Isn’t it wonderful when you discover an author whom you have not read before that is so good that even thinking about sitting down to read elicits a frisson of anticipatory joy? I’ve recently encountered an author whose short fiction is so engaging that I just cannot put it down–in fact I have yet to encounter even a mediocre story in nigh 2000 pages worth of T.C. Boyle’s fabulous, liquid prose. As an added bonus he has a remarkable command of vocabulary; in fact, he probably has the largest ken of vocabulary of any modern author I’ve read, which is a logophile’s dream.
When I was in college one of my English professors told me that I shouldn’t use “big” words like “irrefragable” in my writing since it would not only seem pretentious, but would also seriously detract from my prose. T.C. Boyle is one author of adult fiction who is not only unbelievably creative, but also has the ability to get away with using such words as “irrefragable” (in fact, in one of his stories he did just that, much to my delight!). I have been most entertained by his use of words that also appear in Membean’s lexicon, so I have included some exemplars from his stories and one novel (World’s End, winner of the PEN/Malamud award) to illustrate his phenomenal vocabulary usage:
Through all that followed–through the patroon’s interminable speech of admonition and reconciliation, through the commis’ pointless pontifications and the schout’s terse and hushed testimony, Jeremias never uttered a word but for ja and nee. World’s End
Now, as she pulled up to the silent bungalow, the bungalow that sat newly painted in a lattice of leaf-thrown shadow, looking placid, normal, staid, she loosened her grip on the wheel and cut the ignition. World’s End
And how do we award this exemplar of evolutionary impetus? Whales Weep
He was a renegade, a solitary, airlifted in a groggy stupor from Yosemite, where he’d become too familiar with people. The Hat
There was a building ferment, a muted undercurrent of dissent and anger, the students chanting, people shouting out, until the sour-looking woman–the chairwoman, or was she the superintendent?–slammed the flat of her hand down on the table. Bulletproof
It goes on and on. Beautiful.
Sometimes a word that I have never seen before, or don’t remember seeing, will pop up in Boyle’s stunning prose, and I will luckily divine its meaning via etymology. One such word I saw the other day in World’s End was salification: “…was decorated with blue ceramic tiles depicting biblical themes like the salification of Lot’s wife and the beheading of John the Baptist.” Having a knowledge of Latin roots here is quite handy: “sal” is the Latin root for “salt” (from which we get such words as “salary,” “salami,” “sausage,” “salmagundi,” “salad,” and “salsa,” et al.), “fic” is a root which means “make,” and “-ation” means “action.” Hence, Lot’s wife here has been “made into salt,” a reference to the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Precious.
I highly suggest reading TC Boyle Stories, and the recently published TC Boyle, Stories II, both of which I devoured within the span of six months, and practically mourned when I turned over the last page! Luckily he has also written nine novels. Wunderbar!