Thursday, January 28, 2010

Annie Proulx's dialogue

I've just finished That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx. The novel is set in the Texas/Oklahoma panhandles in present day, and Proulx does two things that I think are wonderful and one thing I find off-putting. Let me talk about one of the things I like in this post, and I'll discuss the others later.

Proulx is a marvel in her ability to write dialogue that sounds like dialect without resorting to phonetic spelling. Here, taken at random, is an example (actually it's taken from page 132):

"Jesus... That's a little harsh, weld a man's gates. Could be he don't have no money. I hear their place is for sale. Anyway, when I was out there it was hot enough to loosen the bristles on a wild hog and Mrs. Wilcox gave me a glass a cold buttermilk. Best thing I ever drank. So I don't want to give them trouble."

I take it back on the phonetic spelling. She does use "a" for "of" and "awl" for "oil" and "Amarilla" for "Amarillo," but she uses it so lightly it does not become a distraction--or did not for me. One more example, a woman talking about another character on page 179:

"He was. Vain as a peacock. Wrote poetry too. Horse poetry and stuff about sunsets. Made your skin crawl to listen to him recite. He had a voice like a woman. They say a horse kicked him the Adam's apple when he was a boy. Some say the kick was lower down."

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