I just finished The Round House, by Louise Erdritch. The writing soared, the characters tugged me into their world, and the ending left me hanging and wanting so much more. This is the first time I’ve read anything by Ms. Erdritch, and it’s safe to say it won’t be the last book by her that I devour. Depending on dialog, that is.
The author’s lack of quotation marks around dialog stymied me. My eyes are so trained to catch those tiny mouse-turd cues, that I stumbled over their absence. I use ‘mouse-turds’ on purpose because once there were some in a book I read, and I thought they were quotation marks in a weird spot.
I found myself reading along, captured by beautiful writing, only to suddenly realize I was reading dialog. Then I’d have to back up to pick up where people started talking, and work my way back to where I was interrupted and pulled out of the story.
If the story had been less powerful, I would have stopped reading simply because I dislike being taken out of the story world. The book was very bumpy to read because of that.
I wondered why the author chose to not use quotation marks. A dislike of the shift key? Some sort of artistic point I’m too dense to pick up? A signal that I was reading literature rather than just a very good story? Those questions also pulled me away as a reader. Which made me then wonder, when is something artistic, and when is it simply a device to make someone stand out, or to prove you can break a rule and get away with it?
A while back I talked about reading books by Elly Griffiths, who writes in present tense, and how skilfully she handles that. So well, in fact, that her ‘device’ never once pulled me out of the stories. Present tense isn’t a style of writing one sees often, and it could easily have failed. I’m glad it didn’t because I really do love her series.
It’s the same with this book. Whatever the author’s reason for not using quotation marks, The Round House was still a very good story. Unlike with Elly Griffiths though, I’m not sure I’d read another book without quotation marks around dialog. It was simply too disjointed, having to continuously back up and re-read. Interestingly, when I read reviews of the book on Amazon, I didn’t see any mention of this. Well, I also didn’t read all of the thousand comments, so who knows. Someone else might have missed the mouse-turds, too.
What do you think makes a writing device succeed or fail? Why do you think authors choose to create a story that breaks the expected rules? And do you like to read books that step outside the traditional format?