Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” remains an all-time favorite with me: the shock of the first line (“When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous bug”) followed by a languorous opening of several long paragraphs in which the body of the cockroach battles fiercely with the soul of a traveling salesman. It can’t get better than this, just in terms of “bursting” into a story, turning our world topsy-turvy, then relaxing and teasing out the implications of the opening line. When I read “The Metamorphosis,” I find myself participating in the writing process.
I’ve learned much from Nadine Gordimer on how to control narrative distance—you know, move away to provide a larger, omniscient picture, then zoom in on an individual character’s intimate feelings and thoughts. William Trevor is a writer whose technique I admire the most, but feel as if it’ll take me a couple of lifetimes to master what he does: provide a startlingly visual picture for the reader without compromising psychological accuracy. His compassion for his characters, even the “baddest” ones, seeps through the gaps between the words, and I’m in awe of it. “The Potato Dealer” from his collection After Rain is a good example of this. Simultaneously, we experience three characters’ point of view, and Trevor manages to make us feel for all of them. Chandrahas, 1:02 AM permalink (6) comments