Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sin by Josephine Hart

Well, this was a silly little book. A book that treats writing like Juliet Binoche treats acting. That is to say, with a lot of insubstantial intensity, and mystic eyes. You can read Sin in a sitting, and get up feeling pensive, taciturn, and violent. Or you can read it in little chunks over a period of weeks, while you're giving your children a bath, like I did, and every time you open the book you have to remember how serious life is, how morbid, how dire, how dramatic. How everyone uses small sentences, and feels things deeply, so deeply.

I read it before, years ago, and recently somehow via some used book shelf it came back into my life. The same edition too. Page 169 still seems to bear the blush of shame after my shuddering eye-roll. The last few lines:

These questions long engage me. Do you have answers? Please. Please, answer me.
Answer me, as I leave you now.
As I leave you.
As I leave.

The only work of fiction I've seen trying to end on an echo effect, like a power ballad from the 80s. If the ending seems unforgivable, you should know that there are other disastrous lines in the book too. Like this one:

Hours later, Dominick lay on top of me. And whispered love again. And again. Perhaps the music in his own head made him deaf to my silence.

"Deaf to my silence"? That's one of those lines that sounds complex and interesting, but in reality means nothing. Like Juliet Binoche again. She can be thinking of her grocery list, but as long as she fires up her "piercing depths" eye lock, you'd think she was decoding the fate of the world. Hart knows how to ratchet up the drama in the way a scene sounds, even if the plot is really a rather standard soap opera chain of events. Adultery, death, rivalry, hatred, love, etc. The pounding drum in the language, the constant syntactic reminders that This! Is! Dramatic! actually diffuse the drama from her character's troubles, much the way a soap opera's soundtrack can make light afternoon fare out of murder and betrayal.

I am simultaneously reading Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, and Sin does not bear up well in contrast, since McCourt's delivery of disaster and wretchedness is at low volume, with no fanfare, no sonorous words, no short sentences drifting off into black. Unfair comparison, maybe, but... still.



  1. Reminds me of an article I read several years ago in the Atlantic Monthly talking about the sad state of modern prose--that so many popular writers (Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, etc) use a lot of words to say nothing. Trying so hard to be deep and meaningful but instead just wasting space.

  2. I have never read any Annie Proulx, but I suppose I better. Seems like one of those writers I'm supposed to have read. :)

    Then I can formulate a negative opinion! Whee! ;D

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