Stat Counter

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Farewell to Arms

A subtle, almost unnoticeable technique in this work (1929, Scribners) is his practice of describing mundane objects with great precision and intensity--a block of cheese, a bottle of wine, the wine's tastes exhaustively reflected upon--and then describing events of maximum importance in a curt, non-dramatic, matter-of-fact manner--for instance the moment when Signor Tenente, justifiably, shoots the deserter in the back, the verisimilitude rising from the fact that shocking, life-shattering events, in the moment, are almost always non-verbal in nature. After saying "Halt" to the backs of two soldiers under his command going AWOL:

"I order you to halt," I called. They went a little faster. I opened up my holster, took the pistol, aimed at the one who had talked the most, and fired. I missed and they both started to run. I shot three times and dropped one. The other went through the hedge and was out of sight.

But the simplicity of the language sometimes goes too far. Consider the following descriptive sentence:

It was a clean little town and there was a fountain in the square.

Sounds like a second-grader wrote it, no?

Here's another contra-Proustian observation, of another town:

It was a nice-looking little town. There were many fishing boats along the quay and nets were spread on racks.

(Cf. Krapp's Last Tape for a memorable incident occurring in a boat along a quay, most def.)

Or this painfully generic description of nurse:

I heard the door open and looked and it was a nurse. She looked young and pretty.

But this is abominable nitpicking. This is a wonderful book and to die without having read it is unthinkable for anyone who loves to read.

It is said books matter because they can change a life. This would be awesome power, and it is wholly unregulated.

Cover illustration by Cathie Bleck. Cover design by Mary Schuck.

No comments: