Active is Better Than Passive

“It was in this kitchen where meringues were launched onto seas of créme anglaise, perfectly seared slabs of foie gras were drizzled with fig reductions, and salads of waterecress and endive were expertly tossed with olive oil and sea salt.”


from Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019


This sentence begins with trouble, because it has no subject. The structure “It was in… where…” is awkward if not nonsensical. “Meringues were launched…” makes matters worse by having self-flying meringues with no captain at the helm. And piling up the verbs “to be” afterward merely takes the reader farther astray on the misguided journey.


The author is writing about her mother and her kitchen, so her mother, Malabar by name, presents an obvious candidate to be master of this sentence and to provide its active element. The sentence could actually become beautiful with Malabar in charge. In fact, just a couple of sentences earlier, Brodeur writes, “Here, at the very last house on a winding road to the bay beach, the kitchen was command central and Malabar its five-star general.” So she had her metaphor in hand already when she stumbled.


We writers cannot always see all of our mistakes. That’s what our editors are for. Adrienne Brodeur is a good writer, and someone at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt should have been looking out for her.