A few years ago I went to a reading by Georgia authors Terry Kay and Lauretta Hannon. During his presentation, Kay talked about the importance of rhythm in the language an author employs. He talked about reading your work aloud and getting a sense of its rhythm before you call it done.
When I'm reading a novel, my awareness level isn't that sharp. I'm paying attention to the elements of the story itself - the plot, the characters - so that the language, for the most part, is secondary. Something might jump out at me - like the repeated use of a certain word, but the truth is, I am a shallow reader. I'm ankle deep in the experience, not knee, not neck. Ankle.
Last week, I plucked Jamaica Kincaid's SEE NOW THEN from the library shelf of new audio books. I knew nothing about it, but recognized the author's name. After a cursory skim of the synopsis, I figured I'd give it a try. I hadn't read or listened to any of Kincaid's work so why not?
Impressions are made on first encounters. If my introduction to you is when you are cutting me off in traffic, I'm going to think you're an asshole. I'm not going to waste any time considering how you might be late for an appointment or you just got off the phone with the school nurse and you have to go pick up a sick kid at school or that you don't really know where you're going and had to get across that lane before you miss your exit. Nope. You're just a jerk who risked both our lives by cutting into my lane on I75.
Conversely, if I'm driving through a busy parking lot and you're the nice person who stops and waves me on so that I can get to the spot I've spied, I'm sure in that moment that you are definitely not a jerk.
And so it is with this novel SEE NOW THEN. If my first encounter with this work had been the hardback (read an excerpt here), I wouldn't have made it through a couple of pages before I gave up. What's more, I likely would never again have tried to read something by Jamaica Kincaid. As you can see from reviews, this is not an easy read. Set aside the argument about whether it's autobiographical or not (and why is it that we care so much about that?), but the way Kincaid has employed repetition, in particular, drives readers mad. Stark raving, one star review giving mad.
But if you are introduced, as I was, to this novel as an audio experience, read by the author?
Wow. Now I understand what Terry Kay meant all those years ago. Rhythm.
SEE NOW THEN is a novel to be listened to, listened to, listened to.