Dolores Claiborne: Not a Review

  • Oct. 14th, 2009 at 11:54 AM
the_wanlorn: Marlene Deitrich (Marlene Deitrich)
Man I have been trying to figure out how to write this post for days. That's the problem with never finishing enough lit courses is that, while I know what I want to say, I don't know how to say it.

I don't know if you guys know this, but I have a deep and passionate loathing for both present tense and first person*. So it's kind of funny that one of my favorite Stephen King books is Dolores Claiborne.

So, I could talk about its portrayal of domestic violence and sexual abuse. I could go on about the strong female characters, the lesbian subtext, the underlying messages about feminism, etc etc etc. But really, let's face it. That would take me twice as long to write, and it's already been three days since I finished my reread. Also, that is too much work. So let's focus on why I don't complain about the first person with spats of present tense.

So let's be honest here: the entire reason why I love Dolores Claiborne so fucking much is its narrative voice.

This is a book that's made to be read aloud. It's one big long monologue, complete with local dialect and turns of phrase. If you have the audiobook, read by Frances Sternhagen, it's like listening to your grandmother tell you a story.

Your nice grandmother that makes cookies and still calls her neighbor a bitch in front of you, not the crazy grandma who tried to throw you down a flight of stairs once.

That is just something I fucking love. I could listen to people tell me stories all day long. Especially if I have some apple cider. And maybe a piece of pumpkin pie. That is the kind of book that is.

See, that is why I like this book. It's someone talking to me, not someone reciting events and conversations at me. The story slips in and out of tenses, just like real conversation does. That, I can handle. And I guess that sums up what I like about Dolores Claiborne vs. what I hate about, say, most urban fantasy. I feel like a real person is telling me a story. With other first-person narratives, they still manage to be as cold and impersonal as third-person, leaving me wondering why the author didn't just write them in third-person.

Basically, what I'm saying, is that it sounds natural.

Black House is similar in a way (read: not at all). What makes it palatable to me is that it's present tense told by an omniscient narrator who mocks the characters. Could the same thing have been achieved with the past tense? Yes. But the snide remarks delighted me enough that I wasn't spending every minute griping over the present tense.

This was going to be longer, but I'm sick of writing this entry and LJ doesn't let you save posts as drafts. I think you get the idea, anyhow.


*I don't give a shit what you think of either present tense or first person. Nothing you say is going to convince me that it's anything other than clunky, heavy-handed, lazy writing, so save your breath**.

**I don't care about constraints of the genre either.

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MICHAEL: One evening, a patient was brought into my clinic in the middle of the night. He was tortured so badly I couldn’t believe he was still breathing. A man was with him. It was the man on your radio. I’ll never forget the voice. He put a gun to my head and explained to me that my patient had robbed him and that he wanted me to save him so the pain would last longer. I did what I could. He said to come here for my money — my blood money. There’s a place between life and death. Amazing how long a man can linger there.
PRESCOTT: That’s enough, all right? Okay. Bring everything upstairs. We’re getting out of here. Tony? Tony, can you hear me?
THUG: What the hell is going on?
MICHAEL: I know this guy. He’ll have people outside the bank, in your truck,and on your boat. You have no idea who you’re dealing with.
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