Thursday, June 19, 2008

Into the great silence!

Now that I'm nearly 150 pages into Harry Stephen Keeler's The Box from Japan (1932), I've got some more of his unusual and/or inexplicable turns of phrase to share. Throughout the densely packed pages, such unforgettable lines enliven Keeler's long, unexpected disquisitions on such topics as corporate stock schemes, obscure political tussles, and a pre-Philo Farnsworth, disk-based television system.

I'll begin with a couple of folksy expressions of the head-scratching variety. This first one is built around a great image and is easily understood, but it doesn't hold up to much thought:
"I am going back down town sometime after lunch but I expect to be busier, the rest of the day, than a legless cat rounding up her eleven kittens."
Wouldn't a legless cat simply fail to round up her kittens, then quickly be left with nothing to do?

The next is an exclamation, uttered at the sight of an old friend; its meaning utterly escapes me:
"Well--for hitch-hiking on the Pacific airmail!"
Then there's this sentence, in which Keeler's overuse of the comma stopped even me--a comma-lover of the first rank--dead in my tracks:
He recalled at this juncture an amateur sporting enthusiast he had once interviewed, a golf expert, in Rogers Park, who then, at least, in that considerably far long ago, had had a Japanese houseman, and he resolved to make an early call in Rogers Park on the subject of the new golfing rules, and incidentally to find out just what Marzoru-Ikeuma was.
The constant breaks in the rhythm produced by the commas give the sentence the choppy, breathless feel of a declaration uttered by a sprinter who's just breasted the tape. Oh, and they also make it nearly impossible to understand on first reading.

To close, though, I'll give you a sentence that seems to perfectly express the tone and charm of Keeler, a sentence that, like the above comma-hobbled one, pulled me up short--but this time out of sheer joy:
"Well, so much for that," he commented. "Now to go home--climb into the great silence--and evolve a thought worth the evolving."
I'm not willing to go so far as to say that if you appreciate that sentence, you should definitely try Keeler . . . but you might consider at least filing the idea away in the back of your mind.

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