I don't want to beat up on Brian Miller.
He has worked at Seattle Weekly for a long time, so he's not the luckiest guy to begin with, and working there right now has got to be a special hell, seeing as the Weekly is in the feeding-tube stage of its life. ("Many" changes to the editorial staff are imminent, according to Josh Feit's reporting in The Stranger. The quote is from a source at the company formerly called New Times, which just bought the Weekly's parent company). I worked at the Weekly the last time several editors got their heads chopped off, from 2002 to 2003. (And then I, too, was fired.) I hope the good writers get out.
But it can't be denied: Brian Miller is not a good writer.
He's been the film editor there for years. I don't read Seattle Weekly much, but I was curious to read Miller's review of Michael Winterbottom's movie Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, since I reviewed it for The Stranger, and loved it, and since I care about books (it's a loose adaptation of Laurence Sterne's novel). It had been a long time since I'd been face to face with Miller's pat, insightless writing.
"A novel almost nobody reads anymore," he writes, "Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy was a serially published smash in mid-18th-century England. I've read it, and it would take more pages than the entire current issue of SW for me to even attempt a synopsis."
Do you want to push him into a gully or what? Do you want to keep reading? The bit about it being a novel that "almost nobody reads" is far-fetched (people read it in college, it gets reprinted all the time) and possibly inspired by Picturehouse's press release (which describes Sterne's novel as "a well-known though not necessarily widely read masterpiece"). "I've read it" is fair, if weird, following his pronouncement that no one else has, but this business of not possibly being able to tell you what's in it, dear stupid reader, is bullshit and condescending in exactly the sort of way that encourages people to not read old books, even books that still seem new, that still surprise, like Tristram Shandy, which honestly reads like it was published last week by McSweeney's. His assertion that a synopsis would require more pages than an issue of the Weekly? Is that a joke about how small the Weekly is these days? CliffsNotes does a comprehensive synopsis in 325 words.
The rest of Miller's review is Miller territory: summary, adjectives, titles of the other movies the actors have been in, all of it wooden and awkward and scrubbed clean of interest. Innocuous, really. Is the Weekly really worried, as their own writing on the buyout of their company has suggested, about the "aggressively centralized" approach that their new parent company has to content? Because the movie reviews in the New Times papers are actually pretty good.