Thursday, November 23, 2006

Lionel Shriver on OJ Simpson

at the Guardian.

There's something about Shriver's writing that puts her on my very short list of favorites, the writers to whom I have a powerful and beyond-rational attachment that has something to do with a sort of aspirational identification rather than simple pleasure/bowled-over-ness (off the top of my head, this list includes Poppy Z. Brite, Jenny Diski and the late Heather Lewis; as opposed to writers whose stuff I'm obsessed with/admire/love but couldn't see myself writing anything like, let's say Jonathan Lethem or Kazuo Ishiguro--and no, it's not any kind of straightforward boys versus girls thing, Wayne Koestenbaum's on my aspirational/identification list for instance and Claire Messud on the other one). I think what I like is the way Shriver's strictly cerebral intelligence works like some kind of a weapon--it's not that she's not a good stylist, lots of her sentences are very striking (and the voice in We Need To Talk About Kevin is an amazing stylistic achievement), but if you visualize what she's up to you'd have to say she's working with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel. (When I was drafting Dynamite No. 1 I was picturing myself with a machete hacking a way through a dense field of some sugar-cane-like ten-foot-tall stuff, all you have to do is hack yourself the path through and you can worry later about cleaning it up--and even though it's back-breaking sweaty muscle-killing work you just keep in mind the clear view through that you'll have when you make it to the other side. Seriously, I always have very strong tactile relationships with my reading and writing, it's partly why I find both of those activities so satisfying--when I'm reading books for my academic writing it is virtually as though the quotations I will use float off the page at me in blocks of different-colored text, royal blue, say, rather than black--in this case the machete image was so strong that I could almost feel the work in my triceps, my phantom triceps.)

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