Miriam Toews is one of my favourite Canadian authors. The following quotation is from her novel Irma Voth – a young woman is revisiting her childhood home with a friend;
And then I told him about all the stupid things I’d done in that room when I was a kid and a little bit about my old life in Canada, how we couldn’t recognize even our own mothers in the winter because we were so bundled up trying to stay warm, which he thought was funny. And I told him about the hockey rink that my father built for us little kids in our backyard by first of all clearing away tons and tons of snow and then using that snow to build towering walls around the rink and then by packing down the surface until it was as smooth as glass even though it was only rock-hard snow and how once I woke up in the middle of the night and the yard light was still on which made me wonder what was going on so I looked out the window at the glistening hockey rink in our backyard and I saw my father on his hands and knees in the middle of it next to a perfect red circle and he was all hunched over and concentrating, painting lines, red ones and blue ones, on the hard snow to make the hockey rink official and the lines were so even and perfect and bright against the white snow. I watched him paint for a long time and finally he stood up and put his hands on his hips like this and stared at his circle and his lines and he had this huge grin on his face.”
Miriam Toews, Irma Voth
(Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), p. 57.
Long breathless streams of conscious thought punctuated by shorter sentences are a feature of Toews’ writing. She has the ability to show that our thoughts and ideas are not neatly separated by commas, periods, or other grammatical features in our brains, but flow into one another seamlessly. Underneath the images is an emotion that provides an unwritten foundation to the characters’ thoughts. The busy second sentence begins by describing heavy labouring and ends with gentle finesse – a complete spectrum of work that shows a father’s love for his children; all told in Irma’s energetic voice that wants to give full acknowledgement to who her father was. It takes a confident and talented writer to use such structures without wearying the reader, and a sensitive editor to know that there is nothing grammatically wrong or compromised in these sentences.