Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hypnotized by Wordcraft: National Treasures by Charles McLeod

Charles McLeod's short story collection National Treasures (so quietly released last fall by a tiny whisper of a small press, Outpost 19) has the kind of prose that could easily fill an entire year's worth of The Quivering Pen's Sunday Sentence series.  It was all I could do to limit myself to just two.

But now that I have the space of an entire review in which to stretch myself, I'll unload a few more on you.
The air in Orleans is sewn tight with mist.

Our landlord is a large, creamy man whose bald head and small features give him the look of a boiled egg.

Crumpler had a tire iron and wasn’t calming down.

McLeod writes of residents on the lunatic fringe: young male escorts, an Amish boy on rumspringa, a man who puts his life up for sale on eBay.  These characters are steeped in the tar and nicotine of Raymond Carver, and bathed in the crackerjack wisdom of Flannery O’Connor.  The "life on eBay" story ("National Treasures") is especially well-done--one of the finest in an already-fine collection.

I was so impressed (and quite a bit jealous) of McLeod’s seemingly effortless control of sentences, the pacing and the startling reveal of surprises.  Let's just say I spent the entire book hypnotized by McLeod’s wordcraft.

He does handicap himself somewhat by putting a challenging story, "Edge Boys," at the start.  The writing is beautiful, but, damn, it's like a series of tumbles down a long staircase.  So if you are put off by breathless, pages-long sentences, just hang on, they get shorter after that first story.  But even in the huge chunks of text in "Edge Boys," McLeod demonstrates tight control over those sentences.

And what beautiful sentences they are.  Consider this from "Individualized Altimetry of Stripes": "The first snowfall will feel like soft electricity."  Or this description of Ludd, one of the book’s scarier creatures in "The State Bird of Minnesota": "He was bearded and awkward, an oaf of a man, but in the water he was something to look at."  And a few pages later, talking about that same character: "His teeth were a mess, not aware of each other; they sprung from his gums at all angles."

I could go on and on, but I'll stop now.  You've got other things to do.  Like going out and buying yourself a copy of National Treasures.

No comments:

Post a Comment