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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Atticus Lish's style

Read further, and this time more attentively, in Atticus Lish's Preparation for the Next Life - I think it engaged my close attention more as I moved forward in section one because the plot such as it is began to cohere - the first 50 pages or so were "just" (I put that in quotes because each passage was a tour de force) the back story on two at that point unrelated characters: Chinese immigrant Qou Lei and Iraq war vet Brad Skinner. As one would expect, the two meet and begin dating and become a couple - two lost souls, each struggling to make a new life in NYC, and whose weaknesses and character flaws will, it seems doom one or both. They're living in a tough, competitive world, they're living on the edge, and neither has a good job or a job at all, despite Qou's grit and Skinner's access if he wants it to various social services esp for veterans, both seem on the verge of alcoholism or other abuse. What's so powerful throughout the first 100 pages or so is Lish's writing, which I noted in yesterday's post - but I'm looking now a little more at what makes his writing strong. First of all he acute powers of observation - whether from experience, memory, or imagination it's hard to say and doesn't really matter, but through attention to the thousands of details that comprise our world he brings to life a wide variety of settings and situations - a Queens Asian market and enclave, a crappy basement apartment on Long Island, a women's detention center, Times Square at night, a military ambush in Iraq, many more. Sometimes his passages seem like poetry, without being archly poetic - reminding me of the accumulated details in journal poetry, such as Whitman, Ginsberg, Snyder. But I think the greatest influence is Hemingway. His style is surprisingly simple and straightforward - not the convoluted beauty of Proust, but simple declarative sentences, not a lot of clauses or introductory phrases: a textbook lesson in some the key principles in the great Elements of Style, notably "Writer with nouns and verbs" and "Avoid the passive voice."

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