An old column where I take a paragraph and examine it in whatever detail I choose. Today I’m taking two paragraphs because I can.
He sighed, and then looked into my eyes, seeming to forget the road completely for a time. Whatever he saw there must have encouraged him. He looked into the sun – the light of the setting orb glittered off his skin in ruby-tinged sparkles – and spoke.
“I was born in Chicago in 1902.” He paused and glanced at me from the corner of his eyes. My face was carefully unsurprised, patient for the rest. He smiled a tiny smile and continued. “Carlisle found me in a hospital in the summer of 1918. I was seventeen, and dying of the Spanish influenza.”
You’ve probably guessed which book I’m taking these from. What’s likely to have helped is the photo at the top of the page. Potentially helped, I mean…
Let’s have a look at the first paragraph. I totally object to anyone looking away from the road while driving. I do not look at my passengers if I can help it. And if he’s looked away from the road for as long as it feels then there’s an accident waiting to happen. I understand he has stupidly fast reflexes, but even accidents can happen.
What did he see in her eyes? Why couldn’t she just say ‘I tried to be encouraging’? She must have some idea of what he saw in her eyes, she’s trying to put some emotion into them.
This last sentence is pretentious. ‘The light of the setting orb’. This whole sentence could be reworded to sound far less pretentious. My suggestion is ‘He looked into the sun which glittered off his skin’. I’m not convinced whether we need to be told he spoke as there are open quotation marks at the beginning of the next paragraph. If I was editing this I’d be hesitating whether to suggest removing those words ‘…and he spoke.’
From one paragraph to the next he’s gone from looking into her eyes to glancing at her from the corner of his eyes. I don’t understand why he’s changed from a solid look to a glance. Not necessarily something to be edited out, but something that I just don’t understand.
And she was ‘carefully unsurprised’. In other words, she’s being very careful to contain any emotion. And that’s fine, but with something like that I would have expected it to be explained at some later point. I don’t recall this happening, and I’ll come back to this shortly.
The last sentence floored me a little. I didn’t notice it when I first read it but reading it again now I’m in a different place. If this book were being written now I’d be encouraging the author to make more of the Spanish Flu in 1918. It is so topical. I write as a potential second wave of COVID19 runs through Melbourne where I live.
If you know me then you’ll remember I recently finished a BA majoring in writing. We studied this book during one of my units. The choice of words, the storyline…in fact, most of the book did not please me. I won’t complain too much, suffice to say it took me ages to get through the book and I only managed because three of us met frequently and read it aloud. Not the entire book. We read some aloud, then made a pact to read to a certain page before the next time. It helped.