clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Openings, openings, and a collaborator

This is my most important collaborator. I thought I should show what it takes to get through the lonely parts of writing.

We're in a sitting area between the entryway and the dining area in the picture. He's laying on me doing the unexpected for a foxhound : being the lapdog.

I'd be lost without him. He sits up at me when I work late in the library. The cat will sometimes come in and sit on a tufte; though, it really is Louis who waits until I'm done to go to bed with me.

Want to write ? Get a dog. The walks are good for both of you and the lonely parts are much more bearable when you hear a thumping tail.

Now that introductions are over - more openings.

  "The Other Place" Mary Gaitskill, _The New Yorker_.

My son, Douglas, loves to play with toy guns.
In this present society, "toy guns" catches the attention. The sentence otherwise doesn't do much for me but let me know a mother is the narrator and I'll not read the rest. Personal bias.  The fault would be mine. The paragraph continues and grows until I too am pulled into the story. Departing from my rule, I'm going to show how she takes this rather maternally intoned line and turns it into something even a jaded and hard Grizzly can enjoy. More :

He is thirteen. He loves video games in which people get killed. He loves violence on TV, especially if it is funny. How did this happen ? The way everything does, of course. One thing follows another, naturally.

The pulling phrase here is that ending : "naturally." It seems poetic to me to insert that comma. Read the two lines with and without the comma setting off the restrictive modifier :

One thing follows another naturally.

One thing follows another, naturally.

The word naturally in the second acts as an in-line aside. It is an offhanded commentary by the narrator that has a profoundly humanizing effect on me. The narrator becomes someone I know in that one detail and not merely a toneless voice hoping I follow the narration as a hopeless sheep wandering in the night wondering WTF? I'm still wondering WTF?, but I keep reading because the narrator is a character now.

I also suspect there is real violence in this and I am ready to taste it. I've heard the sizzle.

Am I wrong here ? Tell me.

"North Country" Roxane Gay, _Hobart_

I have moved to the edge of the world for two years.
The "edge of the world" is mildly interesting and "for two years" implies a potential for return. Where is this ? What does the narrator consider "end of the world."  Is this Alistair MacLean and _Ice Station Zebra_ ? I must read on (despite being in _Hobart_ which sometimes has stories I do not understand). Alas, it does not involve submarines. It does involve some submarine races but that doesn't interest me as much. I'm not the target audience. Good story, though.. Great narrative style. Ms. Gay has the ability to hold the reader through a  narrator's even keel voice. I learned from this one.

It is a little sad to read a story I don't particularly like and see the writing is far better executed than what I can do on my best day. You can see I was impressed.

"Paramour" Jennifer Haigh, _Ploughshares_.

The tribute was held downtown, far away from the theater district.

 I was drawn to the word "tribute" and the pairing of "away from" and "theater district." The spacial relationship and the reference to the theater district (and drama) had me interested. I liked the language of "tribute" rather than "memorial service" or "celebration of life" or anything else. I liked the word choice and will offer it is the perfect choice for this story. I wanted to read through the rest of it immediately after the next line as well.

Christine crossed the street gingerly, on four-inch heels thin as pencils - Ivan had always loved women in high heels - and checked the address against the invitation in her purse.
I was interested in Ivan, the past tense, and the fact Christine would chose an item of clothing because it had been an attraction of Ivan's. Having a woman dress for a man rather than for other women was an immediate  annunciator of some interest. That is not a normal bit of character development to be cast away meaninglessly for style like a "blue hat" on a woman in  a Chandler story.

Finally, a little summary observation.

All of these openings were good. A couple required the context of the next sentence to sharpen their meaning - even the rest of the paragraph in the case of  "The Other Place." However, they're good. The beginning really begins with something of interest even if it isn't an industrial strength hook.

Now, I'm going to attribute this "soft hook" to the selection by Tom Perrotta of stories that spend a little bit setting context for us. We are not plunged into WTF? land of action without some context of what we're doing here or who is speaking. We know something right off the bad. We don't start by seeing a gun flash, hear a scream, and then the roar of an engine only to have the narrator introduce himself with the mutter of a gutter curse.

Oh - you haven't read that one yet ? You must have missed attending a workshop. Someone always has that one (I haven't been to Tin House or Breadloaf. They might not have that there. No - I won't take the bet. Coitus as a starting scene does just about as much and you and I would argue if it counted against the bet).

Just to show Mr. Perrotta has a sense of style even in my referenced staid selection, he departs with "Miracle Polish" by Steven Millhauser from _The New Yorker_. The opening sentence is a rambling 96 words. I'm not going to say it is essential to the story that this rambling be the opening. However, it works. The story too is very good. Reading it was tedious at time because of the narrator but the story is very good and worth the effort.

Lastly, these are my observations. They're not criticisms. I've read the whole assortment and learned from them all. I'm glad I bought the anthology. I'm grateful to all of the authors.

Now, off to walk Louis in the dark before working on the slow demise of some abandoned fishermen. His tail is thumping.

No comments: