May 3, 2011

Voices in My Head

Evan Fallenberg's When We Danced on Water, my favorite book so far in 2011—and my first Desert Isle Keeper in more than half a year, will be published later this month. It's terrific for a lot of reasons, chief among them its elegant prose.

Those of you who've known me online for long know that I often point out bad prose—hence a decade of the Purple Prose Parody Contest. It's less often that I talk about prose in a positive sense. When I do, it's generally to compliment spare prose, as I've done with other DIKs, such as Paulo Coelho's The Fifth Mountain, or overall spareness, both in prose and plot, as with Mary Balogh. Fallenberg's writing isn't so much spare as it is precise. Coelho's writing packs an emotional punch because the prose itself is so spare. Balogh's emotional success comes from the all-round spareness. It is Fallenberg's precision that works so well in this book because it allows him a tremendous fluidity, like Baryshnikov flying across a stage.

The book features an 85-year-old choreographer, so indulge my using that as a metaphor for Fallenberg's writing. Just as a choreographer can capture the fluidity and emotionality of a piece of music and dance, so does this author. Just as a dance features moments of different tempos and varies in boldness and strength, so does Fallenberg write with a pin-point focus, creating a similar fluidity and elegance.

In a couple of scenes his lead character explains how he sees and feels music in his head. While a beautiful concept, it did not fit my experience of music. I wanted needed to understand it better because it was conveyed with such beauty. As music is so integral to his being, I read those passages aloud to my husband, who seemed surprised when I asked if he understood what Fallenberg's character was trying to explain. "Of course," he said matter-of-factly, as though everybody experienced music in that way.

It's been quite awhile since we had that conversation, but it wasn't until recently that I realized he sees music...and when I'm reading, I hear dialog. I hear dialect, voice inflection, even timbre. I don't listen to audiobooks because hearing someone else voice characters interferes with my experience of hearing them in my head.

Among the reasons I so love Eve Dallas' Roarke is that his voice is so clear in my head, particularly when he jokes with Eve or croons sweet nothing to her in that yummy Irish brogue. And when he speaks Gaelic in moments of pure passion, I'm a goner. When a poster to yesterday's piece for H&H objected to a similar speech cadence in Roberts/Robb's writing, I had to sit back and think about whether I'd ever noticed that. I haven't, but I'll start paying attention. That said, though, some of her most vibrant characters are those with accents, so perhaps there's something to her criticism.

What about you? Do you experience music, art, or books in an unusual way?


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