Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When a little says a lot

Anyone who's ever talked with me (or perhaps even read this blog) is aware that brevity is not my strong suit.  I tend to use a lot of parentheses and ellipses and dashes.  It takes a lot of words to get across what I mean, and I want to make sure that the emotional import of my message is adequately conveyed.  To do that, I try to explain things over and over and around and through, and every other possible direction...or, perhaps I just don't edit myself very well.  I'm at least aware enough to recognize that I don't necessarily add any meaning or emotional heft to what I'm saying just by virtue of being wordy.  Hemingway once wrote a six-word story to win a bet, and he ended up calling it his greatest work ever: "For sale: Baby shoes.  Never worn."  (Okay, even just typing that, I felt a little sad...well done, Mr. Hemingway.)

The Lover's Dictionary, written by author David Levithan, covers the entire arc of a relationship in brief, personalized dictionary-style entries.  Levithan, who's best known for YA books like Nick and Norah's Infinite Wisdom and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (both worth a read, if you haven't already) had a decades-long tradition of writing books for friends on Valentine's Day.  When he realized he was only two weeks away from that date in 2009, he decided to use random words and fit the story to then.  I was intrigued by the concept of using words in a relationship-specific way to then define the relationship.  Because this couple's arc is presented alphabetically, not chronologically, the reader is taken through a wild array of emotions in a seemingly unrelated jumble.  The affection, the anger, the delight, the love, the heartbreaking, and the heartbroken moments are all tossed together in a melange of emotion.  And yet, it works, and Levithan managed to create a sense of linearity of emotion, if not time.  Entries like "obstinate, adj. Sometimes it becomes a contest: Which is more stubborn, the love or the two arguing people caught within it?" speak volumes about the the relationship and the couple's within it that is fraught with drama (incidentally, the definition of 'fraught" is wrenching).  Others, like "yearning, n. and adj. At the core of this desire is the belief that everything can be perfect." hold a sense of hope and, well...yearning.   The end result is an emotionally complex book that somehow seems greater than the sum of its words.

Fair warning: if you like your endings clear and wrapped up, it might not be the book for you.  However, if you like your books original, creative, emotionally charged, and pithy, give it a try. 


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