“When the first round snapped by my head, I was still thinking that the only shadows I had seen in the war had been made of angles: hard blurs of light falling on masses of buildings, antennas, and the shapes of weapons in tangles of alleys.”
Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds
Hard blurs. One of the (generally acknowledged, often emphasized) tensions of war writing is the unknowability of the soldier’s experience, especially since Vietnam, and probably in direct contrast to a broader shared experience of the second world war: the soldier’s experience is different from, unavailable to, much of his audience. So the novel, the tool of fiction, becomes a mechanism to bridge that gap, with the insanity of Catch-22 or the surrealism of Meditations in Green. The Yellow Birds is much more straightforward than those two, at least — but there’s something in its language that’s uncomfortable, weirdly imprecise, that sits wrong. Hard blurs here — it took a few readings to parse out the sentence, to figure out the blurs precede the sharp angles of shadows, but the image doesn’t snap together right. Elsewhere, we hear “last echoes” “ringing through the evening heat.” Powers often uses his prose style very well — he’s excellent with using sentence length and structure for focus, pointed syntax in the moment of combat and long impacted run-ons in post-traumatic aftermath. But metaphors mix, and images hang unresolved, in his diction.
March 27, 2014, 10:10am Comments