Only the Lonely

Ann Patchett is a wonderful novelist. Don’t begin one of her books in the evening, because it will steal the night from you. One day at random I picked State of Wonder from a shelf in my house to look at it during breakfast. I didn’t put it down for three days. 


But like so many of us, Ann has trouble with the word “only.” In a book that made me stumble over her words almost never, she had this sentence: “She only comes to town once every few months.” Of course, she meant to write, “She comes to town only once every few months.” And since both “only” and “once” mean “one,” she really meant not to use the demon word at all. This would have been fine: “She comes to town once every few months.” 


Our editors are supposed to help save us from that sort of obvious blunder, but they’re not onto their jobs these days. 


State of Wonder, Harper 2011