The word flatness bothers me, perhaps because I confuse it with flat. What is the difference between the two? To my mind flat means the characters don’t rise and fall in the reader’s esteem; the physical and psychological landscape doesn’t change (maybe a better word is pulsate, or vibrate, or agitate); the action is static and not kinetic.

Lloyd was popular with the patients, because of his jokes and his sure, strong touch. He was stocky and broad-shouldered and authoritative enough to be sometimes taken for a doctor. (Not that he was pleased by that-he held the opinion that a lot of medicine was a fraud and a lot of doctors were jerks.) He had sensitive reddish skin and light hair and bold eyes.

This paragraph from Alice Munro’s short-story Dimension puts the kinetic up against the static in a way that jars so badly that I thought the whole paragraph a shambles. Not true. From sentence to sentence, the play of the last is renewed by the next — when we find out Lloyd thinks “a lot of doctors [are] jerks” we know who is the butt of most of his jokes (the way jerks works to remind of us of the word joke is particularly fun). But then the final sentence, which is at once lightweight and a lump, dead on delivery, almost made me put the story down.

When Doree returns home after a fight with Lloyd that made her flee the house, Munro reveals what has been lurking in and around the words and actions of Doree, what has been teasing the reader all the time. You could say Munro just let’s it happen. This time around the final sentence kicks.

“Lloyd. Where are the kids?”
He shifted just a little, so that she could pass if she liked.
Dimitri still in his crib, lying sideways. Barbara Ann on the floor beside her bed, as if she’d got out or been pulled out. Sasha by the kitchen door-he had tried to get away. He was the only one with bruises on his throat. The pillow had done for the others.
“When I phoned last night?” Lloyd said. “When I phoned, it had already happened.
“You brought it all on yourself,” he said.

Only the final sentence let’s us in on what Lloyd thinks. Before that we get to see how the world works, how the pyschological, only hinted at, manifests in cruel and obvious ways. It’s impossible to think that the middle paragraph is the thoughts of Doree as she takes in the scene. Moving from the bedroom, down the corridor, to the entrance to the kitchen, a slow dolly shot picks up all details but doesn’t shift its view to draw your attention to any particular, not until we know “the pillow had done for the others”.

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