“I am in agony, and I must ride endlessly on a donkey in search of something we cannot find!”
— What Mary said to Joseph as envisioned by Elizabeth Berg
What made Elizabeth Berg think it would be a good idea to write a novel about the courtship of Mary and Joseph? Jospeh Bottum was right when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that The Handmaid and the Carpenter (Random House) “gushes with treacle” until Berg is delivering “truly mind-numbing goop.” The novel says that young Joseph “felt a stirring in his loins” when he thought of Mary. And Mary comes across as the Holy Land equivalent of a hot ticket: Berg casts her as a “flirtatious” girl who wasn’t above putting moves on Joseph: She had “brazenly put her hand on his knee long before it was time for such things.” Apart from any religious or historical issues all of this raises, this novel seemed more dumbed-down than any since Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, which is written at a third-grade level, according to the Microsoft Word readability statistics. So I entered few sections from The Handmaid and the Carpenter into my computer, ran the stats for them, and got grade levels of 3.8, 4.0, and 5.3, which averaged out to Grade 4.3. Maybe Berg should have called this novel For One More Day in Bethlehem?
As Berg imagines it, Mary’s labor pains sped up while she and Joseph were looking for an inn. This causes Mary to screech at Joseph, “I am in agony, and I must ride endlessly on a donkey in search of something we cannot find!” As for the scene in which Mary and Joseph are in bed, let’s draw a veil over it. Suffice it to say that, by the time Joseph dies, we know that Mary was not a woman who was always saying, “Not tonight, Joseph, I have a headache.”
The grade levels of other authors appea in a review of Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, appeared on Nov. 16 and is archived with the November posts and also in the “Novels” category on this site. The review tells how to use the Microsoft Word spell-checker to find the grade level of any text.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
[The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order and numbered only for convenience. This is the next to last finalist.The last should be announced by 5 p.m. Eastern time, or maybe 5 p.m. Central time if I get a little backed up.]