Wednesday, 16 April 2014

In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen


He told him this: how as a boy fugitive on a scorched day of wartime, crossing the railroad yards of some defeated city, he is drawn closer by a twitching in the shadow under the last boxcar in a transport shunted off onto a siding.

This opening line of a short one-paragraph prologue is intentionally abstruse I fear. The pronouns, the indefinite articles and indefinite pronoun all contribute to a prologue that needs a preface. It's as if a fog is slowly lifting from the novel.

I assume this has the weather opening cliche in scorched day, unless that means something else. I can't tell; it could mean many different things.

At the end of the day, when all is said and written, the use of rich language shunts off with a scorched shadow of twitching pretension. Though well written, it makes no sense to use pronouns at the beginning like: He told him... Who told who? It's a cheap way to raise a question, and not a question about story conflict but a basic question like what the heck is happening to who - I no good understand. What follows is a little weird, almost like a dream of something twitching in a shadow, a tentacle like a thin tongue and other similes. The emphasis of this opening is obviously on language and vocabulary, which distracts the reader from the story, which is smothered by a writer high on words from sniffing too many newly pressed dictionaries, I imagine.

Chapter 1:

He has flown all night over the ocean from the New World, descending from moon stare and the rigid stars into the murk and tumult of inversion shrouding winter Poland.

What the hell does that last part mean - into the murk and tumult of inversion shrouding winter Poland? I suppose I could stop reading and spend some a few seconds contemplating it, but talk about pulling a reader out of the story. This is, like, so totally overwritten, you know. Can it be any more ambiguous? It's more poetry than prose. I can just imagine the crowd who loves this stuff gathered in their hemp sweaters around their herbal teas in university library cafeterias planning their next protest to ban wooden toothpicks and stroking their chins, snickering at the rest of us meat-eating morons with brains rotting from too much TV as we struggle to grasp the deeper social and philosophical ramifications of Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss.

First thing said:

"Like black icicles!"

The first thing said is a simile? Even the characters are poets.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

I give this a 2.5 stars for all those artistic-fartistic wordsmiths out there. There is a place for this style of writing, but not on my bookshelf.

Theodore Moracht

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