Pardon my language, but I couldn’t help it–I have a new love. Her name is Louise Erdrich and she is a master spinner of words. She won me over with her novel The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, which is about a strong woman bent on survival. As a woman in her twenties she turns herself into the Father Damien Modeste and lives on the reservation of Little No Horse till her/his death of old age. The story is captivating, but the writing is genius. It is sensual, gritty, romantic, living, energetic, human–all of the things you want writing to be.
The book I am tucking into now, promises to be just as good. She makes me wince tragically real descriptions, and she makes it incredibly easy to fall in love with her broken and flawed characters. The Master Butchers Singing Club is full of history, following the journey of several individuals who have just come out of World War Two. It has been a whole since I have been truly struck by someone’s writing. I have been struck by plot-lines and the overall effect of a novel, but not the writing by itself. Here is a lovely paragraph, presented as proof of wonder:
They went back to the beer crates and lighted up. From behind, the house was so small and pathetic looking that it seemed impossible for it to harbor such a fierce animosity of odor. Long ago, Delphine had painted the doors and window frames blue because she’d heard that certain tribes believed that blue scared off ghosts. What she’d really wanted was a color to scare of drunks. But there wasn’t such a color. They came anyway, all through her childhood and on into her clever adolescence, during which she’d won a state spelling contest. Her winning word was syzygy. She spelled it on instinct and had to look the meaning up afterword.
I am in love. I don’t know what more you could want from an author. Louise has reminded me that every word is a choice, and no word is to small or trivial. Every word has the chance to change the trajectory of a sentence. Every word should pull its own weight. I am not going to go back through this post and quarrel with each word until I find the perfect ones, but it is something to keep in mind. I heard once that Herman Melville went through Moby Dick word for word until he felt it was perfect.
How many authors do that now? How many care enough? How many actually have the skill to do it? Or even the attention span?