Therese’s recent post about why books do or don’t “do it for us” made me think about my own reading. I read widely in both fiction and non-fiction because I’m interested and because I look for techniques that can be used in my romance writing. I can usually pick out some small interesting facet to keep me reading most books, but I must admit that very few books truly excite me. Why is this? Sometimes it’s the subject matter that I’m interested in, but the truly exciting books have a great quality of writing.
The last book that awed me was the short story (in a stand-alone edition) of Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain. In analyzing why the writing so excited me, it was two things:
(1) She has enormous empathy for her characters and makes me feel it. On the second page, we’re introduced to two very real cowboys:
Both high school dropout country boys with no prospects, brought up to hard work and privation, both rough-mannered, rough-spoken, inured to the stoic life.
After Ennis gets married, the details couldn’t be richer:
Their daughter was born and their bedroom was full of the smell of old blood and milk and baby shit, and the sounds were of squalling and sucking and Alma’s sleepy groans, all reassuring of fecundity and life’s continuance to one who worked with livestock.
(2) The writing is never predictable or boring. As one reviewer wrote, “Every single sentence surprises and delights and just bowls you over.” Here are some examples:
It would be Jack Twist’s second summer on the mountain, Ennis’s first. Neither of them was twenty.
Ennis, riding against the wind back to the sheep in the treacherous, drunken light, throught he’d never had such a good time, felt he could paw the white out of the moon.
We can feel the first honest love scene without any lavendar cliches:
Ennis jerked his hand away as though he’d touched fire, got to his knees, unbuckled his belt, shoved his pants down, hauled Jack onto all fours and, with the help of the clear slick and a little spit, entered him, nothing he’d done before but no instruction manual needed.
And the deep POV about the pathos of their doomed love affair makes me feel like crying:
Later, that dozy embrace solidified in his memory as the single moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives. Nothing marred it. . . And maybe, he thought, they’d never got much farther than that. Let be, let be.
To me, this is great writing — true art. Few books have it. I can only hope to strive to write like this, always failing, always inspired, always admiring.