On Mastery Of Language

June 18th, 2007 · No Comments
by Kassia Krozser

What Twain did was to stop policing the boundaries between book language and the kind used by regular folks in day-to-day life. It was a decision that opened the door to the vigorous life and invention of vernacular and oral English. It has given American novels a cocky swagger that survives still: the energy of Philip Roth’s prose, the sweet spin that George Saunders gives to his tales of McWorld, the tragic passions of Toni Morrison. And so on – and on and on.

English literary language is a pitifully genteel thing by contrast. It’s not like there aren’t great novels written on this side of the Atlantic; of course there are. But the number of English writers that can accommodate the full register of the language are few indeed. Martin Amis has a go – aping his mentor Saul Bellow – but the result is cartoon Nabokov that never really gets out of the library.

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