why dialogue fails miserably

January 23, 2014

Time to deliver on a promise, delayed as it might be. One last quick post on The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Emphasis on quick. The novel is pervaded by an atmosphere of desperation and loneliness, of mutual distrust and antagonism. People roam the streets untitledwithout satisfaction. An abiding theme of the novel is the total lack of belongingness. Because prattle, chit chat, and shooting the bull is how we connect with others, dialogue must fail in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter—and it does so spectacularly. A brute spills his guts to a deaf mute who doesn’t hear a blessed word; a troop of four visits another with comically subdued results, no one able to muster a sustained conversation, a stilted, uncomfortable affair; a boy filled with envy communicates his jealousy by way of accidentally shooting a girl in the face, leaving her with a bloodied, crumpled skull; and two men separated by race but bound by ideology bicker ceaselessly over tactics, till they stare each other down in bitter rage: “You short-sighted bigot!” “White! Fiend!” In The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, talking is a dangerous affair, a terrifying parody. A thought, a word, or a sentence might cut or kill you.

first one thing, then the other, and then one more thing

November 25, 2013

For the harried book lover who doesn’t know what to read next, I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to read The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. It’s one of the best novels I’ve read in the last decade. And I assure you, it has nothing to do with Greene’s Roman Catholicism, for which I have little or no sympathy. I’ll say something more about the novel after I stagger my way through a post or two on The Heart is the Lonely Hunter.

In the meantime, I want to apprise you of my current reading faire. Contrary to all expectations and everything I know about myself as a snooty, high-brow reader and could have reasonably predicted as little as a week ago, I’m embarked on Gone with the Wind. I don’t know what to make of this just yet. I was certainly discouraged by “pointed of chin,” “square of jaw,” “kind of heart,” and other stylistic tics. But I was pleasantly surprised by Mitchell’s deft handling of ecology, landscape and nature, at least in this passage: “Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills. Already the plowing was nearly finished, and the bloody glory of the sunset colored the fresh-cut furrows of red Georgia clay to even redder hues.”

“Frothing” is a perfect word choice, and the alliteration of “pink peach” and “dogwood dappling” isn’t half bad, either.

Most impressive, I’ve never seen a description of a sunset as a “bloody gory” mess, which strikes me as totally original. Am I mistaken? Anyhow, the jolting contrast, as we see between spring, which is supposed to be a time of fecundity and life, and the death and dying of the sun, continues in Mitchell’s description. “It was a savagely red land, blood-colored after rains…. It was a pleasant land of white houses, peaceful plowed fields and sluggish yellow rivers…, of brightest sun glare and densest shade.” Savage yet pleasant. Red yet white. Bright yet dark. These are fine stylistic touches in the run up to one of the most brutal and horrific contrasts of all, the impending Civil War.