I kind of feel like a fraud writing this. Full disclosure: before beginning my writing program last fall, I hadn’t taken an English or literature class since 1995, and that was high school (I tested out of college English). So I feel a little silly trying to write in a scholarly way about something I’m reading, because I’m ridiculously out of practice. And I’m sure that there was a lot of information covered in college lit and writing classes, and I’m just now playing catch-up.
Anyway, I’m just going to write this in typical Mandy fashion, with honesty, humor, and not too many technical terms. And I’ll probably use too many adverbs.
So… even though I said in my earlier post that I could skip around in This is PUSH if I wanted to, I started with the first two pieces anyway, like a good little sheep.
The book opens with a creative nonfiction story called “The Lost Chapter,” by Eireann Corrigan. Corrigan wrote a poetry memoir called You Remind Me of You, which deals with her ex-boyfriend Daniel’s attempted suicide. I haven’t read You Remind Me of You, but I was able to glean enough of the story by reading “The Lost Chapter,” which addresses Jim, the guy she was dating at the time Daniel shot himself.
The tragic thing is that Jim died in a car accident not long after they broke up (which happened soon after Daniel’s attempted suicide). “The Lost Chapter” is an apology of sorts to Jim, because Corrigan gave him such a bit part in her memoir, even going so far as to change his name to Ben. The story packs a huge emotional wallop, especially for a reader unfamiliar with Corrigan’s poetry memoir (which I now want to read).
Corrigan uses a specific pattern in many of her sentences: groups of three. Consider her contrast between the two boys (all italics are mine): “Daniel, the kid I wrote most of my poems about was in college and on acid and generally unavailable. And this guy had even bluer eyes and wrote poems and went to Rutgers nearby.” And more about Jim: “My parents approved of him so intensely that they moved my curfew back an hour, even though he had hair to his shoulders and drove a red sports car and my brother said he looked like smoked weed. This pattern repeats again and again throughout the piece, and to me, the pattern gives the story a very rhythmic quality.
I guess it’s no surprise that a poet’s creative nonfiction would have a rhythmic, lyrical quality. She often writes in incomplete sentences (clauses, really), a trait that I share with her. For example, “We used to tell ourselves that we at least owed it to Jim to love each other hard and well, as if that would somehow make it worth the world losing him. But of course it couldn’t. Not even on the planet of the most selfish. Not even on the ninth moon of the most careless.”
I was pleasantly surprised by this piece, and it was so heartfelt and moving that even I was crying a little bit by the end.
So I wiped my eyes and went on to the next piece, the eagerly-awaited Marcus Zusak story “The First Six Killers.” Readers, I loved it. It’s a strange, quirky little story about Henry, a young guy who digs graves and plays the flute, and Aretha, the girl he grows to love. And of course, being Zusak, it’s rather dark. I won’t tell you the whole story, because you should just go read it. Right now.
Zusak is apparently a huge fan of simile, and he employs it so well. His narrator, Henry Shipps, on himself: “I have a face like darkness. I have a smile like an uncomfortable tide.” And on his mother and father: “Arnold Shipps also has a darkness face, but he has a smile like a shoulder. Zelda shipps has red hair. Her face is white and a little bit grey, like the clouds.”
What is “a smile like a shoulder” anyway?
- “My voice sounds like a crooked trolley”
- “I am like a rainy day”
- “The funeral was like a merry-go-round. The people circled the grave.”
And my favorite example: “The trees of the cemetery are also too big. Their shade is like voices. When it’s windy it’s like they’re clearing their throats.” Later he says, “We stood there, the girl and me. We stood amongst the voice shadows, the graves and the cooling tears on her face.” I love that he took a simile (their shade is like voices) and turned it into a noun (voice shadows).
His metaphors are particularly fun. Take this passage:
“Saturday is routine, like this:
My alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m.
My cornflakes are earthquakes in the still of the morning.
I brush my teeth.
I go to work.”
I believe I actually gasped a little when I read that. Henry’s morning ritual… mundane, mundane, amazing metaphor, mundane, mundane. I love it.
Beyond just similes and metaphors, Zusak’s masterful imagery is all over this piece.
- “Later, though, her voice gave me a cracked mouth and a dry riverbed throat.”
- “I only looked down at my grave digging shirt. Right down the middle of it, there was a staircase of blood.”
- “I was in the supermarket and there was a small girl with crinkle-cut hair, a smile like a toy, and cheeks filled with artificial cherry coloring.”
Reading work like this has made me realize how much lyricism and imagery is still missing from my own work (this is a good observation for me to make!). You know, I feel like making a shirt that proclaims how much of a Marcus Zusak fangirl I’ve become.
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