Thursday, April 22, 2010

In Praise of Subtlety

While I will admit that I am sometimes a book snob, I also realize that our purposes for reading vary as much as our tastes. I'll turn my nose up at some authors (those, for example, who study what makes women cry when they read and then write just that), but I also indulge myself in works that other readers just as picky would deem unworthy.

As I was reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I felt a connection with the concierge Renee, a secret intellectual and autodact, who could cringe at a misplaced comma or a "bring" used in place of "take," but who also enjoyed cultural entertainment of a more pedestrian taste. Her favorite movie, for example, was The Hunt for Red October, more for sentimental reasons that cinematography or script. She also confessed a penchant for reading Michael Connelly, even though he certainly shares little with Tolstoy, another favorite.

I took the suggestion and chose a Connelly audiobook The Scarecrow for my daily commute, and I don't feel ashamed for not listening to War and Peace or Anna Karenina instead. I will admit, though, that the experience was a little like Chinese food. It served its purpose but probably won't fill me for long. I could probably analyze the differences ad nauseum, but the main distinction, I believe, is the subtlety--or the lack thereof. I know that dramatic irony is the draw of crime thrillers. I'm no FBI agent or L.A. Times reporter, but I still caught myself shouting at the protagonist and his love interest: Don't do that! Pay attention, you morons! How amazing that someone so skilled at profiling can be sitting right new to a perverted computer genius serial killer and not pick up a clue--not even LOOK for a clue.

No, I much prefer the tiny details--the errant comma that makes me wince just a nanosecond before I realize that the protagonist winced too. I recall another favorite book, also quite understated, The Remains of the Day. In fact, I was pleased, almost shockingly so, when the movie managed to convey the tiniest, most subtle details. In the book, the protagonist travels to the home of the woman he has cared for, ready to declare his love, only to discover she has married. He reveals (and I paraphrase, not having the text at my fingertips): At that moment I knew my heart was breaking. When the movie was released, I wondered how that mere thought could be conveyed, and it was, wordlessly. In a play, there might even have been an aside or soliloquy, but moment was captured--perfectly. No one had to scream at the movie screen.

1 comment:

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