Sunday, March 1, 2009

Heel or Ball?

I'm reading Joan Silber's Ideas of Heaven for Imad's 20th Century Fiction class right now, and boy is it good. It's easy to write about children's books and sound smart, but national book award finalists... The one smart thing I have to say is that some people's prose is leisurely, like it walks on its heels. This book definitely gets up on the balls. When I ran track in high school we started every practice with a warm up mile, ran as a team. After I started to place in events, I tried taking some tips from the fastest kid on our squad- he said he ran the entire warm up on the balls of his feet. Just thinking about it now seems like another lifetime, but if you're going to write a "ring of stories," a ring resembling a track, you could do worse than to get the prose up on the balls of its feet.

I think of other books that do this-Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones comes shooting out of the blocks and then it hunkers back on its heels for a long distance jaunt through the lives of the characters affected by Susie Salmon's murder. I think the secret to writing this way is to know exactly what it is you're writing and writing it-the heck with suspense. It's weird how doing away with suspense can be even more gripping than stringing the reader along, but sometimes mazes get boring. It's really hard to go through a maze on the balls of your feet. You'll, no doubt, end up crashing into something.

Maybe it's because Ideas of Heaven is an assigned text that I am enjoying the quick pace. I tend to read assigned books quickly (probably the wrong way to do it), searching for something that grabs me on a human level as opposed to a craft level. Normally I like laid back in prose and in life-it's why I take baths instead of showers if I have the time, and it's why, most of the time, I walk on my heels. I can do laid back if it's an audiobook- something that I'm going to have to spend a month with while driving in to school- something parceled out in hour segments. I did Gone With the Wind this way and it took about three and a half months. I just finished Jodie Picoult's Nineteen Minutes this way-with that book I think I would have been tempted to put it down if it had been in my hands, but having the audio there pacing right along despite my shouts of "Are you serious!" and "Come on!" (what normal people probably holler at the referee while watching sports on TV). I enjoyed the story-it was better than the alternative-radio talk, or songs I have already digested into nothingness-but it didn't impress me on a sentence level.

The only audio book that engaged me enough to pop out of the car stereo and bring inside to finish was Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing. That story has suspense and beautiful sentences; it's not told in a breakneck fashion, and the chapters are rather long if I remember, but it hit all the right buttons. Kid + wolf = interest.

I suppose I could ask you out there, oh imaginary audience, what you prefer in terms of the speed with which a story is told, or whether, if the story is good, it even matters.

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