Quite a while ago B. R. Myers published "A Reader's Manifesto" in The Atlantic. It was perfect and said many things I was thinking. I'm reminded of it now after reading two recent books by Don DeLillo: Falling Man and Point Omega.
One of the things Myers pointed out is that the best writers know the syntax, vocabulary, imagery, and metaphor has a relationship to the content of the scene. As he points out, writers that are for some reason praised for their style often neglect this relationship, using their overdone, so-called "poetic," prose at every point of the book, regardless of what's being described.
While reading these two DeLillo books I kept waiting for some reason to care about any of the characters, or even to have some way to differentiate between them. They all speak the same. The dialogue would fit in a Kids in the Hall sketch mocking a black and white artsy film that intimidates its viewers into accepting it as "art" or else revealing themselves as stupid among their friends.
One of the things he does over and over is restate things. It is a common technique in prose that wants to be considered literary: say something, then insert a comma and say it again in different, but still unremarkable, words. For instance, a charcter has not just "accepted his secrets," but also "yielded to his mystery." Everything is said over and over again, and not just in different ways, but sometimes exactly the same sentence, as when the main male character, Keith, is considering telling his wife about an affair. Twelve small paragraphs in a row begin with the sentence "He would tell her about Florence," then describe a different possible outcome. All of this comes to the conclusion that things would be better for him once he revealed the secret because he could stop leading a double life. The double life is a cliche, but is the cliche made fresh by its description: "It was the way to stop being double in himself, trailing the taut shadow of what is unsaid."?
There are so many instances of this affected figurative language in these two books. Does this illuminate in some way? How does taut apply to shadow? How does what is unsaid mean more by being compared to a shadow?
Anyway, there are so many things to dislike in the writing. It's pretty poor. But it gives me hope in some ways, since much of what passes for literary in CanLit is accused of the same thing. At least it's not a national or a regional problem. But can we not stop it?
I meant to write more, but the baby cries.