I have been known to rave on and on about a book I have read without actually being able to retell the story. I think rather than point to my obvious crazy, this instead points to my deep, deep love of words.
I marvel at the talent some people have for telling an entire story, or revealing an entire character in one descriptive sentence or a short snippet of dialogue. Some people can just make words dance and I am forever in awe of that skill.
Recently, our library had a used books sale and since most everything was one dollar I gave us all permission to spend even though we’re mostly keeping our money tightly in our pockets these days. The result was that I came home with a bag of books that I may not have paid full price for but that I was none-the-less excited to dive into.
Yesterday I found myself with an uninterupted train ride so I started the book Olive Kitteridge. I didn’t know much about it so I had no expectations. Instantly, I was sucked in, not because of the story, but because of the wonder of words. The author is so fantastic that she at first has you thinking she has a simple style with sentences such as:
“The pharmacy was a small two-story building attached to another building that housed separately a hardware store and a small grocery.”
then you realize she is using that style and its quick cadence to paint you a picture of her ordinary lead guy.
“Each morning Henry parked in the back by the large metal bins, and then entered the pharmacy’s back door, and went about switching on the lights, turning up the thermostat, or, if it was summer, getting the fans going.”
Can’t you see it? Can’t you almost picture Henry puttering through his store every single morning bringing himself peace by completing this daily ritual? It’s magic how with such simple words and rather plain descriptions she presents an exacting picture of not just the man’s tasks, but the man’s state of mind. She could run the risk of getting monotonous if she kept up that point by point description, but never-fear, she knows just when to shut it off in favor of shorter sentences that add story-bulk because of word choice, not word number.
And how about revealing through dialogue? She does that too!
“Mousy”, his wife said, when he hired the new girl. “Looks just like a mouse.”
“But a cute mouse.”
“No one’s cute who can’t stand up straight.”
That’s Olive, that title character and you know right away this no nonsense woman will suffer no fools, especially her husband Henry.
How about the other Henry? Oh, yeah, there are two. The Cute Mouse’s Husband is also name Henry.
He’s described as this:
The young man was vigorous and sturdy-featured with a light in his eye that seemed to lend a flickering resplendence to his decent, ordinary face.
I mean, I’m speechless. First, who describes someone as vigorous? And yet, I can instantly picture what that means. Also, a “flickering resplendence to his decent, ordinary face?” C’mon, you know you have this movie-cast already don’t you?
She just knows. She knows the words to pick. She knows the words to pair. She knows the words to speed through and those to keep short and simple. She doesn’t even tell the story. She just knows how to put together the words to tell the story all by themselves.
Ah, in the right person’s hands, there is no shortness of wonder in words. Long or short, big or small, resplendent or ordinary, when used well, words are full of wonder.
If you’re like me and you have a favorite passage, or even just a sentence that has given you cause for wonder, leave it for us in the comments below. One can never have enough lovely words in their day.
Disclosure: I bought this book myself and have no reason to write about it other than it captivated me. All lines in italics (except these) are taken from the book by Elizabeth Strout. You can find Olive Kitteridge here. (Affiliate link.)