|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
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ClearA Transparent Novel
By Nicola Barker
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Nicola Barker
All right reserved.
I couldn't even begin to tell you why, exactly, but my head was suddenly buzzing with the opening few lines of Jack Schaefer's Shane (his 'Classic Novel of the American West'. Remember?). I was thinking how incredibly precise those first lines were, and yet how crazily effortless they seemed; Schaefer's style (his -- ahem -- 'voice'), so enviably understated, his artistic (if I may be so bold as to use this word, and so early in our acquaintance) 'vision' so totally (and I mean totally) unflinching.
'I have huge balls.'
That's what the text's shouting:
'I have huge balls, d'ya hear me? I have huge fucking balls, and I love them, and I have nothing else to prove here.'
The rest -- as they say -- is all gravy.
Because let's face it, when you've got balls that size, you automatically develop a strange kind of moral authority, a gung-ho-ness (for want of a better word), a special intellectual certainty, which is very, very seductive to all those tight-arsed and covetous Princess-Tiny-Meats out there (the Little-Balls, and the No-Balls -- Good God, let's not forget about them, eh?).
I don't make the rules, okay? I'm just a dispassionate observer of the Human Animal. If you feel the urge to argue this point (you're at perfect liberty to do so), then why not write a detailed letter to Ms Germaine Greer? (That's it, love, you run off and fetch your nice, green biro ... Yeah. And I'm sure she'd just love to read it, once she's finally finished rimming that gorgeous teenager ...)
Schaefer (to get back to my point), as a writer, simply jumps, feet-first, straight into the guts of the thing.
If I might just ... uh ... quote something, to try and illustrate (and this is entirely from memory, so bear with me) ...
'He rode into our Valley in the summer of '89. I was just a kid back then, barely as tall as our perimeter fence ...'
Yes. So that's a really (Ouch, no ... I mean a really) rough approximation of the original (I can't find my copy. And don't sue me, Jack, if you're still alive and misquotation is the one thing that keeps you up at night. Or -- worse still -- if you're some crusty bastard working in the copyright department of some big-ass publishers in Swindon who just loves to get his rocks off prosecuting over this kind of harmless, well-meaning shite: it's meant to be a tribute to the man, so will you maybe just cut me a little slack here?).
It's a rough approximation (as I believe I already emphasised), but I'm sure you get the gist of the thing ...
Let's cut it right back to the bone then, shall we?
He. Yeah? The first word: He. That's him. That's Shane: The Man.
Just a single, short breath into the narrative, and already he's here. He's arrived. It's Shane. He's standing right in front of us: completely (quite astonishingly) dimensional.
And in the second breath? (If you can just try and suppress your excitement for a minute.) In that second breath he's ... Oh. My. God. He's coming even closer.
He's almost on top of you now (Smell the warm leather of his chaps -- the sweat on his horse -- the grease in his gun-holster).
Uh, let's rewind for a moment: the second word (second word, right?) is 'rode'. He rode ... He rode ... (just in case some of you weren't keeping up).
'He rode into our valley ...'
He rode ...
And there you have it. In just two, short, superficially insignificant words, A Hero Is Born.
It's so fucking humbling.
Please (pretty please) don't let me harp on too long about all of this (because I will harp. Harping's my trademark) but what absolutely immaculate styling, eh?
(Give the man credit for it why don't you?
Stand up and take a bow!
Wow. He's certainly getting on a little now, isn't he?
And ... uh ... he's kind of wobbly on his ...
Can he ...?
Would you mind ...?
Is that his secretary, just next to him there?
Could she maybe ...? Yeah?
Well that's D that's good. Great ... Uh ...
Steady. Steady ...
Just look at the old dog -- look at him! -- lapping it all up.
And the audience?
On their feet. Waving their bic lighters, singeing their thumbnails. Stamping their feet. In a state of complete bloody ecstasy, and all because of just two simple words. That's two. Count 'em.)
You can't learn that stuff. No way. It's born (I'm serious. I should know). And you can call me naive (if you like. I'm man enough to take it), but I'm not seeing Schaefer (in my mind's eye), his head tilted on one side, his mouth gently gaping, his pencil cocked, taking detailed notes on 'structure' or 'the use of metaphor' at some cruddy creative writing seminar in some embarrassing further education college in the American Mid-West circa 1947. (Fuck off!)
Because this is no-frills writing at its very best. This is 'am-it', 'lived-it' stuff. Shane (yeah, remember him? He ...? He rode?) is the first person Schaefer mentions in the book; the first syllable, no less. And if I've got this right (and I'm fairly sure that I have ... Okay, bollocks, I know I have), then he's also the last. He's the last syllable.
(Cue music for The Twilight Zone.)
It can't be an accident! It just can't.
The novel ends on his name (this time, though, Shane is leaving, not arriving). The whole narrative essentially resounds to the rhythm of his name:
Shhhh-aaay-yne (Yeah. I think that works better phonetically, for some reason).
Please note -- the secret poets among you, especially -- that perfect hush in the first part of the word -- Shhhh! Be quiet! Someone important owns this name! Pay attention! Shhhh!
Excerpted from Clear by Nicola Barker Copyright © 2006 by Nicola Barker. Excerpted by permission.
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