While on my trip, I did a lot of reading, and after reading one Davin Malasarn story in Stories for Sendai, since we were still in the land of cell signals, I tweeted that I enjoyed how Davin's writing leaves the reader uncertain what's obvious and what's subtle.
I immediately knew I owed folks a blog post about what I meant. Let me first offer the essence: Davin Malasarn uses bold language and large characters to reach into the most tiny nuances of human life, and to do so in a gentle, quiet way that you at first think, "Wow, that was subtle," and then when you look at the bold language and the large characters you find yourself thinking, "Or should it have been obvious all along?
photo by GammaCygni
First there is a mountain
Then there is no mountain
Then there is
This is true in his shorts stories and in his novella Bread, which I have had the privilege of reading. The first thing that always strikes me is just how strong everything is. Stark language, with a very striking intentionality about pace of structure. Characters who are complex, but easily apprehended when they first step onto stage. Everything he wants you to know, he makes sure you know; he writes in a way that everything is accessible.
And yet, at the same time, as I read, I am struck by the subtle and clever -- even sneaky -- ways in which he uses those strong elements. While they might be accessible, Davin uses that accessibility to bring the reader into a deeper view of life that the reader even realizes until the very end. Then, the reader is suddenly breathless, looking back and saying, "Wait, how did that happen?" We're talking about my own soul? My own life? The nature of the people I love? The strangers I pass? How did we get there?
But that's not where it stops, because then, when you look at those bold elements you began with, you're left thinking, "Oh, wait, it's right there." Or, "Hold on, he said everything right at the beginning of the story." And often he did. But you didn't catch it, because you didn't understand it yet. Then, after he's worked his sneaky word magic on your brain, you begin to understand it, and suddenly what was a hidden, subtle shadow in the beginning now seems easy to grasp.
It is the sign of a master writer and a master teacher.
photo by Tharso
There were constant, gentle waves in the lake. Nothing overpowering, but enough to keep the water in motion. I took The Wild Grass out, and set seiza in the waves. I read like that. Embraced by the water in which I feel more at home than I feel on land. Rocked about, struggling for balance against the same water. Keeping the precious book elevated enough that it would stay dry. Searching for the perfect reading angle in the high sun. Working hard, even as I was perfectly comfortable, at ease and yet constantly engaged. I could not think of a place I would rather be, and yet it took constant effort to maintain myself.