Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Power of Detail

Currently I am reading the new novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. This powerful novel is set in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Chechnya and Marra proves a master at conveying the confusing, hopeless, and devastating atmosphere of the post-Soviet satellite. For years I have been trying to teach young writers about the power of detail, or what I always referred to, like my teacher before me--Don Murray--"the revealing specific." Marra clearly understands this power. Here is just a little taste from early in the novel to show what I mean:
The nationalized bus line no longer ran routes into Chechnya, but after she had waited for an hour in a three-person line, a clerk directed her to a kiosk that sold lesbian porn, Ukrainian cigarettes, Air Supply cassettes, and tickets on a privately owned bus that made a weekly journey from North Ossetia to Chechnya.
How's that for a short list that defines a time and place?

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