'Kingdom of the Young': When Style Ruins a Story

2.5 Stars

Edie Meidav’s short story anthology “Kingdom of the Young” fails to meet high expectations: Though her previous three novels were universally acclaimed, her first anthology does not live up to the hype. Many times her untraditional writing style feels laborious just for the sake of being difficult and different. There is a reason why novels written in more traditional styles—or even just with proper grammar—are popular and enjoyable. Sometimes different isn’t better. For the most part, Meidav’s writing style is verbose and parenthetical. Her style makes it difficult to distinguish important details, such as setting or characteristics of the narrator. Nevertheless, the writing style in “Kingdom of the Young” sometimes provides the reader with an unsuspected gem.

Choice pieces are written in stream of consciousness in an attempt to highlight what she tries to make an original writing style. The most striking example of this unsuccessful technique is the first, namesake story in this anthology. “Kingdom of the Young” is a short piece about an army of young soldiers judging their leader as he ages into his thirties. In four pages, there is not a single paragraph break. The sentences are long and rambling, and they are only made more incoherent by their incorrect grammar and aimlessness. The second sentence of the story spans 11 lines and speaks on a completely different topic by the end than that first introduced. This opening piece is not only verbose but exhausting to read and feels much longer than four pages. Because this rambling unfortunately takes place many times throughout the book, the stories never really flow.

However, the worst part of this style isn’t the long-winded sentences but the improper grammar, because it both obscures Meidav’s meaning and breaks the flow of her writing. Meidav seems to be fond of omitting words like “the” and “is,” along with pronouns, and she constantly leaves out the subject in her sentences. Though Meidav’s poor grammar is intentional, this writing style actually makes the writing feel so unnatural that it alienates its reader. Sentences such as “The crawl, if barely,” and “No and nugatory, choice clearly Hobson’s,” create ambiguity about the true subject and sound disjointed. The lack of pronouns and subjects not only makes the writing difficult to understand on a sentence-by-sentence basis but also clouds important details such as the age, ethnicity, gender or location of the narrator, which often times denies the reader crucial contextualization needed to fully grasp the point Meidav wishes to make. This lack of proper grammatical structure within the stories in “Kingdom of the Young” makes deciphering Meidav’s meaning a chore, and often not an enjoyable one. By trying to distinguish herself with this particular approach, Meidav obscures the messages of her stories, which are often the one redeeming quality of her pieces.

While the writing structure is irksome at best, Meidav does drop an occasional gem. For example, she describes getting older as getting “stuck inside bigger bodies.” Sometimes she describes mundane phenomena in peculiar ways, that by their very strangeness enhance the image she portrays. Meidav depicts a staring contest between a man and a young boy as the latter “stares back like someone declared us in a contest until his eyelids shut the way an alligator’s do.” At times, she also successfully captures deep meaning in few words: For instance, as a character wonders why he—an immigrant from Cuba—can’t seem to become as rich as the Americans he sees, he decides that “maybe where [he] comes from is what tears open my pockets.” It is small moments like these that make “Kingdom of the Young” more readable.

Although the various subjects Meidav broaches—including tales of dictators in Cuba, quinceañeras, and a woman looking for love in the caves of Granada—are interesting, the rambling manner of Meidav’s sentences make this anthology less enjoyable. The inconsistent grammar makes it difficult for a reader to enjoy and understand the stories. “Kingdom of the Young” has a lot of interesting things to say, but Meidav’s writing style is a wall that too often comes between her meaning and her reader.