I second that emotion

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.

6 thoughts on “I second that emotion

  1. I read ‘Amy and Isabelle’ one cold rainy weekend in the throes of studying mother/teenage daughter relationships in literature. I felt so much affinity with both points of view. The first passage you site reveals a great deal about the action/interior relationship in character and in so few words. I read this book before I gave myself permission to fill in the margins with my own reflections. Time to pick it up again and thanks for reminding me of this wonderful novel.


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