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"...each pigeon diving wildly as though blackjacked by the sound..."

From Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man:

And somewhere between the dull roar of traffic and the subway vibrating underground I heard rapid explosions and saw each pigeon diving wildly as though blackjacked by the sound, and the cop sitting up straight now, and rising to his knees looking steadily at Clifton, and the pigeons plummeting swiftly into the trees, and Clifton still facing the cop and suddenly crumpling.

He fell forward on his knees, like a man saying his prayers just as a heavy-set man in a hat with a turned-down brim stepped from around the newsstand and yelled a protest. I couldn't move. The sun seemed to scream an inch above my head. A few men were starting into the street. The cop was standing now and looking down at Clifton, as though surprised, the gun in his hand.

What fantastic, fantastic writing - I'm in awe of Ellison when I read passages like this. There's so much I love - the blurred, fast-paced action which still pauses, ever so briefly, to reflect on the pigeons in flight; the uncertainty in the first paragraph of what happened to Clifton and the abrupt explanation ("the gun in his hand") in the second paragraph; the exquisite control as the long, rushing sentences suddenly yield to short sentences; the suggestion in just three words ("as though surprised") that the cop acted more out of subconscious impulse than intentional malice. I think every fiction writer should read and study this great book.

May 13, 2012 in Books | Permalink

Comments

And apparently the youthful Obama's copy was dogeared.

Posted by: Shelley at May 15, 2012 11:21:15 AM

If so, that's one more reason for me to admire him.

Posted by: Pete at May 15, 2012 4:52:30 PM