Exercises in Style: a Writing Tribute

3 min read

Book rec

Writing Toolbox

Wordplay

Ages 9 to 99

AVAILABLE IN PODCAST HERE

Titles begin with letters as human forms

Narrative

One day at about midday in the food line, behind the checkout of a more or less busy Costco, I observed a person with a very big mouth who was wearing a tee shirt with a comic print and a hoodie, unzipped. This individual suddenly addressed the man next to her, accusing him of purposely cutting in line, thrusting her arm toward him and pointing in his face. A small person stepped between them, holding hands out to keep them apart. The woman scowled then turned away in a huff.

Later I saw the small person on Connecticut Avenue, engaged in earnest conversation with a friend who was advising her to get a proper hat that would keep her short hair from standing on end.

The Subjective Side

I was liking my look this day. I had on my vintage tee and new hoodie, with its sweet softy-soft lining that feels good on the skin and hugs me just so. My roomie gave me that side-long glance she does when she wants to spoil my pleasure.

Later I had to tell off this vulgar man who was purposely ill-treating me. Yes I did, for cutting in the food line at that unspeakably foul wholesaler. And this happens exactly at the time that place fills up with locals when I have to consent to be there.

Another Subjectivity

At the lunch counter in Costco was one of those women who wouldn’t know a dress if she saw one. I had ordered and stepped out of line when a man offered to get my pizza. This particular brat of a woman maybe 28 or 33 barked and tore into that man. Her face looked like it had a mouth stretcher the dentists use, that size. Her filthy words disgusted me and I put my hands out like a boxing referee, my fingers on her sternum. All those people watching didn’t bother her one bit.  In the end she and that mouth of hers left.

I lost my appetite. Then I ran into Emelle by Connecticut Avenue, and she touched my head to remind me I needed to wear a cap, best that it’s a burgundy newsboy. She left me with some comment about my hair.  

Metathesis*

Noe dya aobut midyad on the oofd elin, hebind teh chouteck of a rome or elss suby Toscco, I versobed a sonper thiw a evry gib mutoh how saw earwing a eet thirs thiw a mocci trinp nad a hiedoo, pizunped. Sh*t andividuil dusendly reddassed teh amn tenx to reh uccasing hmi of posepurly tingcut in elin, rustthing reh mar wartod hmi nad toinping in shi café. A malls sonper pestped weenteb meth, lohding shand tou to peek meth tarpa. Teh manow decowls hent denture yawa in a fuhf.

Erlat I was teh malls sonper on Tonccetitunc Nuevea, gagenen in nestear verconsation thiw a difren how saw divasing reh to teg a ropper tha hatt lowud peek reh thors hira morf dansting on Ned.

Unexpected

Sitting in the parlor, the two ladies chatted.

“What’s new, mother?”

“Not much, but it’s cool for spring.”

“It is. I saw something funny, you know.”

“What?” asked the mother.

“It looked a lot like you,” Emelle said.

“How’s that?”

“At the food counter, I saw what happened.”

“It was mean, horrible. And, I don’t want to talk about it. The mouth on that person,” the mother said.

“It was you who put a stop to them. I saw. I won’t mention it again, but take my advice on the burgundy cap,” Emelle said.  

Footnotes

*metathesis – transposition of sounds or syllables in a word or of words in a sentence.

*Tales pay homage to Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau 1947 in French, English Translation 1958. Queneau later elected to highly prestigious Academie Goncourt.  Book retells an unexceptional tale ninety-nine times, in Cockney, Haiku, sonnet, among scores of others. I’ve read nothing like it before. It is full of rhetoric and linguistic feats, word acrobatics. The examples in this TreeHouseLetter are a different story but emulate Queneau’s style in the tales: the narrative, two subjective points of view, and Unexpected, the final chapter.

**My first acquaintance with Queneau came from an author interview in the not-quite-a-biography, Ascending Peculiarity, a self-portrait of Edward Gorey’s life. In the book, from an interview in 1998, Gorey responded to an inquiry on favorite authors or books.

Edward Gorey:

“I am almost never invited to tell the world at large what it ought to be reading. Thank you for that opportunity.

“First, Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau, for me the reference book for creative inspiration. I am forever dipping into it, if not reading it cover to cover, which takes less than an hour. Thirteen novels by Queneau are available in English translation; each is different from the others, but they are all delightful—read every one.”

**The reader may be curious of the unexceptional tale in today’s TreeHouseLetter. It is based on actual occurrences with minor changes.

Apr 28, 2022

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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