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17007Re: [mythsoc] Paul Park -- and Keith Donohue

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  • David Bratman
    Sep 26, 2006
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      At 11:30 PM 9/26/2006 -0400, David Emerson wrote:

      >The style may not be padded, but the plot sure is. Page after page passes
      >without any advancement in action or character development.

      This is something I've noticed a lot in run-of-the-mill fantasy and SF
      novels. About a third or a half of the way through, the action comes to a
      halt and the characters sit around for endless chapters twiddling their
      thumbs, waiting for the rest of the plot to show up. When it does, it's
      all in a rush at the end of the book.

      >Park's prose may be precise and economical, but I find it merely
      >serviceable, and hardly rich. Consider this randomly-chosen excerpt from A
      >"Captain Raevsky and his men had spent the night on the hill, waiting in the
      >bitter cold. They'd tried a different place on every night. Plans that had
      >been vague even in Bucharest were insufficient now, and if it weren't for
      >the presence of the house, he might not have known for sure that he was even
      >in the right locality. His men had taken shifts and been out every day and
      >night. It was too much to expect that they should find the right clearing,
      >and for a week now he'd been convinced he was on a wild donkey chase, until
      >he'd heard the boy screaming. Even then the echoes had confused him, and he
      >wasn't expecting a boy's voice -- just a girl's. Now they were paying for
      >his stupidity."
      >Perfectly adequate narration, but nothing special. And marred by the
      >triteness of "paying for his stupidity" and the jarring substitution of
      >"wild donkey chase" for "wild goose chase", as if he were trying to convince
      >us Raevsky is from a different world because he knows he's not getting that
      >point across any other way.

      My first question, which more context might render unnecessary, is, whose
      stupidity? Raevsky's or the boy's?

      >Now compare the preceding with the following excerpt from the next novel I
      >picked up, Keith Donohue's THE STOLEN CHILD:
      >"As the nights lengthened and grew colder, we exchanged our grass mats and
      >solitary beds for a heap of animal skins and stolen blankets. The twelve of
      >us slept together in a tangled clump. I rather enjoyed the comfort of the
      >situation, although most of my friends had foul breath or fetid odors about
      >them. Part of the reason must be the change in diet, from the bounty of
      >summer to the decay of late fall and the deprivation of winter. Several of
      >the poor creatures had been in the woods for so long that they had given up
      >all hope of human society."
      >Similar in that it's a passage without much action, mostly description, and
      >talking about people out in the cold forest. But Donohue's phrasing sings
      >where Park's plods.

      That is certainly readable, but the change in tense in the fourth sentence
      is a bit of a clang.

      >And I deliberately chose one of the least poetic passages I have come across
      >so far, of which there are many (and I'm only on chapter 5). Here's a
      >different passage that particularly impressed me:
      >"Mr. Martin may not have been a fairy, but he was very fey. Tall and thin,
      >his white hair long in a shaggy boy's cut, he wore a worn plum-colored suit.
      >Christopher Robin all grown up and gone to genteel seed. Behind him stood
      >the most beautiful machine I had ever seen. Lacquered to a high black
      >finish, the grand piano drew all of the vitality of the room toward its
      >propped-open lid. Those keys held in their serenity the possibility of every
      >beautiful sound."
      >The images explode into the brain. He makes a piano seem alive, and a person
      >seem like a myth. Donohue is someone I would refer to as a major stylist.

      I like the first and last sentences very much indeed, and the second
      matches the first for imagery. Except that "wore a worn" does not read
      aloud well, a lack I do not find desirable in major stylists. I've seen
      photos of Christopher Robin all grown up, and he was indeed tall(ish) and
      thin and gone to genteel seed, so that line produces about as firm a mental
      image as you're going to get. I'm not sure what I think of describing a
      piano with the word "machine" before you know it's a piano. My default
      image of "machine" is made of metal and covered with grease. A sudden
      shift follows for me there.

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