February 8, 2012

Turn the Page

One month into my third semester, and I'm deep into the research for my critical essay. What is this critical essay, you ask? (Okay. Maybe you didn't ask, but I'm telling you anyway.) Simply put, it's an in-depth analysis of an author's body of work, focusing on an element of craft. (Terrifying, right?) Well, the hardest part so far was choosing an author.

Stacked at my bedside are the works of Cormac McCarthy:


In addition to these novels, I've found several dissertations, articles, and reviews that I plan to sift through in order to crank out this project. This term's reading list is not light, but it is fascinating.

After reading Child of God last term, I knew I had to read more. Lester Ballad is a gruesome main character, spun into a beautiful web of prose. McCarthy's writing is sparse - no frivolity in his words. Child of God twisted my stomach at times, but I couldn't put it down because of the author's gorgeous language. One of my favorite lines from the novel appears on page four: "Wasps pass through the laddered light from the barnslats in a succession of strobic moments, gold and trembling between black and black, like fireflies in the serried upper gloom." This line was so wonderful, so evocative, I read it over and over just for the sheer joy of hearing it aloud. It hooked me, and I had to turn the page. Since I'm editing my novel this term, I hope that McCarthy's genius will filter into my own work, if only a little. (A girl can dream!)

Why would I choose this author? McCarthy's characters are dark, unemotional, raw, and surprisingly beautiful. He weaves exquisite words around the darkest corners of human existence, shining light on worlds most of us would rather remain hidden, while instilling empathy the reader may not have been aware was possible. My protagonist is gritty, brazen, and sometimes quirky, facing an unforgiving world, (or at least I hope she is) and I'm working to craft my novel with a lyricism similar to McCarthy's style. In this way, I feel that studying his writing will help me in mine.

There are a few lines in my manuscript that I've come to love, though I'm sure they'll continue to evolve over time. Currently, a section in one of my chapters has the following excerpt:

     "Shadows of 1950s suburban development-houses crept over lawns as the truck passed. One-and-a-half story Capes, all white and close together, with two oak trees in the front yard, as if someone had cut the houses out like paper dolls; the shutter color the only thing telling owners which driveway to pull into."

Since I know there's more to a book than great sentences, I'm also working on making sure that I have enough of a hook at the beginning to keep readers turning the page. My first packet's feedback was wonderfully detailed and I'm excited to be elbow deep in editing again. I have a long road ahead of me, but here I go...

Do you have a favorite line from a novel or your own writing? Is there an author that's influenced you? What makes you turn the page?


I leave you with another musical snippet from Emily's day:

Turn the Page, performed by Metallica (cover)

10 comments:

  1. Cormac McCarthy thinks he's too cool for quotation marks. 'Nuff said.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Rob. Oddly, I didn't actually miss the quotation marks while reading the novel the first time. Only after someone pointed it out to me did I even notice he hadn't used them. I locked onto the rhythms of his writing and was in his characters minds while they were speaking.

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  2. First---When you are done with these, I want them all. I read All the Pretty Horses a few months ago, and decided I want to read pretty much all of the ones you have above. :) Second--When you finish all of that, get Desert Notes/River Notes by Barry Lopez. Craig Childs turned me on to that one, it's short and I've read it three times now. The writing is just beautiful.

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    1. Of course you can borrow them when I'm done. We should set up a book swap or something, haha. Thanks for the suggestion of Lopez, too. I'm going to check that out!

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  3. I know this isn't a popular position among academics, but I'm not much of a Cormac McCarty fan ... though that may be due to all the forced essays I had to write about his books as a lit major. My favorite author is Phillipa Gregory - love her historical fiction! My critical essay is on Joan Didion - she's got a lot of different stuff - essays, memoirs, novels. I'm enjoying getting to read some fiction.

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    1. I never had to read him before. I had picked up *The Road* years ago, and hadn't gotten around to it, but can't seem to get enough now. Glad to hear you're enjoying the critical essay author you've chosen!

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  4. Natalie, you write beautifully and make me want to read Cormac McCarthy. I have faith that you will come out with a book we'll all love.

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    1. Thanks, Beth! I have the same faith about your book! I can't wait to read more on Baghdad Beth. After Kelly's done, we can send the books your way. ;)

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  5. That's not an easy author you've chosen, but given your post, I'd say you'll do very well! All the best :)

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    1. It is going to be a challenge, but it wouldn't be worth it otherwise. Thanks for the well-wishes. :)

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