Friday, February 22, 2013

The Little Words Can Throw You Too

I've been pondering since Claudia's last post, this idea of interrupted reading, of writing that throws the reader out of the story. We often talk about that as a flaw in the writing. But in this post (and my next couple) I'm trying to get a handle on throwing out that, in some writing at least, is just right.

Sometimes I'm reading a story and the writing is so _______, I just can't go on. And rather than the negative adjective that your brain may have supplied there, I'm thinking about when the writing is so beautiful or lyrical that I just need to stop and read the line again. Or when an author has chosen the absolutely perfect word to capture a feeling that is very hard to describe in words.

My most recent experience of the later example comes from Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, which I was reading when Claudia's blog went live.

Shevek has just landed on Urras, the lush planet from which his species evolved. Only he has never set foot on it. (Four? Six?) generations ago a dissident group of Urrasti emigrated to Urras's desert moon, Anarres. There has been next to no communication between the two civilizations since that time.  He is surrounded by photographers. Le Guin writes:

"The men around him urged him forward. He was bourne off to the waiting limousine, eminently photographic to the last because of his height, his long hair, and the strange look of grief and recognition on his face."

The strange look of grief and recognition.

Reading these words I was instantly there with Shevek, perhaps I was Shevek just a little bit. Here I am, standing for the first time on the planet from which my deepest ancestors evolved. I have the eyes I do, the skin, the perceptions, my entire body and likely a good portion of my mind, all of these are the way they are because my species came to be, here. Right here. And I have been separated from my body's truest home my entire life. I am for the first time smelling the trees, feeling the winds, seeing the colors of the sky, being embraced by the world that made me the sort of being I am.

Grief. Recognition.

With just those two words, Le Guin captured for me the ephemeral of coming home to a place that one does not know.

Grief. Recognition.

And I cannot read on, because I want to sit with that complicated emotional state awhile. And layered in that state is something more, is awe. My appreciation of Le Guin's ability to do this to me. How not only has she nailed it in two words, she's also given the sentence a meter that moves you to those two words and punctuates them. And again I just need some time.

And as I savor the moment, more layers stack up. Recognition. Grief. Recognition of writing at its best. Grief that I am nowhere even close to that ability.



Qlaudie said...

I love, love, love those moments in reading. And like you, hope to achieve more and more of them in my writing as I progress.
Great post.

Jon said...

Great post, Lisa. I love those moments when you have to stop and just kind of dwell on the perfectly worded moment. It's really nice when you're going back over something you wrote awhile back and discover one you had forgotten you had written and you have to pat yourself on the back and go "Good job me."

Ann said...

So here I am in Tenerife on Christmas Eve, googling grief recognition and wondering if anyone else felt the same as I did reading them for the first time 40 years ago... thank you...