Christine Schutt


I am thinking about sentences. Movement, musicality.

I read Florida by Christine Schutt at the urging of a friend and find her voice is so compelling and her prose so deft, I am entranced – read it through nearly without stopping.

There are so many exemplary passages, but here is one, near the beginning of the book. The narrator, Alice, is riding in her uncle’s car, being driven by her uncle’s driver, Arthur:

All ways were dark, but this way deeply. We only knew what things were as we passed them, dark stands of trees, rows of mailboxes, wooden markers, the start of hills – up, over, over and down – down a narrow, brambled road, as in a story, abruptly turning and traveling upwards again to a gawky house with finials, deep porches, churchy windows. Here was a spinster closed for winter. I couldn’t see inside although I tried.

Consider the length and construction of that second sentence in a paragraph where each of the remaining three sentences is no longer than ten syllables. It suggests the movement of the drive itself: its initial darkness, its pivots, its arrival at something recognizable.

There are many things that this paragraph does so well in the movement of the narrative, but what I was particularly struck by at this moment in my reading was the sound of the words and sentences. A poet’s attention to repetition of sound. The first sentence composed of two clauses, parallel in structure with the last word in each a hard “d” sound: dark, deeply. The repetition of the word dark early in the next sentence. The series: stands of trees, rows of mailboxes, wooden markers. The phrase abruptly turning and traveling upwards – not only the “t” sound repeated (as well as the ending in –ing) but its proximity in both places with the “up” sound – abruptly turning, traveling upward. The deep porches refers back to deeply of the first sentence. Then the repeated “in” sounds in spinster and winter.

And all this ends with a simple, direct:

I couldn’t see inside although I tried.

Alice’s inability to see inside this house sets up this next revelation:

“This was where your father came from,” Arthur said, and I was amazed. My father, the mysteriously dead and only ever whispered about – Arthur knew where Father came from.

Arthur, driver and guide. Arthur, revealer of secrets. Arthur, replacement father (consider even the sound of the word Father and its similarly to the sound of the name Arthur). That passage then ends with a moment of clarity. Alice sees something she didn’t know she could see.

I said, “You’ve been here from the beginning.”