Picks and Pans Review: Son of 'it Was a Dark and Stormy Night'

compiled by Scott Rice

The second book of entries from the annual Bulwer-Lytton writing contest is terrible, execrable, lousy and rotten, which in this case is a compliment. Founded by Rice, an English professor at San Jose State University, the contest is named after Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. He was a prolific Victorian writer who began his 1830 novel Paul Clifford with the quote that now lives in literary infamy as Rice’s contest title. The competition involves creating the worst possible first sentence of the worst possible novel. The present entries, from the 1984 and 1985 contests, testify to today’s abundance of non talent: “Tom stopped picking the fuzz of Linda’s angora sweater off his shirt, glanced up to see Linda clomp out of their hideously well-decorated bedroom carrying her ferns and his Don Ho albums, and felt a cold chill go up his spine as he realized that he did not know how to operate the microwave oven.” (Lucian Janik Jr., Somerdale, N.J.) “Fall had come to the city; the trees had turned to yellows and the winos had turned to reds.” (James Ladwig, Hoopa, Calif.) “Billions of light years away there exists a small, insignificant planet, insignificant because this story takes place in South Jersey during the Great Depression.” (Thomas Corrigan, Seymour, Conn.) None of these were winning entries, but then they weren’t necessarily better—or maybe we should say worse. (Penguin, paper, $4.95)

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