I was going to buy this book anyway, because I’m a fan of Cross-Smith’s work, both in terms of her own fiction and in terms of her fantastic literary magazine, WhiskeyPaper. (I had a story in WhiskeyPaper a while back.) And the title is killer — so terse yet so lyrical, and such a beautiful contradiction of language. So this was always going to wind up on my bookshelf.
But then yesterday I watched this trailer:
I had to watch it twice.
The speaker’s voice is enough to sell me on the book (and no, it’s not Cross-Smith’s voice — I asked). The fluidity and softness of her accent does such a wonderful job of finding the balance between the opposing words of the title, the love and the conflict, the heady sound of magnolias and the cutting edge of rosethorns. And whoever directed the scenes did a fantastic job, both in terms of composing the shots and in terms of what comes out of the actors. It’s a beautiful piece of art in its own right.
But then there are the words — Cross-Smith’s words — and they’re stunning. The trailer opens with three lines, spaced out in the actor’s voice to distinguish the sentences as well as to accentuate the rhythms of Cross-Smith’s prose:
“He lives on a houseboat when he’s home and sometimes he fights in wars. Of course he’s killed a man with his bare hands. I want him to show me.”
The language is simple but the syntax shows so much. He lives on a houseboat . . . when he’s home . . . and sometimes he fights in wars.
(Of course) — spoken softly and quickly, not emphasized but an aside. A given. We should assume he’s killed a man. With his bare hands.
And then, this soft-spoken, sad-sounding woman tells us, “I want him to show me.”
As the trailer goes on, she describes how she backs into him, how she puts his arm around her throat, and what follows is a beautiful, terrifying dance that is simultaneously sensual and dangerous, a perfect blending of sex and death, the exact conflation of kissing and warfare. It’s the whole book in a single passage, and it’s a testament to how precise Cross-Smith’s writing is.
So I bought the book. Because of course I know Cross-Smith can write this way, can simultaneously elevate and devastate me with words. But I can’t wait for her to show me.