Tag Archives: noir fiction

Clotherings and other silky prose

iron gates

The Iron Gates by Margaret Millar

Lately, my daughter has referred to a book we’re reading (The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman) as “silky.” She’s talking about the prose. I had said it’s really good to read aloud, and she said yeah, it’s silky. I agree. And I love the word “silky” to describe prose.

The Iron Gates, by Margaret Millar, is blowing me away for many reasons (great noir fiction, really effective point of view stuff breaking many rules, depiction of broken womanhood, etc.) including that its prose is silky. A few passages I love are below. I’m not bothering with context. You can read the book if you want to—and I hope you will. You might need to hunt on abebooks, or find it at the library, either of which is good for you, anyway!

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“When she had gone Lucille sat down on the edge of the bed. She was barely conscious. Though her body was upright and her eyes open, it was as if she was almost asleep and her mind in labor and heaving with dreams, little faces, willow fingers, roses of blood, clotherings and a pellet of rice, did you count the spoons, nurse?, hard dead flesh of macaroni, doing as well as can be expected, are these roses for me, for me, for me?

Willow drowned in a tub. Soft dead willow floating hair and headache in a tub.

Superintendent!

How smooth, how dear, how dead. Come Cora Cora, come Cora.

Super—in—ten—dent!

Grape eyes mashed, rotten nose splashed on a wall, I’m sure you’ll love the soup today, it floats the willow, nursie, nursie…

Suddenly she leaned over and began to retch.

Miss Scott came running. ‘Mrs. Morrow! Here. Head down. Head down, please.’

She pressed Lucille’s head down against her knees and held it. “Breathe deeply, that’s right, that’s better. We’ll be fine again in a minute. It must have been something you ate.’

Miss Scott took her hands away, and slowly Lucille raised her head. She knew Miss Scott was there, she could see her and hear her, but Miss Scott wasn’t really there, she was a cloud of white smoke, you could wave her away with your hands, blow her away, she didn’t matter, she couldn’t do anything, she wasn’t there.” (p. 117)

**

“While he was waiting for the attendant he opened the newspaper and read the want ads. Later he would read the whole thing, but the want ads were the most fascinating part to him. He could, offhand, tell anyone how much it cost to have facial hair permanently removed, how many cocker spaniels were lost and mechanics were needed, the telephone number of a practical nurse and what you did, supposing you owned a horse and the horse died.

Bird’s eye view of a city.” (p. 149)

**

“Miss Eustace opened the window and sat down on the edge of her cot to take off her slippers. The last thing she did before she went to bed was to cover Lucille.

Lucille tossed and turned in her sleep under the light blankets that seemed to bind her legs and waist. Her sleeping mind was alive and sentient in her fingers, her nipples, her hips, her thighs, the sensitive palms of her feet; but it seemed to lie caught in a net of words. Miss Eustace my father and my murther flusttering in the aviary tower in vanity all inanity ah night my sweethurt take me out of the dunjuan through the griefclanging door to the godpeace of sir night. She struggled in the web of words, the blankets fell to the floor, and the web parted.” (p. 162)

**

“He stood on the veranda for a moment and looked across the park where the phallic points of the pines were thrust toward the sun. He felt outside time, naked and frail and percipient. Evergreens and men were growing toward decay. Time was a mole moving under the roads of the city and imperceptibly buckling the asphalt. Time passed over his head in a thin gray rack of scudding clouds, as if the sky had fled away and its last remaining rags were blowing over the edge of the world.” (p. 241)

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