The work of the writer is often to open to that intensity, that burn and chaos of feeling; to allow yourself to be driven by possibilities you have not yet uncovered, a revelation you do not yet know, or to … Continue reading
I’m out and about tonight–in Atlanta, Decatur more specifically–for a Q & A and reading by Sheri Joseph to celebrate the release of her new novel, Where You Can Find Me. The event was sponsored by the Georgia Center for … Continue reading
Some of my favorite writers will be teaching workshops this coming October at Tomales Bay–Pam Houston, Ron Carlson, Antonya Nelson, Cheryl Strayed, Fenton Johnson, and Carl Phillips. Writing By Writers is hosting six workshops October 16-20, 2013 at the Marconi … Continue reading
In A.M. Homes’ recent novel, May We Be Forgiven, in the middle of a psychiatrist-monitored game of puppets between two adults, Harold and his locked-up brother George, the following excerpts from page 174 are separated by white space: We’re loading our … Continue reading
Thrilled to have a craft essay in the new issue of Brevity, which includes fifteen brief wonderful essays by Sven Birkerts, Brian Doyle, Robin Hemley, David Jauss, Thomas Larson, and more. Plus other craft essays by Philip Graham and Mary Clearman … Continue reading
Well there’s a big question… And I belong to a big family–this month we have four weddings–a godson, two nieces, and a son–and Christmas. Still I want to take time out to begin (yes I just mean begin) again to … Continue reading
Christine Schutt Florida debut novel Harcourt/A Harvest Book paperback 2004 On structure echoing content: Nothing then, nothing held its shape but blew away. (52) Dear Alice, you don’t have to tell the whole story. (79) On the structure: 4 parts with … Continue reading
Paul Lisicky The Burning House Etruscan Press paperback 2011 . On smell: …her hair, which smelled of grapefruit and smoke. (35) Practical, pleasant smells came off her skin: vaporizer, toothpaste, Vaseline Intensive Care. (43) I loved their smells: laundry soap, … Continue reading
One of the things I’m learning from my photo journal and from writing is how many different ways there are of seeing a thing. Seeing comes before words. –John Berger Ways of Seeing From inside: From outside: Through a stormy … Continue reading
Richard Russo Straight Man Vintage paperback 1997 . On Super Dialogue (of which Russo is a master): (“as if” and other ways to give your dialogue more power) “that would be illegal,” Teddy said, but his voice didn’t fall quite right, … Continue reading
Ann Patchett State of Wonder Harper hardback 2011 . On beginnings: “The news of Anders Eckman’s death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and … Continue reading
I am reading, reading, reading. Finished a book last night and, with no had-to-reads awaiting, I chose four, thick paperbacks (all given to me by friends) from my to-be-read stack. Two I discarded easily based on subject matter–generally not interested … Continue reading
Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale Anchor paperback 1998 (1st pub 1985) On moving in and out of the present action: Frowning, she tears out three tokens and hands them to me. [13 paragraphs of backstory and interior monologue] I take … Continue reading
Really? you might be thinking. More on The Forgotten Waltz? Yes, there’s more.
Consider the following:
…there was no doubt that we felt easier about the world, for the fact that our father was no longer in it. We loved him, of course, but we both knew that life was simpler now that he was dead and he wasn’t coming back.
Now with Enright’s voice and detail:
…there was no doubt that we felt easier about the world, for the fact that our father was no longer in it. We loved him, of course, but we both knew that life was simpler now that he wasn’t just ‘out,’ or ‘late,’ or even ‘gone on a wander,’ but definitely and definitively dead, dead, dead. No coming back. No late-night key scratching for the lock. (115)
And there’s more, but I think we’ll stop there. Next post, something else.
Anne Enright The Forgotten Waltz Norton hardback 2011 On chronology: Still, I can’t be too bothered here, with chronology. The idea that if you tell it, one thing after another, then everything will make sense. (55) On how to write … Continue reading
If you were to ask me to recommend a novel written in the first person, I would say Anne Enright’s The Gathering. I’ve read it twice and I’m thinking about reading it again. But I just finished her most recent novel, The Forgotten Waltz, and although I didn’t like it as much, in some ways, it makes better or more use of the powers of the first person, in particular unreliability.
In an interview in The Paris Review, Enright says:
The wonderful thing about this kind of unreliability is that it reflects the unreliability of our own narratives about our own lives.
Gina Moynihan is the kind of person who realizes what she’s saying in the saying of it. And I think many of us are similar. Until you start articulating something, you don’t quite know what it is, and you don’t see the mistakes or flaws in your own argument until they’re in the air. She’s in the process of realizing what she’s saying, in the process of realizing what she knows or what she has refused to know–that’s the journey of the novel.
From Gina in The Forgotten Waltz:
But it was the first time I had said the words out loud, and it might have been true all along but it became properly true then. True like something you have discovered. (157)
Two other things. One of my favorite lines ever, which now makes me look at birds in a new way:
I think how kissing is such an extravagance of nature. Like birdsong; heartfelt and lovely beyond any possible usefulness. (81)
Finally, writer Hermione Lee wrote a dead-on but spoiler review in The Guardian, which includes this great summary of some of the wine lines to be enjoyed in The Forgotten Waltz:
They measure out their lives in large glasses of imported wine: there’s the phase of being “mad into chardonnay”, the “sauvignon blanc” years of happy marriage, alsace riesling as a spur to adultery, cracking open a “Loire white” as a reaction to bereavement.
So I started writing this post early this morning, then stopped to exercise and run some errands, and now it’s almost 3:00, and I have to leave my desk again. But I find I have still more to say about this novel. Until tomorrow…
New essay by Pam Houston–now up at Hunger Mountain. Here’s the first paragraph: When I was four years old my father lost his job. We were living in Trenton, New Jersey at the time, where he had lived most of … Continue reading
I want to slow things down. I was planning on writing a post on several stories in Alan Heathcock‘s debut collection, Volt, but I think I’ll just look at the first story. “The Staying Freight”–I love the title–was first published … Continue reading
In a stack of books I wanted to write about, I found Elizabeth Strout’s Amy & Isabelle that I reread in November of 2010–almost a year ago. (I really should clean out my study more often–yes, I’m still going–down to one laundry basket.)
I had marked four passages with red flags and two with sticky notes (that had nothing written on them). I can’t remember if the different way I marked the passages meant something. In any event, two of the red flags marked ways that Strout expressed an emotion in a character through action and without naming the emotion:
In the girls’ room she wrote an obscenity on the wall. She had never written anything on a wall before, and as the pen made gritty, wobbly lines, she felt an affinity for whoever it was that had vandalized the gym the year before, as though she were capable of breaking windows now herself, this one right here in the bathroom with wet snow sticking to its pane. (31)
And the second:
“Amy?” she called, unlocking the door. “Amy?” Where are you? She dropped her keys on the kitchen table and the sound was brief, immense.
She switched on the light. “Amy?”
Into the living room; switching on the light there. “Amy?”
She went from room to room, light switch to light switch, up the stairs. “Amy?” (76)
In this second example, there’s one more paragraph, and then Strout writes, “And now she felt hysterical.” Only after the reader experiences the mounting tension of fear does Strout add another layer, naming the way fear was making her character feel.
So much to learn from this book. So much to enjoy in reading it.