Thursday, August 03, 2006

Everyone's Pretty by Lydia Millet

When I read Millet's novel Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, I commented that it reminded me of DeLillo some. When I read this novel, it reminded me of John Kennedy Toole (Confederacy of Dunces) some. Which is not to say that Millet pilfers her voice from other writers, but rather that I think I can pick out her influences and it's interesting to me that they are two quite different writers, but two male writers that are taken quite seriously by the academy etc etc and not the kind of influence that you most often see in a woman writer (if I may generalize a little)...and I like that.

Everyone's Pretty is full of strange characters behaving badly and is written largely in scene with dialogue that you probably won't hear on the street (it's stylized, it's weird, it's very very crisp and funny) and as a whole it didn't have the breadth and depth of Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, but I certainly enjoyed it. What struck me most though was how willing Millet is to change her style from work to work. Some writers take on different characters from piece to piece but their voice remains quite similar (think Hemingway, Salinger, Austen, Ishiguro, Irving or REM, if you want a musical example, though I must admit I haven't heard them lately) and a seemingly much smaller number of writers embrace totally different styles and voices from book to book (Jane Smiley... um, I'm sure there are others). I tend to fall into the second camp--I like trying on voices--but I wonder if the more I write the less this will be so. I remember Russell Banks telling me once that I should experiment while I was young before I got boxed into what I (and possibly others) thought was my style. At the time, he had just finished The Sweet Hereafter which was starting to move away from his style (Contintental Drift, Affliction) and then he busted out Rule of the Bone and Cloudsplitter, which took his thematic interests but changed the voice and strucutre and scope of his past work really drastically, and I think allowed for some of his best work. So maybe that feeling of being boxed in gets uncomfortable and even limiting after awhile. If you write enough books that is...

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