Quotation Mark Agita

(link via Simon Strantzas)

Laura Miller at Salon.com writes about authors of literary fiction abandoning quotation marks, for as intimated, no other reason than affectation.  Read here.

I agree that eschewing the quotation marks for no reason is a useless affectation, and I’m disappointed by the lack of defense of the practice attributed to E L Doctorow and Cormac McCarthy (his, If you write properly, you shouldn’t have to punctuate is kind of weak, to be honest.  But he wrote Blood Meridian so I can cut him some slack).

That said, I’m less impressed by Miller’s quoting some unnamed writer giving a lazy (and frankly, kind of catty) guess as to why a some other author went without quotation marks:

“I recently kvetched to a novelist friend that as much as I liked Michelle Huneven’s novel “Blame,” I was irritated by her omission of quote marks and wondered why she’d done it. “Well,” he answered without hesitation, “given the subject matter” — an alcoholic’s determination to redeem herself after being implicated in a fatal accident — “it was probably meant to signal that the book isn’t middlebrow.” With a story line that resembles an Oprah-friendly tale of personal redemption, skipping the quotation marks is a way for Huneven to assert that her novel is not too accessible, and to claim a cultural prestige that’s often equated with simple difficulty.”

I would’ve rather heard from Huneven herself as to why she did it, even if it didn’t support Miller’s point.

Also, and even less compelling:

And there are certainly readers who can’t endure this particular authorial quirk. I’ve met people who steadfastly refuse to read fiction without quotation marks around the dialogue.

And I’ve met people who refuse to read books written in first person.  Or refuse to read books that aren’t thrillers, or books that aren’t written by Rush Limbaugh, or…

Look.  As long as the act of dumping quotation marks serves the story, I’m okay with it.  Will Christopher Baer’s Phineas Poe trilogy is a case in point.  Two of the three hallucinogenic novels are told in first person with no quotation marks.  It’s pretty clear that the marks aren’t there for a purpose: to further blur the lines of reality (who’s speaking? are they speaking?), to further build his unreliable narrator’s character, and it does indeed work to serve the mood and the story itself.  It would’ve been a lesser work, in fact, if the marks were there.

I’d argue that McCarthy uses the no quotes in Blood Meridian to build his bleak, emotionless, narrative that physically gives the appearance of the book’s dried up west/desert setting.

Yes, style that doesn’t serve the story is an affectation and should be remedied.  But people who tell you that stories should essentially be style-less couldn’t be more wrong.   It’s actually okay to be challenge the reader, to be “difficult,” if it serves the story.

And this blog is very funny, btw: http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/

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