To reiterate the idea behind the Read Along With...program here at the EWN, "Reading along with the EWN--where I'll begin to tackle these larger titles and do so in sections, to help push me to a) make sure I tackle all of the books on my pile and not just the shorter novels or story collections, and b) read at least a little bit every day---I've noticed when reading a 2-300 page novel, unless I know I have 2-3 hours carved out to really dig in, that I'll set it aside, which has led to a lot of recent weekend and Holiday reading and not much else."
One thing I hope will be interesting is the process of discovery throughout reading a longer novel--I'm aware that my own thoughts can change drastically through the reading of a novel, especially a longer one. The learning through further reading of what exactly the author is doing, how their writing style might help or harm my understanding, etc.
Jeffrey Renard Allen's Rails Under My Back was originally published in 2000 by FSG. The version I have is the reprinting by his current publisher, Graywolf Press, from 2015 with an introduction by Charles Johnson. I know I read the introduction earlier this year when I pulled this book out for reading, but chose not to this time. Instead I jumped right into Allen's writing.
Part Two: Chosen - Chapter 5
In this chapter, we see Allen use internal thinking, via italics, to flush out the story as it moves forward. In regard to the family, we mainly see Hatch, Lucifer and Sheila's son. The internal thoughts often blend right into the paragraphs:
A red light halted him. He rubbed his throat. His voice hurt from the song. He pulled the sandwiches, greasy, slippery, from the paper bag. Took healthy bites. Damn. Is there any taste in egg white? Green put him back in motion.
The in and outs are seamless. Beyond this, Allen's writing is full of energy:
Second Street. Deep Second, Uncle John called it. Edgewater. Woodlawn long gone. South Shore too. An axis of distance. Hatch suffered a furnace of sky. The sun's still yellow wheel. Birds winged high in a windless sky, their voices--yes, voices, high above in the blue-red arch--circling, circling--like explorers--new terrain. The air poked sharp, threading the lungs. A trumpet to the blood. Strange. Cause no wind. Unusual, here in this city of one big lake (Tar Lake) that lifted a hawk from the icy nest of its waters and flapped you in the wind of its cold feathers (stalactites of feathers, dripping winter year-round)--this lake imitating ocean. Like a traveler who had not seen land for months, he saw the world with new eyes. All the colors vivid. Saw two black lines of birds--red-tipped beaks, beaks dipped in inkwells--stiff on two black lines of telephone wires. Trees in green leaf. Brown blazers of barks covering their trunks--And tracks. Networking through the bark, the seed must absorb water to rehydrate; Sheila's green thumb had impressed this lesson, in the middle of his forehead--and brown sleeves of bark enveloping their skinny limbs.
What I notice the most is the unique way Allen has of expressing things. The usage of "winged" as a verb; air poking; the brown blazers of barks. The back and forth from a long, rambling sentence or two straight into 16 words covering four sentences. And in terms of specific information, we learn that Hatch is upset that there are things that his father and Uncle John do together while leaving him out.
In terms of page count, I'm about 15% in, in terms of chapters, about 9%. Allen has given me information about some of the names on the family tree in the beginning of the novel, but not everybody. The way the sections have been broken up make a lot of sense and have kept the novel moving forward. And again, more and more I'm finding his usage of language simply fascinating.