In my last post I mentioned that one of the books I am reading is this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt. I am now on page 347 of 771.
Overall I have very much enjoyed this book, but reading it gives me an opportunity to make a highly specific comment.
When an author chooses to use the f-word, it needs to be in a very specific context and for a very specific reason. I won’t like it (for reasons I’ll outline below), but I’ll understand why it is being used.
I suppose you could argue that the word is used in this way in this book – two boys, left to fend for themselves by negligent fathers, doing what teenagers living in Las Vegas with no parental influence do – but there is a pitfall.
This word can become a crutch. It can be used to fill space that the author doesn’t yet know how to fill or as an exclamation point when, if the author had dug a bit deeper, a word(s) could’ve been found that would have pushed the characterization forward in a unique-to-that-character way.
One of the “rules” of fiction is that we don’t want our characters doing or saying things that any character in any story might say or do. The question is what would this character say or do in this precise situation.
I guess my frustration with the word is that it is a great generalization. It gives me no insight into the character. It doesn’t hold any of the nuance of point of view that gives a character dimension.
It isn’t interesting or engaging.
The f-word is cliché. It is everywhere in modern American lit, strewn here and there in lit journals, novels, plays, film, and essays.
And every time I run across it I have this same reaction.
It is like “whatever”. It is like “like”.
It is the very least our language has to offer.