The Charm of Ali Smith

I’ve posted before about enjoying Ali Smith’s writing, and here I go again.

There’s no pleasure that compares to curling up with great writing. Some writers express ideas so well that they seem to know what you’re thinking and feeling before you do. This sentiment is expressed by one of the main characters in John Green’s Fault in Our Stars, another book I’m currently reading (quite the long wait for that one at the public library). I love experiencing that kind of connection with writing, but that’s not how I feel about Smith’s writing.

Instead, Smith has charmed me with her subtle creativity: Both the overall structure of her novels and that of her individual sentences break convention without being annoyingly “capital C” creative. There’s no “look at what I can do” literary gymnastics.

But what Smith can do is impressive. She captures character voice so thoroughly it’s as though there’s nothing separating the character’s thought from the reader. For example, in The Accidental a teenager feels responsible for a tragedy, and Smith gives the reader a front row seat on his mental roller coaster: The stark facts present themselves again and again between other frantic thoughts of what-might-have-been and if-only-could-now-be, and the whole thing keeps going round and round. (Okay, yeah, maybe it’s a stream of consciousness thing if stream of consciousness weren’t some kind of writing style — and that’s just it: I’m not thinking “oh, stream of consciousness” while I’m reading Smith.) Who doesn’t know that wrenching place where regret is unbearably palpable?

I’d love to have a conversation with Smith’s editor, and I’d love to see the original manuscript. It appears as though Smith’s been given (rightfully) plenty of free rein. But for all I know, maybe the ride was a whole lot more wild before Penguin took over the controls.

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Filed under authenticity, books and awards, editing and writing, life and literature, writing

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