Wednesday, September 20, 2006

RfP Wednesday -- More Quindlen

I'm still plugging away on One True Thing, by Anna Quindlen. I am beginning to realize that one of the things that makes it better than the movie is that Quindlen is a truly superior writer. She has a rare knack for telling a lot with a little detail.

Here's an example. The novel is about her and her family as her mother dies of cancer. Her father is rather remote, but the strain of the events manages to show. Quindlen writes
My father, before he went to work, had been merely distracted; his hair was awry, and there was a spot of blood on his collar to match the nick on the underside of his chin. All the lines on his face looked deeper, as though he'd had a bad portrait done, or an unforgiving black-and-white photograph.

A lesser writer could have written three times as much without creating as clear a picture.

Another. Ellen and her father are having lunch out together.
The waiter took our order, and there was a long silence broken by the sound of someone in the kitchen throwing pots and pans around in a fit of temper or extraordinary clumsiness.

How incredibly she sets the scene there. By focussing our attention on an inappropriate detail, she communicates the awkwardness of the moment without having to mention it.

OK, one more, and then you have to read the book yourself. She's talking about how awkward it is to meet friends who never come around, now that her mother is sick. She'd meet them in a store and they'd make small talk and say that they had been meaning to come for a visit.
Another small spark of anger would flare in my chest, then die through lack of oxygen...

Man, does that communicate Ellen's emotions. How raw she is, but how consumed by fatigue, literally too tired to be angry.

So one of the reasons that this book is going slowly (besides simply having less time for reading any more) is that I'm not just reading it to find out what happens. The plot is not extraordinary, and anyway, I know it from the movie. Rather, I'm savoring the storytelling. I sometimes read a long passage over, not because I didn't get it, but because it's so marvelous that I just want to experience it again.