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“Worser” by Jennifer Ziegler – The New York Times

Worse still, Jennifer Ziegler


A 12-year-old boy solemnly describes a sentence he just read at a middle school lighting club meeting. “I should mention that I wrote this entry when I was younger,” he says. “I had an unusually silly day.” The entry he’s referring to is from Masterwork, a personal dictionary he started when he was nine years old, in which: It contains a list of words with unusual themes.gain, memorial), or “false antonyms” ( descent, you do it descentmust be a synonym for Deodorization).

Know your personality type. picky. Superior. I can’t help but laugh. He is that kind of child. I never have Uncharacteristically funny for the presumable reason that he does funny things all the time. He’s a young Sheldon with no physics. He enjoys correcting authority figures who say “flout” when they mean “flout.” He is unbearably cranky, so at school his name, William Orser, is abbreviated in common agreement to the non-existent word “worse” to drive him crazy.

Behind this relentless junior logophilia is a catastrophe at home. Werther’s mother had a stroke. Formerly a professor of rhetoric, she now has no words at her disposal. Meaningless syllables that her frightened and frightened son cannot or will not interpret. After her father’s death, it was revealed that Worther and her mother bonded primarily through sophisticated wordplay and laughing off “discordant” sentences in college papers she was grading. I was. Since his stroke, he has had to play word games alone.

My current house is different. His well-meaning Aunt Iris (a true saint) intervenes, and her presence is offensive to Werther in every way. Outrageously, she calls him “Potato”. She loves purple and she has two “partially feral” cats. She enjoys the absurd belief that the spaces between her words are as important as her words themselves. To her further annoyance, she encourages his poor mother to dance and finger-paint her. Constance, as if she weren’t the woman whose main pleasure Orser had completed Sunday’s crossword for The New York Times.

Funny, smart, and compassionate, Jennifer Ziegler’s Worser is a beautifully crafted tale of a journey toward self-awareness. My own favorite is Worser’s friendly school friend, her Herbie. He was an original thinker, endearingly writing “Oh, Herbie!” in the margin. Many people were kind to Werther, especially a blunt bookstore owner who was completely unsuited to his profession, said, “Do I look like a card in his catalog?” But hovering above them all is the underrated Aunt Iris. The cat seems quite imposing, but its sincerity is never in doubt.

Will Werther find her mother in need of a hug? Either way, their previous word-centered relationship had been pretty poor parenting, a sign of her great grief over her husband’s death. will he come to understand?

It’s always cathartic to see people’s walls come down. Worse, being very young and building a lot, demolishing is painful, but eventually when he begins to use ordinary human language in simple sentences (“When I wear new clothes We’ve determined that you can agree on what we need, not ), and we dare to hope he gets a chance.


Lynne Truss is the author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Talk to the Hand, and Constable Twitten mystery novels.


Worse still, Jennifer Ziegler | | 12/12/2017 256 Pages | Margaret Ferguson/Holiday House | $17.99 |

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