owl in winter

owl in winter

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Great Opening Lines

“She was trying to tell the joke right, but it was his joke and she had to keep checking with him.”

This is a great opening line by an unknown student, provided by a recent speaker at SWG. It is not my line, but I wish it was.

This particular line reminds me of John Updike, the master of middle-aged, middle-class pornography, and also one of my favorite writers. My mind sees a couple, married or not, but having been together a long time, and they are at a bar or a party, someplace where alcohol is being served. They are among friends, other married or nots. He is remote, distant; he’s lost interest in the relationship. He may have kindled an interest in someone else. Maybe she knows it, maybe she only suspects. I see him sort of slumped on a stool, hands hanging in his lap. I see her standing. She is desperate and loud. She wants his attention, she wants him to like her again, but she’s trying too hard. She attempts to tell a joke, but she can’t pull it off without his help and he shrugs and turns away. The joke isn’t humorous any more. Their friends catch a vibe from the couple, and they begin to make excuses to go home early. Later, at their own home, she is in tears. She becomes clutching. He pulls away, tells her she drank too much and he falls asleep.
She had to keep checking with him on the telling of the joke. Wow. What does that tell you? A relationship in turmoil, an end, what? How do you feel about it?
What are other great opening lines that you know?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Winter's Bone - Supporting Local Writers

I hope you will forgive the bone-chilling photograph. I did it on purpose, yes. Quite honestly, I thought to make a statement.
Daniel Woodrell, author of "Winter's Bone" was asked to explain his latest title. Simple, he replied. The winter part is obvious. The "bone" is slang. Sort of like, "hey give him a break (a bone)." Somehow, in this story, winter gave its heroine, Ree Dolly a bone, a gift, a break.

"Winter's Bone" is a stunningly austere portrait of life in the hard-scrabble Ozarks. It is a hauntingly original tale of stubborness and survival against odds so bleak, so nakedly bare in a winter storm, that the very idea of a break, a bone, a gift, seems completely out of the question.

Ree Dolly is sixteen years old as the story begins. She does not go to school; rather, is kept at home to care for her medically managed mother and her two little brothers. She is part of a huge clan living throughout the Ozarks, a clan of many names but tied together in blood. Her father, Jessup, a notorious "crank cook," disappears into the night and doesn't return. When Ree learns that Jessup not only skipped his court appearance but put the entire family farm up as bond, she goes in search of him. He must come back and fix this fiasco. It is only the grit and grace deep within Ree that keeps her alive as she searches through the Ozarks netherworlds for her missing father.

This is a serious page-turner, folks. It's rich. It's real, sometimes so profoundly real that it will cause you to shudder. It is not a long book by any means but it is a very, very good one. I will tell you, the conclusion is as satisfying as hot bread dripping with real butter.

Now, the photograph is cold, I will be the first to admit it. As I said before, I did it on purpose. Partly because Ree's story takes place in the winter, a particulary unforgiving season in the Ozarks. I also thought about, coming here so many years ago, I thought about the steeliness of the Ozark people, the strength of the clans, the steely cords holding them all together. That is what I was thinking of: steel. Silvery, grey, hard steel.

Ree is made of steel. You will not forget her easily.

Daniel Woodrell lives south of me, somewhere around West Plains, is what I am told. I have yet to find this elusive author who has treated me to such a profound vision of life in the rural Ozarks. However, I said all that to say this: support your local writers. Support them because, one day that could be you striving to push your laurels out there. Support them because, when you support your local writers, you are keeping your own dream alive. Quite frankly, why couldn't the next one out there be you? Think about it.