Sunday, October 29, 2006

Branwell by Douglas Martin

A fictionalized account of the Bronte brother that plays a clever twist on the more typical story of the underestimated female member of the family.

One of my MFA professors was the very talented Mark Richard, who had studied once upon a time under Gordon Lish. Apparently one of his favored editorial methods, adopted by Richard, was to cut out all the weaker lines leaving only the most language-oriented, punch-heavy sentences and creating a tight minimalist story with compelling lines. And the essence of the characters and plots was always still there. But the voice of each story, no matter who wrote it, often ended up sounding quite similar. And that voice is the voice of this novel. Very little introspection on the part of the individual characters, very little explanation on the point of the narrator, but very emotionally weighted lines. And if I hadn't seen the voice so often before I probably would have been more romanced by it. I appreciated the novel but kept thinking it all felt a little too familiar. Which led me to think about how definitions of genius (and even a FAU fellowship I recently applied for) always reference originality as a necessary criteria for quality. And I'm not totally convinced this is true. Originality alone definitely doesn't suggest quality, and plenty of writing that is traditional in style is tremendously moving. So why did it bug me that this voice didn't feel original? Perhaps because the novel (which I swear I enjoyed) seemed to be depending on voice more than it depended on character or plot of any other criteria, and the voice wasn't quite enough to carry it.

No comments: