From Christopher Beuhlman’s Those Across the River:
I went for a walk. The tree shadows stretched long and fingerlike on the dirt road that led into Whitbrow as the last light of the day spilled from the west. The few houses that lined the road were really little better than shacks, but even they looked worthy of portraiture with that amber glow washing over their pine-board and tin. Sometimes a dog would bark. Sometimes a face would appear and then recede behind the mosquito screen of a window. Once, a bony hand struck a match whose jab of flame then twinned itself on the wick of an oil lamp.
This chapter opening starts with a rather brittle phrase and then relaxes, a bit, but the lack of human contact for this character makes the atmosphere tense even though his activity, walking in the evening, might normally be thought of as relaxing.
I’ve missed out on a week of Exquisite Wordage, and blogging generally, for a few reasons: my site picked up a little malware, for one thing and had to be vigorously scrubbed. Mostly, though, I’ve been focusing on my current batch of writing students and my own work in progress.
I hope to ease into being chatty again in September. In the meantime, here’s a bit from Richard Rayner’s A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.’s Scandalous Coming of Age:
Throughout this astonishing period, L.A. was the fastest-growing city in the world. In America only San Francisco had ever grown so fast, during the years of the Gold Rush following 1849. But by the 1920s, San Francisco’s boom was long done. New York, Boston and even Chicago had never known an explosion like the one that was happening in L.A. Every working day throughout the 1920s, builders started more than fifty new homes. Each week a new hotel went up. The year 1923 alone saw the construction of 800 office buildings, 400 industrial buildings, 150 schools, 130 warehousees, 700 apartment buildings, and more than 25,000 single dwellings. Property prices doubled, tripled, quadrupled, eventually rising sixfold through the decade. The city began to spread, amoeba-like, in search f its suburbs, although in those days L.A. still meant downtown, thriving with business and residences.
You can almost see this happening in a black and white time-release photo kind of way, can’t you?
Or this, where I quote Rayner quoting Chandler:
In this defeated atmosphere, the expressionless blue of the sky and the unchanging rhythm of perfect days taht followed each other one after the other added to the melancholy. “Outside the bright gardens had a haunted look, as though wild eyes were watching me from behind the bushes, as though the sunshine itself had a mysterious something in the light,” wrote Raymond Chandler.
The opening of Breakfast with the Ones You Love by Eliot Fintushel is a hard-working bit of prose: it establishes the narrator as young and female while also raising lots of curiosity. It’s a terrific hook for a terrific book.
If you want to be safe, a person like myself, you have to kill your face. Otherwise people get their hooks in you, which, who needs it? I already killed my face by the age of twelve. Problem is, my tits invaded. I tried not eating, which I hear stops tits in their tracks, but I couldn’t keep it up. In spite of everything, there is something in you that wants to keep you alive. It’s like a disease that you just can’t shake, no matter how hard you try. At least you can kill your face, see? Me, I can kill people too. I can kill them whenever I want to.
Punchy, mmm? Here’s the cover:
It’s the humor, the voice, and the way he reminds me of Doug Lain. Every spring, I made noises about getting my license, and I checked out the websites of local driving schools, which as a species embodied the most retrograde web design on the internet, real Galapagos stuff replete with frenetic logos and fonts they didn’t make any more, the HTML flourishes of the previous century. How could I give my money to a business with so incompetent a portal?
From part one of Occasional Dispatches from the Republic of Anhedonia, by Colson Whitehead
This is one of my favorite paragraphs: the build is inexorable, and the way the rhythm breaks from a one-two-three cadence into a very musical crescendo of imagery midway through really works for me.
The difference between a bad sushi joint and a good sushi joint is: at a good sushi joint the sweetness of the sushi doesn’t challenge the taste of the fish. The difference between a good sushi joint and a very good sushi joint is: at a very good sushi joint the sweetness of the sushi doesn’t challenge the taste of the fish, and the fish is very good. The difference between a very good sushi joint and a great sushi joint is: at a great sushi joint the sweetness of the sushi doesn’t challenge the taste of the fish, the fish is excellent, and, piece after piece — sushi should never be served more than one piece at a time; each piece should come freshly made directly from the chef’s hands to you — the meal unfolds in a concert of many varied tastes, some delicate and some strong, all in a sequence of subtle harmony and balance that leaves you exquisitely satisfied…
— If you Knew Sushi, by Nick Tosches (Vanity Fair, June 2007)