Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Amalgamation Polka by Stephen Wright

Stephen Wright's novels are always extra-good at creating a vision of the world. I tend to read a lot of straightforward realism that create believable portraits of lives/places/times I haven't experienced. Certainly all of the civil war ficiton I've read has been in that vein. But in this novel, Wright (who up until now has written mostly Vietnam-related fiction) takes the events/feelings of the time and through precise word choice and some very peculiar characters (who all engage in sharp, stage-y dialogue) creates a vision that isn't exactly realistic but much more strange and disarming and therefore original. And he really does it all through style and tone. The events are not especially strange; it's the way that they're told.

An example: "One early evening in the late spring of Liberty's eleventh year, swallows playing tag over the peaks of the house, the limpid air marshaling objects near and far in sharply defined equidistance, cricket orchestra warming up in the dank pit under the front porch, Uncle Potter, who hadn't been seen by family, friend or local constabulary in more than a year and whose last known whereabouts involved a lengthy stroll down the Drummond Pike, a left at the North Fork and on about sixty miles past the border of Nowhere, came thundering into the dining parlor, per custom, unexpected, unannounced and in an inveterate state of personal and mental dishabille at the precise moment Aunt Aroline, with the fussy ceremony of an anxious chef, was depositing upon the loaded table a great pewter dish out of which rose a steaming citadel of beef and bone set amid a delightful enceinte of boiled "sauce"--potatoes, onions, beets and carrots chopped and sliced and compulsively aligned in an alternating pattern emphasizing their natural chromatic harmony.
'As usual, Potter.' Roxana smiled. 'I must applaud your theatrical sense of timing.'"

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