Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I had been mulling a post about foreshadowing -- letting the reader know what's coming. It is often a rather clumsy way to heighten the tension in a story .... "John enjoyed his dinner, not knowing that disaster was waiting...."

Ho, hum.

But for some stories, the ending is known already -- familiar tales such as that of King Arthur and Guenevere. We read new novels on these themes partly to see how a new writer will interpret the old story, much as Shakespeare buffs compare different interpretations by various actors and directors.

And recently I listened to the audiobook version of "Brokeback Mountain". Thanks to its Oscar victory, I doubt there's any who doesn't have at least an inkling of the plot. But I was quite struck by the way the author begins with a skillful foreshadowing of the doom awaiting the characters. By the time the first paragraph is over, we know the story will be about the friendship between two men -- maybe even more than friendship. Since the tale might be unpleasant to some, they can shut the book, turn off the audiotape, right then, and avoid anything they might consider offensive. (And others may stop reading right after Ennis pees in the kitchen sink.) But for the rest of her readers, it simply sets the tone: this story is epic, and parts of it will be sad. Against this backdrop, the rest of the story, with its recounting of brief times spent in country high and beautiful, is highlighted and enlarged. Wow!

-- Rachel Holmen

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