Monday, June 13, 2005

Flutter, flutter

Both Julie and Annie honed in on the somewhat derogatory "feathery adjectives" reference that Christine Schutt made in the interview with Deborah Solomon and it got me thinking about my affection for a little fluttery prose. (Don't you just love Solomon's irreverent statement about the washing machine? I do.) I have Schutt's book out of the library now and I'll post my impressions of her prose style soon--my sense was that she was trying to describe how her prose is "muscular" and masculine and not at all "girly."

Well, "manly man" prose may be what she appreciates, but I like a little feathery fluttering. True, sloppy use of adjectives can be nauseating but when I think about the writers who take my breath away, they are most often very lyrical and know how to employ their adjectives to the best effect. Particular books/authors that fit this category and come to mind include: Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy, Jane Mendelsohn's I Was Ameila Earhart, and pretty much anything by Michael Ondaatje.
In the case of Hansen and Mendelsohn I think they pull it off because both authors know how to keep their paragraphs short. I would find their prose overwhelming and too much to absorb if they were long-paragraph writers like Henry James. But they know how to break up images, moments and dialogue so that the fragments are like vivid bursts of light. And they trust their readers to be able to put the pieces together into a coherent image.

Michael Ondaatje seems to be able to do the short fragment style (like in The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and Coming Through Slaughter) and more leisurely, longer lyrical paragraphs (like in In the Skin of a Lion and The English Patient.) But then, I think that Ondaatje is a magician--I'll go wherever he takes me whether it be a short, choppy jog or a long, slow meander.

So, who are your favorite "lyrical" authors? Any thoughts on how they pull it off?


Anonymous said...

To not really answer your question:

The only, inadequate way I can describe how a certain book pulls me in is the way (or whether) it accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish. Which is different each time. It can be beautiful language and artful scene organization (as in "Mariette in Ecstasy"). It can be what the writer chooses to dramatize and chooses to leave out and how those choices put pressure on each other. Tobias Wolff's prose could never be described as lyrical, it could actually be describe as lean, but the accumulation of it has a way of sneaking up on you so that, by the end, an enormous emotional experience has been had without your quite realizing it. I have no idea how he does that. I love Tobias Wolff.

Anyway, I guess in the end I just want to feel that I'm in capable hands.

Amie said...

A friend recommended Anne Morrow Lindbergh to me and I've found her writings to put me in a trance - they are magical and lyrical. They beg to be read out loud (I am in radio, so maybe it just feeds my desire to speak as much as my desire to hear)

It's almost as if she's so present in the moments she's describing that she's not writing, but thinking a stream-of-consciousness... that's not it exactly, but the closest I can come to describing. It feels like she's in a trance of reminiscence, and that puts me in one too...