Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Doesn't Everybody?

I'm currently reading a bedroom book, two living room books (fiction & non), a stack of literary mags, a classic we read aloud every evening and a novel for our literature class a poetry book or two in between. They have a way of running into each other or eclipses the other.

It's not so much the clash between poetry and prose or history and fiction; it's the writing styles themselves and the universe they inhabit.

I'm not so sure I subscribe to the paradigm of the left brain not on speaking terms with the right brain. I trust in my bridges and canals shooting across the hemispheres. The writing about Alexander Humboldt can be as imaginative as a magical realist. There's a good deal of connective tissue between Whitman and Thoreau.

To the extent that reading is a creative act I give myself over to the language itself, whatever name it goes by. However I have had a tough time moving from Robert Penn Warren's, All The King's Men to Kazuo Ishiguro's, A Pale View Of Hills. Maybe it's generational or simply the gulf between two pre-eminent writers.

Warren's narrative is three times longer with lengthy digressions and passages that could stand alone as lyrical poetry. He explores the inner life of his characters through the unreliable narrator who is a key player himself. The words that come of their mouths feel conversational.

The Ishiguro story is also told by an unreliable source who has a decidedly pale view of her own story. The language is spare with scenes presented like brush stroke Japanese paintings. It is as if the book is what remained after hundreds of pages of manuscript were pared down to a gesture here, a change of a pronoun there. The dialog is stilted to the point that nobody seems quite real. It is told as blurry memory, deliberately withheld against a background of the Nagasaki bombing.

The one book is capacious and the characters concrete; the other is pinched and spectral. Bookended as these two have been I found the corridor between them a difficult crossing but the reward was worth the effort. The lesson for me is allowing sufficient interval after finishing one before immersion in the other.

It's not unlike the spell a movie casts when those words, The End flash on the screen.The credits roll and the crowd is filing out while I'm still humming the theme music. As I make my way I'm noticing how the lobby is lit and angled and the montage of candy counter, posters and faces in the crowd scene.

I have no memory of getting home having already started to shoot my own movie with images uncontained even on the big screen. Good thing they did away with double features. 

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