Annie Proulx on Sound in Writing
Annie Proulx’s “Barkskins” is — and I’m simplifying slightly here — a 700-page intergenerational soap opera about lumberjacks. It is also as carefully written as such a chunky bulk of prose has any right to be.
Take, for instance, this description of the aftermath of a strong rain: “The refreshed river hissed.” It is hard to imagine a more efficient example of a sentence sounding like what it means. The four words race by with the swiftness of swollen water. The two words in the middle hit us with four quick R’s, a burst of liquid consonance, and the “sh” and the “ss” mimic the sounds of water in motion. This sentence wants you to say it out loud, so go ahead: The refreshed river hissed. Feel the words flow through you.
From “New Sentences” by Sam Anderson for New York Times Magazine; Photo by Kimon Maritz (@kimonmaritz)
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