RARA-AVIS: Re: Kernick hedging

From: Max Gilbert ( jmaxgilbert@yahoo.com)
Date: 17 Mar 2005

> No problem with your post, Karin. But I have a
> problem with Simon Kernick' comment:
> "I personally wouldn't write a scene that involved
> gratuitous..."
> He's hedging his bet with the word "gratuitous."
> Anything that comes after it shouldn't be written. If
> he doesn't want to do child violence, he ought to at
> least have the gumption to say it flat out, without
> qualifying it with cheap disclaimers like
> "gratuitous."
> miker

While I don't know Kernick's work and can't comment on what he intended, I don't "gratuitous" is a meaningless adjective when used to describe violence. For example, Vachss work describes the abuse of adolescents or children but it's there for a reason and I don't think anyone would accuse of him of discussing child abuse simply to titillate or excite his readers. Someone else mentioned the psycho- killer novel in which the killer tries to find more-and-more creative ways to snuff people out--that violence is often gratuitous--it's not realistic nor does it serve a purpose beyond showing a novel way of killing. I have no problem reading about violence if it's convincing and advances the plot or provides a real insight into a character, but sometime a more restrained approach is actually more effective. For example, I just finished Jim Tully's CIRCUS PARADE, leaving aside the question of whether it's fiction or not, there is a wonderfully understated passage in which Tully is describing a real SOB who works as a circus boss:

"Slug Finnerty was the chief spieler. He had lost an eye in a brawl many years before. The empty socket was red and criss-crossed with scars. He was deeply pock-marked and stoop-shouldered. His ears had been pounded until they resembled pieces of putty clining to his bald and cone-shaped head. An ex-cruiser of the old school, he had served five years in a southern penitentary for a crime unspeakable. The boy was injured internally."

You learn how violent this man is just from his description. Nor is there any need to describe his crime (Tully would probably not have been able to and get published in 1927 anyway)--to call it unspeakable would have been too vaugue by itself, but the last line is sufficient to give let the reader know what was going on.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 17 Mar 2005 EST