Monday, June 16, 2008
Being Squat and Horrible, In Fact
Here is something else from TAKE A GIRL LIKE YOU by Kingsley Amis. One of the characters, a schoolteacher named Patrick Standish, spies an annoying person named Charlton - his nemesis, sort of - he has been striving to avoid. And now I give you Kingsley Amis: "Then he caught sight of Charlton standing quite near, being squat and horrible, in fact, in the patchy shade of one of the laburnums that bordered the open side of the court." There are many good things about this sentence! For example, it represents the first time that Charlton has been physically described, so when we hit that subjective pothole in the middle, it gives us a rhetorical or syntactical thrill or something. Forgive me, I am not proficient at explaining things or familiarizing myself with the meanings of the words I use. But one thing is for sure: the great word choice in that sentence is "being." Think about it and you will know I am right! To the untrained eye, "laburnums" or "patchy" would appear to be the star word of the sentence. Or "squat," perhaps. "Being" is usually a dull and unnecessary word, like "was." But in the sentence under review, "being" gets its turn in the spotlight, thanks to the utter existential disapproval it manages to imply. In a structural sense, "being" earns its place of honor because it represents the moment at which the third-person narrator revises himself (itself? Is a third-person narrator a "he" just because the author is a "he"? And of course we are all acquainted with that muzzy area in which the third-person narrator begins to collude with a particular character, in this case a male one) right there in front of us, realizing and/or deciding that "standing" is not an absolute and consuming enough word to describe the vast unpleasantness of Charlton's posture in the world. Here I go pretending to explain things again! And I had a lot stored up to say about "in fact." I should just shut my fat yap. What a loser.