I’m reading The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. Powers is arguably the greatest writer living in America today. The Echo Maker is gorgeous. Not just the plot or the characters or the arcs, etc.. But, what really sets Powers apart, as always, is his ability to convey just the right thought with just the right words.
But, this post isn’t meant to be a book review. The point is that Powers knows exactly how to make his words click. This idea of the click is expressed perfectly in the book Spunk and Bite by Arthur Plotnik.
The point of the click is that the language perfectly reflects the thought the writer’s trying to convey. It’s not so much that there have to be few words as possible. However, the words exactly reflect the thought and the thought clicks.
There are all kinds of examples of this, from Shakespeare:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
When Radha returned from the grocery store where three white youths calling themselves Dot Busters, ridiculed her kumkum, Dev said, “We must simply tolerate such misunderstandings.”
from Sari of the Gods
With one sentence, or a simple turn of phrase, we know exactly what the author is thinking – and we’re thinking exactly what the author wants us to be thinking.
This click exists in music, lyrics, films, design. Any place there’s a vocabulary there exists the possibility of a click. It ties back to Thackara’s idea of lightness of design. It’s in Rand’s idea of elegance – nothing missing, nothing extraneous.
The Echo Maker is about a man who has a car accident and forgets who his sister is. He forgets how he feels about his sister. Meanwhile, his sister tends to him while he recuperates. The entire time he thinks she is an impostor playing his sister. His injury makes him unable to remember love. The book follows their progression through trying to overcome his injuries.
Throughout Powers is at the same time powerful and efficient, expressive and elegant. He inhabits the areas he writes about – the geography, the science, the culture. He shows the signs of being an anthropologist as much as a writer. Every page contains a phrase you’ll write down to remember. And you’ll learn something new about yourself and the world you’ve (hopefully) never seen.
Go get it. This is a book to own.