In great film, a moment comes when the layers of our natural cynicism peel away until none is left; we cease trying to figure out what will happen next; we forget that people with clipboards and headsets are running around behind the camera ten feet away. We relax into our seats and give ourselves over to the writer, the director, the actors, to perform their magic, to take us anywhere they please because they have earned our trust, and we are happy to be along for the ride. In film, if it ever occurs, the process can take fifteen minutes.
With a book, it can happen in the first sentence, the first paragraph, that moment we let go and allow the storyteller to drive us anywhere, because we know that at the wheel we have a real writer. It’s the joy of reading. Here are four of my favorites:
Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky:
Soon before daybreak on my sixth birthday, my mother’s breathing wheezed more raggedly than ever, then quieted. And then stopped.
____The remembering begins out of that new silence. Through the time since, I reach back along my father’s tellings and around the urgings which would have me face about and forget, to feel into these oldest shadows for the first sudden edge of it all.
Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna:
Isla Pixol, Mexico, 1929
In the beginning were the howlers. They always commenced their bellowing in the first hour of dawn, just as the hem of the sky began to whiten.
Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News:
HERE is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.
____Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived child-hood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.
Jim Harrison’s Legends of the Fall:
You could not tell if you were a bird descending (and there was a bird descending, a vulture) if the naked man was dead or alive.
These sentences do not come easily. Or quickly. And I realize that most of us don’t have time to craft them in our report to the department, or our memorandum for a client, or our brief to the judge. But how inspiring to know it’s possible to do this with words. And that if we stretched just a little further in that direction, perhaps that report, that memorandum, that brief, might sing to our audience in a more memorable way.
WordRake will not help us find these words. But it will help us spot the words that get in their way, so we can remove them.