Loads of Learned Lumber

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kevin Powers, _The Yellow Birds_

A FEW OF the reviews I saw compared Powers's prose to Hemingway's.  I'm not sure.  This is from the first paragraph:

As grass greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers.

Papa, I believe, would have dodged even so harmless a redundancy as "cities and towns," and I would be very surprised to learn he ever described anything as "windswept." Hemingway has his lyrical effects, to be sure, but would he go for the alliteration of "grass greened" and "weather warmed" in the same sentence? I must demur. Powers may owe something to such students of E.H. as James Salter, but his writing is not all that reminiscent of E. H. himself.

It's a good novel, though, a strong debut. He'll have to do better than this to claim posterity's attention, I think, and as far as fiction about our current conflicts goes, the gold has to go to Ben Fountain, but I assigned this book for a course I teach on the literature of war, and I think my students will go for it.

Our course begins with the Iliad, and I am hoping a few of my students will notice that the novel's protagonist and narrator, John Bartle, is dealing with the loss of a comrade who was a close friend, a loss for which he feels partly responsible, a loss moreover that led him to some excessive actions. The Yellow Birds is a realistic novel, with artful arrangements of narrative chronology and closely observed contemporary detail and dialogue, but ticking away at its heart is the old, old tale of Achilles and Patroclus.

No comments: