During the second year of my marriage, I lived in Germany courtesy of the U.S. Army. We lived off-base, though, on the third floor of a German couple’s home. I do not speak German. I regularly encountered people who didn’t speak English. (Imagine that!) I dwelled in a fairly constant state of bewilderment … and fear that I would miss or misinterpret something. Now, I have the same feelings for a completely different reason.
Recently, Cynthia Newberry Martin blogged a five-part series on Reading Like a Writer. She ended by taking apart Alice Munro’s short story Dimensions. I read the story, but for the most part, I left the dissection up to Cynthia. She answered the question posed on the mechanics of the story and then, offered some excellent insights. Since she didn’t propose we deeply analyze the story, it’s not so much that I couldn’t answer most of the questions she posed for myself. It’s just that this kind of reading is a foreign land to me. I don’t really understand the language.
I’m used to reading fiction for escape. That’s not to say I never learn as I read. But as I read, I’m concerned with what the writing says to me, not whether that’s what the author meant for me to hear. Yet, as a writer, I often take a novel I enjoyed reading and study the writing for particular aspects. So, theoretically, I could take a story apart. But my mind rebels at the thought. With fingers in its ears, it sings la-la-la-la-la.
However, this is my year of living dangerously, so with a few other writers, I will attempt a similar exercise with a short story by Flannery O’Connor titled “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
Cover me, I’m going in.