The Killer Angels

June 17, 2013

“What a piece of work is man…in action how like and angel…well, boy if he is an angel he’s sure a murdering angel.” —Michael Shaara

A quick note.

On the front lines of The Killer Angels. A fine book about the Battle of Gettysburg. I have a new found appreciation for the horrors and complexities of war. And the complexities of motivation, too. A convoluted affair, the Civil War.

Despite that, the aesthetics of Shaara’s novel is a reminder that syntactical simplicity is powerful a tool for rendering action.

I’ve always been a fan of stylistic fragments. Here, they reach minimalistic perfection.

“Then he saw the Rebs,” is good, but grammar is still intact. A rule is still present. Not so in the din of battle where rules break down and orders are tough to follow.

Sat down on a rock.
A flank attack.
Never to withdraw.

Three fragments, three paragraphs — mimicking the staccato of gun fire. Boom. Boom. Boom.

Here’s another instance:

Dirt and leaves in his mouth. Rolling over…. Said something. Noise to great to hear. Turned. Fire slowing.

One of my favorite techniques is when Shaara leads with a verb to create a distinct action within a larger set of actions that threaten to overwhelm it. Quick, pin it to the page before it’s gone!

Saw: A red flag, down in the smoke and dark.

Speaking of verbs, Shaara puts them to fine use the good, old-fashioned way, too. Military commanders “gloom” and “brood” while artillery “blooms” and “blossoms.”

Thought: time to return to the front lines. (Cheers?)