Brian Doyle – Mink River

mink

My sister sent me Brian Doyle’s Mink River as a birthday present, and I look forward to reading it fully. I started today, but didn’t get very far.

I began that read but was stopped immediately in my tracks. Heightened as I am by my recent anger at a teaching/modelling of writing as a bloated, overwrought linguistic process, I saw in the first few pages of this novel that gift of a ‘simple’ writing style. When I articulate next what I see in and mean by this, it will be evident how stylised it actually is, indeed complex in its artifice. But the use of long, rolling compound sentences, and a generally straightforward vocabulary are a part of its inherent simplicity. This is an ‘American’ style of writing, to simplify, and hardly original, but as with Hemingway and Chandler and Carver and McCarthy – in significantly different ways – the connective and becomes the most used word and you can’t easily teach the purposeful effectiveness of this but you can recommend reading it to experience that effectiveness.

Doyle has a style that breaks conventions – long broken, really; revels in the straightforwardness of language use, though employs a complex vocabulary, and indulges clever repetition for the impact this has when crafted rather than simply happening from poor judgement. These two paragraphs from the opening page illustrate aspects of what I am describing:

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Naturally, there is huge cleverness in the detail that is being connected in just these two paragraphs which generates so much of the reader’s engagement. I had meant to include above a subsequent paragraph that flows similarly in all respects, but then closes on the line I will type in now, one that also illustrates what I mean by Doyle’s use of a complex vocabulary:

 ….. – the kind of juxtaposition of things that painters like to paint for inchoate inarticulate unconscious reasons they can’t explain.

The next illustration is of two whole pages and demonstrates how Doyle’s breaking of convention and therefore invention propel his narrative with such energy. It engages because of the relentless pace, but also the fluency of its sentence structures – this very much an aural impact – and also its paradoxical mix of straightforwardness and then its more playful moments, like the repetitions in the third paragraph on the second page:

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That’s all I wanted to say and display at this moment. It should be clear that I am proposing how Doyle’s writing would be an excellent model to share with students [at GCSE/Key Stage 4] to introduce them to the meaningful possibilities of good writing, writing that has an integrity in both its honest simplicities but also highly contrived playing with this. And as I was writing this post – honestly – I had an email alert of a ‘popular in your network’ set of twitter posts, the first of which is this, from Michael Rosen: The simplest and best way to help children write is through investigating good writing – then mix imitation, adaptation, invention to write.

 

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