July 16th, 2007

On Voice (and Appropriation)

Jace shouted at me, “Let’s look and see what’s around.”

What it was was just a club–a big old room with lots of tables and chairs getting in the ways of people trying to get to the bars. The bars were all shiny with those sorts of lights that are hidden under the ledge to make it look like the bar is a big old glowing spaceship from the future, instead of just what it was, which was a bar made out of plastic with lots of sweaty guys in polyester shirts trying to by expensive drinks for their cheap-looking dates.

But Jace was always wanting to look around a place. For him, no matter how crummy and boring a place was, he wanted to see it from all the angles. There was no use telling him that from the other side of a room it was still gonna be boring. He had to see it for himself.

Of course I got stuck going with him. For one thing, Jace had the sort of voice that really carried. I mean, whatever he said, you were going to hear him, that big booming voice of his. But if I’d’ve tried to answer, he would’ve just shook his head and put his hand up to his ear like he was deaf. He wouldn’t’ve been faking, neither–my voice just doesn’t carry in a club, specially when there’s a lot of bass in the music. I’m no whisperer, but when there’s bass, forget about it.

So I couldn’t have really argued even if I’d’ve wanted to, but anyways I didn’t really want to, even if I also didn’t want to go look around the club. I wasn’t hardly gonna just sit at the table by my own self and stare at the dancefloor. That’d be gorgeous–one girl alone at a table. Before I’d have known it, teenagers would’ve taken away all the extra chairs and Jace’s chair and probably my chair, also. They’re that tricky, the club kids.

And it wasn’t as if I felt like getting hit on. It’s bad enough when you can hear all the corny pickup lines that guys will try. I don’t even want to tell you some of the ones I’ve heard. Not even dirty or anything, just so corny you could puke. And that’s when you can hear them. A place like that, with the bass and all, and most guys not having a voice like Jace’s, you can’t hear what’s said to you. And so you shake your head and the guy thinks that that’s just an invitation to come a little closer and a little closer, until he’s practically spitting in your ear, and you still can’t hear anything but the goddamn bass.

Which all made it not so bad being hauled around by the hand, Jace yanking me around the edges of the club like goddamn dog on a leash. At least no one tried to talk to me.

***

The Catcher in the Rye was the first book I read where I was aware of voice and narration. Of course, I didn’t call it that–I was 11, and my literary endeavours mainly consisted of reading books and then putting a new sticker on the Reading Chart. I called it an accent, and maintained that just as countries and cities had accents, so did individual people, like Holden Caulfield. And just like the suggestible among us will come out of a film like Gosford Park halfway accented already, so can we pick up these personal accents just by protracted reading immersion. That’s why the easiest voices to identify are also the easiest to ape. Not that my little mimickry above is particularly Salinger-esque in terms of quality–it’s just Holden-esque in terms of voice. I can usually do that with any strong-voiced writer (Hemingway springs to mind, Tom Robbins [heh], Helen Fielding). I actually find I learn a lot from these rip-off exercises–what I’d like to appropriate from their voices, and how they do what they do. To some degree. Sort of.

Anyway, the above is how I’d write if I were J.D. Salinger but also somehow a young woman in Toronto in 2007. It’s a confusing hybrid, I know.

I want you holding flowers on my wedding day
RR

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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