I read e.e. cummings’ The Enormous Room and I have to say I don’t know what to think. Reading this book, I am reminded of a review I read somewhere (Amazon, likely) calling Samuel Delany’s style ‘prosetry’. At the time, I was not even sure what the devil the person was referring to (I recall looking the word up), but gathering that the person who used it meant it as a bad thing. Delany is certainly poetic with his prose, and that is what I have come to enjoy the most about his books, but it seems to me as a far cry from a blending of poetry and prose.
cummings, on the other hand, seems to do exactly that. He seems to have a disregard for the journalistic writing conventions that form what prose novels should look like. You can almost see cummings own poetry style peering from under the cloth of this prose work, ready to transmute the whole thing into poetry. Consider:

The straw will do. Ouch, but it’s Dirty.-Several hours elapse…
Stepsandfumble. Klang. Repetition of promise to Monsieur Savy, etc.
Turnkeyish and turnkeyish. Identical expression. One body collapses sufficiently to deposit a hunk of bread and a piece of water.
Give your bowl.
I gave it, smiled and said : “Well, how about that pencil?”
“Pencil?” T-C looked at t-c.
They recited then the following word : “Tomorrow.” Klangandfootsteps.

It’s not bad, but I wonder if it works in a novel. If this was written in verse, I would not have a problem with it. But it isn’t, it’s written in prose.
This is not to say you can’t be poetic in prose, just that you can do so while still respecting the confines of prose.
There is something much worse n the book. Namely, a constant switching from English to French. Language switching can at time be done well, as I feel Cormac McCarthy does. The problem, I think, may best be summed up with an Orwell quote, which I will paraphrase as “don’t use a foreign word when a perfectly good English word exists.” This should be extended to phrases as well. Consider: “Except for the position – well, c’est la guerre.” Now, I can understand that line, but I can’t understand why the hell it couldn’t have simply been said in English. As far as I can discern, all this does is add a layer the kind of faux-intellectualism some attribute to the use of a foreign language. It doesn’t make you smarter, and it doesn’t make you sound smarter. McCarthy does it well in his books because he uses it to place his story; when you are dealing with stories set on the border it does much to reveal setting and characters. Here, that is not the case. Again in the sentence “Madame la vendeuse de cafe, I shall remember you for more than a little while.” there is nothing than a similar sentence translated to English.

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