Sunday, July 19, 2009

You Can't Please 'Em All

Recently I read The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. This highly acclaimed (Newbery Honor, National Book Award nomination) middle grade novel pits three animal protagonists against a bone-chilling human villain. But that plot summary doesn't do the book justice. Her rhetorical storytelling deals with the enduring themes of loss, love, loneliness, and redemption, giving the book a mysterious, myth-like quality. Some would call it magic realism.

I loved the book and would recommend it, but I have one small idiosyncratic quibble.

Anaphora is a rhetorical device in which a word or phrase is repeated in successive sentences or clauses For my taste, anaphora was used a little too often in The Underneath. Some examples:

"Do not trust a living soul. Do not." pg. 144.

"Do not get in front of the man and the rifle. Do not." pg. 232.

"Wrong was everywhere. She look around. Found Ranger astir. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Found Sabine, fur electrified. Wrong. Something was wrong." pg. 73.

"Something was wrong. Wrong was here. Wrong sat on the ground in front of her. Wrong kept the birds from singing. Wrong." pg. 168.

"A knot formed in his stomach. A knot of revulsion. A knot of fear. A knot of anger." pg. 279.

I liked that last use of anaphora, but some of the the others I found distracting. Go figure. Readers' tastes are difficult to analyze.

Are there other rhetorical devices that either appeal or don't appeal to you as you read with a writer's eye?


  1. So funny, Gale. Never knew the word "anaphora" before, but I've always liked it as a literary device. In fact, it often bothers me when a reader doesn't repeat something that I feel needs repeating. So I definitely agree with the title of your post. You can't please 'em all!

  2. I'd never heard the word "anaphora" either. Never.

    The first two examples read like dialog to me. If they're a character's idiosyncratic way of speaking, in this case, it wouldn't bother me. If not, and they're taken straight from the narrative, it might stop me.

    As for examples 3 and 4, all I can say is 11 "wrongs" don't make it right!

  3. The quotes I've used are all from narrative and I think Janice makes a good point when she compares dialogue to straight storytelling.

    Brianna, maybe you should put this anaphora laden book on your list to read!

  4. Having spent the last ten days at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where Kathi Appelt is a faculty member, I now have a greater appreciation for the lyricism of language. Sounds of language help to set the tone of a story and, yes, by using anaphora Kathi gave a lyrical quality to her words which encourages the feeling of myth and magic. It's not for everyone, that's for sure.

    But as Gale states, "you can't please 'em all." Nor should we try. Every writer brings their own "baggage" to the story just as every reader brings theirs. We can only write our own stories and hope that someone will enjoy them.

  5. Definitely must be added to my "to be read" list, Gale! I've heard such wonderful things about it! I'm curious how I'll respond to the anaphora when I'm so consciously aware of it.

    Meg-- Wow! Your Vermont experience sounds like it's off to an exciting start! It sounds like it was a very intense ten days. (Oh, how I envy you... :o) )