Instead of reading Little, Big a third time, which I’ll happily do in the future, I focused my attention on the first book, chapter one. Guess what I discovered? The novel starts in the early summer, not in the fall. There are no autumnal tints on the leaves, no dry rustlings on the ground, and no autumnal scents in the air, either. But I did discover a few clues to Crowley’s wonder-wielding powers. Like all good magic tricks, they allow readers to see a lot more than is actually there. Autumns instead of summers, for instance.
Here’s the opening passage.
On a certain day in June, 19—, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but had never visited. His name was Smoky Barnable, and he was going to Edgewood to get married; the fact that he walked and didn’t ride was one of the conditions placed on his coming there
That’s a nice, pleasant passage, isn’t it, like daydreaming while reading. Because I don’t know the proper terms of literary analysis, I’ll speak with complete and utter confidence about matters of which I have little or no understanding. Granted, it’s not as hip and cool as “Mitchell’s prolapsed arm,” but it’ll do. I give you: the “smudge,” and I count six instances of a Crowleyian smudge in the passage above.
First, there’s the ellipsis in the date, “19—.” Of course there’s a big difference between 1901 and partying like it’s 1999. By smudging out these decades, the reader is permitted the freedom to create open-ended expectations about the cultural and technical milieu of the fictional world he’s just entered. There’s the “City.” It could be San Francisco or New York or London—or none of them. The use of a title case noun, moreover, confers a kind of über albeit hazy significance to Smoky’s point of departure, and allows Crowley to name it without identifying it. Of course, there’ s the name “Smoky,” a wonderfully descriptive smudge, suggesting weightlessness, insubstantiality, and evanescence. We can see in him a young man or a ghost or a chap in search of an identity. Next, there’s a “town or place.” While a town is always a place, a place isn’t always a town. My backyard is a place. So which is it? A town or a place? Is the “or” a conjunction or a disjunction, or maybe a little bit of both, depending on how you want to look at it. Smudge. Then there’s “Edgewood,” which unlike “City” is identified by descriptively naming it, a lot like “Smoky.” As readers learn fairly quickly, Edgewood is a place (or a town) of edges, boundaries, and thresholds, a place near a wood where transitions happen. The fabular is right there, just beyond the edge that separates this side from that, here from there. Lastly, there’s the condition that’s placed on Smoky’s arrival, the fact that he walks and doesn’t ride (a skateboard, a bike, a moped, a car, a bus?). This final smudge, like a penumbra, invests the passage with a wavering sense of the irreal or mystical or prophetic.
Care to share your take on mood in Crowley? Please. I’m all ears.