Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Report: Dot in the Universe by Lucy Ellmann:

I've just enjoyed a book that is so enjoyable, original and fascinating that I want to share it with you: Dot in the Universe by Lucy Ellmann. You can find numerous appreciative reviews on the web. They will all assure you that this is a very funny book. Now it did make me laugh out loud, but it tells a very, very sad story while you laugh. The author has come up with a remarkable conceit that makes her story sneak up on you in an unusual fashion. There are also a number of elegant conceits in her style, not to mention the book's other, um, elegant conceits.

Ellmann has developed a style that lets her shout the realities of life at you so that you devour them like smooth ice cream or delectable omelets. Her writing style involves an unusual use of capital letters that I'm not going to illustrate for you, because you won't believe you could read a book written like that. You have to read ten or twenty pages to understand why she does it, and get used to how it feels. (I told you, she's an original writer.)

Like many fine authors, Ellmann is extremely good at lists. There are many different ways that fictional authors can create effects with finely crafted lists. Here's one of hers. It's not my favorite from the book; most of my favorites are too long for me to want to type in here. And by the way, this list is not part of a tirade against American schools; it's part of a paean to the beauty of American childhood (wink here).

The early years at school in America are devoted to confidence, continence, nap-time, play-time, story circles, show-and-tell, reading, writing, drawing, singing, and the celebration of one goddamn public holiday after another.

For a truly wonderful list, listen to Dot, the heroine, thinking of ways she might die (pp. 36-37 in my edition). A great writer's list looks like it has just spilled out of the subconscious, but more likely, it has been honed and crafted, adjusted, readjusted, postadjusted and preadjusted, until it has rhythm, inner rhythms, alliteration, onomotopoea, word-plays, meta word-plays, and even a message. The lists in this book come fast and furious, and they are great fun to ride. But the book also has plot, characters, and an excellent essay on the Virginia Oppossum.

In summary, if the book was less original, I could tell you what it was like. I recommend it.

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