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August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
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Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

The indelible image
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Matt’s been in town for the Online News Association conference and at some point we were jointly recommending Philip Roth’s Plot Against America to someone, and I said, ah yes, classic case of a book that left me, primarily, with a single indelible image.

This is completely idiosyncratic, of course. But I don’t really remember what happens in Plot Against America. What I do remember is the vision of President Charles Lindbergh (!) always flying his own plane, a dark Lockheed Interceptor—sometimes just taking an afternoon spin above Washington. I can see it like a photograph, or like it’s happening right now. For whatever reason, that image just clicked into place in my imagination, and it hasn’t budged.

Likewise, the daemons in Philip Pullman’s books. (Okay, Iorek the armored bear, too.) (And the witches.) (Pullman’s good.)

I read and enjoyed Lev Grossman’s new book The Magicians recently, and even now, I can feel the plot fading away—but an image remains. Two figures walking slowly across the dark bulk of Antarctica, wreathed in flame, shining like fallen stars. That’s what I’m going to remember a year from now, or ten.

Sometimes I find the fact of the indelible image a bit depressing. Jeez, I spent all that time reading that book, and that’s all I remember? But really, it’s wonderful—especially from a writer’s point of view. To leave a reader with something so distinct and durable—to tattoo something on their brain? That’s the challenge. That’s the trophy.

But this is all obviously lead-up. What’s your indelible image?

11 comments

Matt says…

Yes. From Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I retain a lone tree on a cold moor, a body swinging there from a rope. From The Return of the King, it’s Gollum dancing with joy at the edge of the precipice. Harry Potter is a high-ceilinged hall, students at breakfast, owls swooping in the windows with deliveries.

To be fair, I remember more of those stories than just these images… but these are the indelible ones.

Dan says…

Ooh. Jonathan Strange is full of those great images, as is Tolkien. For my money, Tom Bombadil’s frolicing wonderland in the wilderness stands out, as do those Ents ripping apart Saruman’s tower. In both cases, the images gain power from the ideas they represent: Bombadil’s simple, powerful, natural home as a place out of time or history; the Ents tearing through stone as a speeding up of the natural order wherein the living tree slowly cracks even the hardest rock—it’s positively Lyellian/Darwinian.

I’m not sure if this fits, but In The Skin of A Lion is full of them. I remember 80% of the plot, because so many of the scenes are burned, cinematically, onto my forehead. The nun’s falling, the package exploding, the frogs against the glass, the skating immigrants in the dark of the woods. The amazing thing is, the lyricism of the words–the interior monologues, especially–is right there with them: soft ghostly audio and elegant typeface combined, that sense of whispering thoughts to yourself in bed. Yep, still the best novel I’ve read since college.

Ender and his Spanish enemy fighting in the shower. Billy Pilgrim’s wife driving to see him at the hospital, her muffler broken. The Butler roaring into the telephone’s mouthpiece, “The master’s body? I’m sorry, madame, we cannot furnish it. It’s too hot to touch!” The microserfs sliding flat food under the door. Dianora diving into the water. There are a few . .

Also, the image of Death sitting in a ceremonial ruff, and Hans tiptoeing past him in black, from Magic Mountain. That’s still there.

Dan says…

The first image to spring to mind comes from Charles Dickens’ _Great Expectations_. Wemmick (a minor character) and Pip (the protagonist) set off together on a stroll. Their rum and milks digested, the two characters walk along, Wemmick dressed nicely while carrying a fishing rod. They ‘happen’ upon a church (“Halloa! Here’s a Church!”), pull out some nice gloves, find Miss Skiffins, and Wemmick says: “Let’s have a wedding.”

I love that picture of Wemmick, Pip, Miss Skiffins, the fishing rod, the gloves, the church and the impromptu wedding. I’ve always felt it was such a lovely and funny scene, indelible even.

“He always shot up by TV light.” Indelible image AND first line, in RE Howard Hughes, from American Tabloid by James Ellroy. Holy goodchrist, what an awesome read.

Orwell’s Burmese Days: All I can think about, when I think about that book (which I’ve read twice!) is the nasty birthmark on Flory’s face. Of course, that may be more because it was so instrumental to who he was as a character. I can certainly remember most of the plot, but whenever I am reminded or think of it, the mark is the starting point.

In “2666,” there’s a description of Archimboldi that likens him to brown seaweed. Out of all the wonderful and disturbing images in that book, that one sticks with me most. I picture this pale man with kelp-like arms…

Jennifer says…

For me there are two from LOTR:
1. Faramir’s dream, where he’s standing on a precipice and a great green wave is about to overtake him and
2. Faramir and Eowyn, standing together by the white tower, when the eagle delivers the news that Sauron has been defeated: “Sing now ye people of Arnor”

From Jonathan Strange and Dr. Norrell, I remember Strange stepping through the mirror, and little else.

I haven’t read Plot Against America yet but there was another book by Roth — I can’t even remember what it was called now! — where the protagonist visits his daughter and she has become an adherent to some horrifying cult where she’s not allowed to eat.

I could go on and on. I’ll stop now unless I think of a really good one.

-Jennifer

Amy says…

from Gone With the Wind, the scene where Rhett cries into Melanie’s lap while Scarlett is unconscious, recovering after falling down the stairs and her resulting miscarriage. Something about this incrdibly masculine, dark, 1850s man breaking down into a tiny woman’s skirts….for me its unforgettable (and not that it needs pointing out, but the scene is so much more fulfilling and true in writing than in the movie).

Jennifer says…

There’s another possible thread here: indelible images you wish you could forget. I have two each from The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Seriously. Why, oh why, did I think it was a good idea to read American Psycho?

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