This blog post set an especially difficult task for me: choosing only one or two pieces of writing that I loved. As an avid reader and lover of literature, this was no simple task. However, I decided to fulfill both criteria with a piece of writing I would like to emulate and one I consider excellently written and artistically engaging. I chose “The Feast of Love” by Charles Baxter. Although this piece of writing is a novel, I would like to focus on a small section of chapter two. This passage can be accessed here through amazon book previews (bless the internet).
Starting on page 18, Baxter is is writing from the point of view of the main character Bradley. Bradley is discussing a memory he has with his first ex-wife named Kathryn. He says,
“So on this day I’m telling you about, we were both free of our jobs, Kathryn and I, one of those late autumn midwestern Sundays, with a few golden leaves still attached to the trees, you know, last remnants, leaves soaked with cold rain and sticking to the car windshield or clinging to the branches they came from. She woke me up and we made love and I said, I’ll make you breakfast, and I did, my speciality, scrambled eggs with onions and hot sauce, and then I made coffee, while she sat at the table, smiling, with her legs tucked under her. That was something she did. She sat in chairs with her legs tucked under her like that.”
One of the initial things I love about this passage is how Baxter is able to take something so simple as waking up and making breakfast on a fall morning, and elongate it with sensory details and characterization. This idea is showcased specifically when he is describing his idea of “late autumn midwestern Sundays.” By going in depth and describing the look, feel, and location (“sticking to the car windshield”) of the leaves, the reader is able to gain a better understanding of what he actually means when he talks about a fall day in the midwest. Baxter is truly showing you how fall looks in that moment, instead of just telling you–a way of writing I would like to emulate myself. You are able to picture exactly what the setting looks like, and that’s awesome.
Later in the passage, Baxter goes into detail about Bradley’s morning routine and the characterization of his ex-wife, Kathryn. Again, I love the way you can actually see what kind of breakfast he is making through his description. Baxter doesn’t just say, “We made breakfast and ate it,” but instead goes into detail about what kind of breakfast (“scrambled eggs with onions and hot sauce) and how his wife reacted to the meal. Her reaction, and Baxter’s use of detailed indirect characterization, is my favorite part of this passage. The line “That was something she did. She sat in chairs with her legs tucked under her like that,” helps indirectly show the audience who Kathryn is as a person. There are several underlying meanings we can develop from this description: Kathryn is childlike, she is comfortable with Bradley, she enjoys being comfortable, etc. The ability for Baxter to tell us something about a character without giving away all of the meaning is, for me, one of my favorite parts of reading. I love being able to uncover the hidden messages throughout a piece of writing. And ultimately, being less straight-forward with his audience is what makes the characterization of Kathryn more enjoyable for the audience to read.
I would love to emulate Baxter’s style of writing. I love his ability to create meaning indirectly and implement meaningful word choice to tell a story. P.S. You should all read this book, not only because it is amazing, but Charles Baxter used to be an English professor at Umich and the setting of the book is in Ann Arbor!