Thursday, June 2, 2016

Close Reading 1

Zestful Blog Post #163

His mother peers out over his head to the end of the walk, where his father is waiting for him. Good-by, good-by!—until tonight he is off with his father, the whole week has exploded white-hot on Saturday morning, and not even his mother's worried angry kiss can distract him. Out there his father is waiting with his hands on his hips, a man. Yes, he is coming!

That is the second paragraph of "Wild Saturday," a short story by Joyce Carol Oates, one of my literary heroes. It was first published in the September, 1970 issue of, unbelievably now, Mademoiselle magazine. Oates had burst on the literary scene as a very young woman, and won the National Book Award with her novel THEM in the same year this story was published. She was 32.

When one reads for pleasure, whether one is a writer or not, the way to learn from another author is to ask, always, these two questions: What is really going on? What am I being told or shown?

What's so special about that paragraph from Oates's story? Nothing and everything. It shows us a young boy being handed off from Custody Mom to Weekend Dad. The breakup of the marriage was acrimonious. How do we know this? If we're paying close attention, we notice that the parents are so estranged that Dad doesn't even come up to the front door to greet his ex-wife and collect his son. Is he afraid, ashamed, a wuss? These questions might crop up in our readerly minds. And as we read further, we might be on the lookout for answers.

If we hadn't caught any significance to dad-on-sidewalk, we're told more by the mother's "worried angry kiss." Yes, the dad could be a little leery of his ex's suspicion and fury, which is perhaps well justified. We might already be developing a feeling of uh-oh.

Because "the week has exploded white-hot" just now, and the mom evidently has reason to be worried because this isn't the first time the boy has gone off with his father on the weekend. We know this because the situation is presented as if routine, not the first time.

And because this is the beginning of a story, we know we're going to get a story, and the title of the story has the word 'wild' in it, and we know that the author is Joyce Carol Oates, and because we know her, we know that this will almost certainly be a harrowing, spellbinding trip—especially if we read it with fine attention.

That is how good authors work: with economy and attention to every detail, to make the most of every word. Do you like this? I'd like to do more of these if you think it would be interesting/helpful. To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

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  1. Is it wrong I get terribly excited when the blog update E-mail arrives? I truly love reading them.

  2. It's very helpful. Thanks for another great tip.

  3. Happy sigh. Yeah, not my genre, but still.

    Just finished a trilogy wherein I watched a young writer go from stumbling, occasionally brilliant to totally brilliant. It's absolutely exhilarating, watching that path develop.

    And as a result, now am re-reading, as a writer, not reader. When it's good, there's now way to escape the dream.

  4. Yes -- more Close Reading.
    ;-) Lori

  5. Boyd, Bev, Cordia, and Lori, thanks so much for stopping in. Your comments are much appreciated! More Close Reading will happen...

    1. Yes,I would love more close reading blog posts. I skim past many email newsletters, but alway stop and open yours. Thanks!

    2. Yes,I would love more close reading blog posts. I skim past many email newsletters, but alway stop and open yours. Thanks!

  6. Laney, great to get your vote/s too! Thanks for voicing your opinion, and I'm mighty glad this blog is enjoyable for you.


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