A few weeks ago, I was watching an interview on PBS with Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for her novel Beloved, a story about a runaway slave, who, after 18 years is still tortured by her past. Morrison’s newest book, Home, was out in May, a tale concerning another tortured mind, this time a Korean War veteran who is unable to escape his memories of that conflict.
(Courtesy of blogspot.com)
Morrison was recently honored at the White House with the Medal of Freedom and talking about her work is like talking about a jar of peanut butter. Almost everyone recognizes it instantly. But she is capable of surprise. During her interview she made a statement so profound that the recognition of it forced me to hold my breath: It’s “harder to write less to make it more.”
She brought into consciousness what I sensed by intuition: that a word must be chosen not only for is appropriateness as to meaning but like a pearl along a string, its placement is also critical. Hemingway knew the value of a few, well placed words. So did Raymond Carver. In the wrong hands, however, simplicity dissolves into Dick and Jane stories. The melding of elegance and clarity is difficult, but the two belong together like a jewel in its setting.
True, Tolstoy, Dickens and Dumas wrote voluminously but their genius lay in penetrating the human heart. A writer new in his craft would do well to heed Morrison’s advice. Strive to do more with less. Poets, of course, mastered the art centuries ago.