Bacopa Literary Review

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Describing a Scene

by Bacopa Literary Review Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie 

Selected Passages from the Writings of Good, and Sometimes Great Writers

[description of a ritual butcher in a Ukrainian shtetl, inspecting the lungs of a cow or sheep he has butchered] "The glossy brownish organs . . . . the grotesque and otherworldly things that made life possible and which everyone -- from a mouse to a man -- had pumping and sloshing around in the dark hollows under his skin" (David Bezmozgis, The Free World).

"Her light-brown hair was drawn smoothly back and gathered in a knot low on her neck, but near the right temple a single lock fell loose and curling, not far from the place where an odd little vein branched across one well-marked eyebrow, pale blue and sickly amid all that pure, well-nigh transparent spotlessness. That little blue vein above the eye dominated quite painfully the whole fine oval of the face" (Thomas Mann, "Tristan"). [Mann is great at describing human faces, human bodies.]

[description of a delicatessen] "there were glass showcases where smoked mackerel, lampreys, flounders, and eels were displayed on platters to tempt the appetite. There were dishes of Italian salad, crayfish spreading their claws on blocks of ice, sprats pressed flat and gleaming goldenly from open boxes; choice fruits -- garden strawberries and grapes as beautiful as though they had come from the Promised Land; rows of sardine tins and those fascinating little white earthenware jars of caviar and foie gras . . . " (Thomas Mann, Felix Krull) [Mann is also great at describing a scene by accumulating masses of detail; in this he reminds me of Nikolai Gogol.]

"She'd never met a child with beady eyes. Beadiness arrives after long slow ekes of disappointment, usually in middle age" (Lauren Groff, "For the God of Love, for the Love of God").  

 

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