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)