Thursday, May 27, 2021

Get to the Point


Raymond Chandler is responsible for my interest in writing. (Yes, it’s his fault.) I’d loved private eye stories for years, but Chandler made me think this was something I’d like to try; level of accomplishment didn’t enter into it. The early Nick Forte books owe a lot to Philip Marlowe.


As I age, though, I find I am not as entertained by Chandler’s work as I used to be, though my appreciation remains solid. This is probably Dashiell Hammett’s fault. Or George V. Higgins’s. Elmore Leonard. Ed McBain. I love the use of language as much as ever, probably even more. What I appreciate is getting to the point.


Recent readings of Chandler find my eye skipping down the page during some of the longer descriptions. True, I’ve read them all before, but there was a time when I’d linger over even a re-reading just to let the words spend more time in my head. Now I want the author to get on with it.


That’s not to say I no longer care about style or a well-turned phrase, only that I am no longer interested in either of those things for their own sake. They need to serve the story. It’s hard to create vivid images in as few words as possible. That’s what makes it worth doing and separates the excellent from the good, and the great from the merely excellent.


Which brings us to Daniel Woodrell. I read Under the Bright Lights a few weeks ago, and his ability to exercise economy in language while still provoking me to re-read sentences just for the joy or hearing them in my head again is unsurpassed. One that sticks out is from a description of a daylight shooting on a side street, after which a character “watched people pour toward Seventh Street like a fistful of BBs down a funnel.” There are others, but that one sums up the essence of Woodrell’s craft as well as any. (His art is a topic for another day.)


I read Winter’s Bone several years ago and still remember his description of people who worked from “can till can’t” and a father who doctors “didn’t think would live the night until he did.” His humor is also dry, and funny, while still remaining on point. I never feel as though he cuts anything short. It’s exactly enough for his style and purpose.


The best art is often that which does the least to draw attention to itself. It does not demand appreciation; it makes itself available to be appreciated. Much of the beauty lies in a willingness to remain unnoticed, or at least under-noticed. Woodrell’s not unknown; neither does he attract the attention of others I could name but will not so as not to seem as if I am denigrating their work. I suspect that’s all right with him. It is with me.

No comments: