Great fiction can transport us, not always through its clever plotting or dynamic characters, but often through the perfect, well-placed sensory detail--some unexpected image, sound, or scent that lights up our synapses. I've been reminded of this lately, by the sweetly-subtle scent of mimosa blossoms and honeysuckle on a recent neighborhood walk, by a friend and author's offhand Facebook mention of her children chasing fireflies. Those little sensory details combined to pluck a hidden string in my mind, transporting me back to the shade of my grandparents' huge pines and maples, to the sweet, wet dew on my bare feet on a summer's night, to my sister's and brother's laughter and my parents' and grandparents' smiles from the front porch rockers as they watched us race about the grassy creekside lawn competing to capture lightning in a bottle. This is why the best writing feels like a homecoming. Though the characters and situation may be novel (no pun intended), it is the use of universal detail that forges the bond between the author and the audience, that brings the tale to vivid life inside the reader's head.A Day in the Smokies.
Earlier this week, Colleen and I went to see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", the extraordinary movie based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I loved it. Colleen not s'much. (I was sitting there choked in tears at the end of the three hour film, so I only vaguely remember her saying something about "watching paint dry.") I want to see it again, so I'm trying to get the Gare Bear to go with me this weekend, but I won't be surprised if he reacts the same way Colleen did. The movie is long. And odd. It requires patience and a complete suspension of disbelief that modern audiences simply aren't trained for, so you've got to be in the right mood for it. The same is true of the short story, though the story and script have very little in common -- at least superficially. The story is very Fitzgerald (though it's not an example of his best writing, IMHO), and the setting -- Baltimore during the industrial revolution, Spanish Americ