11.12.2005

Emotional, Impressionistic or Dream Imagery

Without doubt, the best image is the vivid one, the visceral one, the evocative one, the right one. It captures a moment. But I've debated writers on the ability to attempt other kinds. Here's proof.

If you've read Kelly Link, you may already intuit what I'm getting at, but here are some examples from Christine Schutt's Florida.

The vivid/visceral/evocative/right image (for contrast):

The coiled trail of the car lighter in the dark...
...the weak heat hushing from the baseboards against my ankles.
The old sashes rattled in the window--hundreds, all sides--so that a cold air rimmed the rooms...


On the other hand, some images are not sharp. They are meant to give an emotion, a stylistic impression, or simply create dream-like scenes. I list these in order of importance or ambition. The emotion adds character dimension, flavoring a narrator's feel of events in the story. Stylistic impressionism gives interesting taste. It is atmosphere through which events are revealed.

Schutt goes for emotion:

He was driving past shapes crouched in sleeping fields, past unplowed snow and smokeless chimneys. Grimaced light and hard snow, loose doors, abandonment.

"Shapes" is certainly vague. "Abandonment" is abstract. What is "grimaced light?" "Hard snow" is maybe the crunchy kind of snow where the top layer melts and freezes again, but how could one see that from car, though? A "loose door?" Maybe that's a door opened a crack?

Before these strange uncertain images comes a stronger series of negative images--images created out of what is not there. No one expects snow to be plowed, but combined with the sleeping fields (a blanket of snow, maybe?) a combined unstated image of undisturbed snow is brought about.

But why is the snow undisturbed, the chimneys smokeless, doors loose? Schutt explains indirectly: "abandonment." Perhaps the loose images didn't quite convey everything that the abstraction was tossed in. But this isn't all the images do.

Let me supply the story details now:

Uncle Billy was smoking and supervising Arthur as he carried to the backdoor and into the kitchen roped boxes from Mother's house. Suitcases, clocks, chiming clocks, more boxes. Uncle Billy held out the fur hat to me. "Where she is now," he said, "your mother won't need it."

So the narrator isn't describing the outer world but her inner world instead. "Abandonment" describes not just the houses and land but the narrator herself.
Notice the repetition, too, of "boxes" and "clocks." Not exactly stunning imagery, but they also convey a sense of time and moving. But these are not the only vaguenesses. No house is described except the parts that effect the narrator. They're all named by those who own them:
Here at Arlette's, at Nonna's, at Uncle Billy's
Uncle Billy's house was first--brick walk, cold wind, water, water roughing against the shore
...the rooms and rooms and rooms of Uncle Billy's house.
Walked north, away from water and local businesses, Main Street was houses: Sloane's and Doctor Humber's and Miss Pearl's

I bring this up to show a few options that writers can take.