “She was wearing a black lace dress and a floppy hat.” OK, so we’re at the party in ’91.
  • “He had arrived in a ‘cheap rental car.'” So now the past perfect tense is telling us about something that happened even earlier.
  • “In order to reach Streisand…” uh … brings us back to the party?
  • Soon we’re jerked back to the present: “Grant — who is now 61 … doesn’t drink.”
  • Then, I’m sorry to say, a new paragraph begins: “It was a frigid morning….”

All the zigzagging through time and space has exhausted me, and arriving at the damnable pronoun It just makes me want to sit down and cry. Where and when are we now? At the party in 1991? Or at the moment Grant is describing the encounter for us?

By the time we learn we’re in the back seat of an S.U.V. zooming through Flatbush, it seems we’re back in the present. Even Marty McFly would be nauseous.

I vote for writers to tell stories in chronological order whenever possible. If you have to flash back to keep things interesting, flash back carefully.

Or distribute Dramamine.

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