Two contemporary American authors recommend themselves for their use of the English language, mystery writer Will Thomas and poet Barbara Hamby. They have little in common. Their subject matter and style don’t match. Yet each handles the language with vigor and grace without sacrificing the forward motion often missing in literary works.
In the five novels in which he chronicles the adventures of Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn, Thomas writes at a studied rate that matches the pace of the Victorian England he portrays. As narrator, Llewelyn describes action with a sharp ferocity, which is to be expected in mysteries and thrillers. It’s in the descriptions and transitions that the author shines, passages that in lesser hands would read as filler, or asides.
Here Llewelyn describes Irish beauty Maire O’Casey in Thomas’s second book in the series, To Kingdom Come: “With her hair pulled back loosely, she looked fresh out of one of the paintings by the fellow Renoir, who obviously had a passion for redheads. A jolt of electricity ran down my spine as if I were a tree trunk split in half.”
Poet Barbara Hamby abandons quiet passion for the full-throated kind. Here’s the beginning of her tour de force, “Mambo Cadillac,” from her book All-Night Lingo Tango:
Drive me to the edge in your Mambo Cadillac,
turn left at the graveyard and gas that baby, the black
night ringing with its holy roller scream. I’ll clock
you on the highway at three a.m., brother, amen, smack
the road as hard as we can, because I’m gonna crack
the world in two, make a hoodoo soup with chicken necks,
a gumbo with plutonium roux, a little snack
before the dirt-and-jalapeño stew that will shuck
the skin right off your slinky hips, Mr. I’m-not-stuck
Remind you of the early short stories of T.C. Boyle? You can hear Garrison Keillor read “Mambo Cadillac” on The Writers Almanac and Hamby’s own reading for the Southeast Review in Tallahassee, available from the iTunes store.
If you like a little kick to your writing, you’ll want to ride with these two.