yo so i saw your beautiful purple prose rant and, like. do you have any book recs? I'm about to finally finish my education stint for a while so summer's looming and full of promise
Yes I do! (the post in question, for the curious.)
Firstly, very nearly foremostly, do you know Catherynne M Valente, a writer who believes in indulgence rather than sparsity, who’ll DROWN you in beautiful words until you’re sort of gasping for breath under the sheer rippling weight of her sentences, until you emerge from her books in like a post-coital haze, not totally sure what happened, but dizzyingly certain it changed you?
Deathless is my favorite, but I also love Radiance and Six Gun Snow White.
If you don’t know Nabokov, NABOKOV YOURSELF UP. He is the KING of purple prose. My favorites are Lolita, Pnin, and Pale Fire, which I honestly think contain some of the most beautiful passages ever composed in the English language. Here, I’m gonna let Nabokov Nabokov at you for a second, in the guise of the protagonist of Pale Fire, talking about the miracle of writing:
“In the large envelope I carried I could feel the hard-cornered, rubberbanded batches of index cards. We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immoral imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of the gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats. What if we awake one day, all of us, and find ourselves utterly unable to read? I wish you to gasp not only at what you read but at the miracle of its being readable (so I used to tell my students). Although I am capable, through long dabbling in blue magic, of imitating any prose in the world (but singularly enough not verse–I am a miserable rhymester), i do not consider myself a true artist, save in one matter: I can do what only a true artist can do–pounce upon the forgotten butterfly of revelation, wean myself abruptly from the habit of things, see the web of the world, and the warp and the weft of that web. Solemnly I weighed in my hand what I was carrying under my left armpit, and for a moment I found myself enriched with an indescribable amazement as if informed that fireflies were making decodable signals on behalf of stranded spirits, or that a bat was writing a legible tale of torture in the bruised and branded sky.
I was holding all of Zembla pressed to my heart.”
Another dude I love who makes his language fucking scintillate is Marquez. Almost all magical realists favor purple prose–sentences that GRAB YOU and SEDUCE YOU and describe dark things beautifully and beautiful things darkly and leave you dizzied and hungry in the crepuscular space between adjectives. Love in the Time of Cholera and 100 Years of Solitude are my favorites. But, like. He’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez. You can’t go wrong.
Karen Russell doesn’t always write magical realism, but her prose is magic as fuck. Swamplandia! and St Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves are the best. A tiny representative sample: “Quiet rode outward like a wildfire after that, engulfing the ditch and me inside it. I held onto the flashlight with both hands. I listened for my sister’s movements inside the dredge; instead, I heard the creaklings of quick, hunted life in inside the ditch and the groans of the taller trees in the center of the dome.” Someone lamer than Karen Russell might have taken the same content and written: It was quiet. All I could hear were wind and crickets. Instead we get quiet RIDING like a WILDFIRE, quiet ENGULFING, trees groaning, bugs and animals CREAKLING, quick and hunted, because Karen Russell is a BAMF.
There’s always Junot Diaz, who knows exactly how to dazzle you with glittering spiked sentences and then how to punch you hard in the heart with emotions. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown are the best, but all the Junot Diaz stories are worth your time.
Helen Oyeymi is a little subtler and less in your face, but that’s just because her sentences are quicksand. You think you’re on solid ground, but then she sucks you in and you find yourself somewhere shadowed and strange cupping the word “rat-catcher” between your hands and wondering why it looks beautiful. Boy, Snow, Bird and what is not yours is not yours are my favorites.
Other writers who write just as goddamn beautifully but who I’m just going to list instead of individually reccing because I’m getting tired include:
JIM SHEPARD, possibly my favorite short story writer of all time, check out Love and Hydrogen and Like You’d Understand Anyway and You Think That’s Bad and literally every single one of his short story collections, the man is a fucking masterclass
FRANCESCA LIA BLOCK
SARAH SHUN-LIEN BYNUM!!!!!!!
STEPHEN MILLHAUSER (I LIED, CHECK OUT THE WIZARD OF WEST ORANGE, IT’S SO GOOD)
RON HANSEN (READ MARIETTE IN ECSTASY. READ MARIETTE IN ECSTASY RIGHT NOW. AND THEN READ EXILES, AND DESPERADOES, AND THEN THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. THEY’LL ALL KILL YOU SO GOOD.)
THOMAS HARRIS, OBVIOUSLY.
AND I CAN’T BELIEVE I ALMOST FORGOT, BUT:
like if you haven’t read Dorian Gray, READ DORIAN GRAY. But then come back, because the language in the plays and the stories is witty and engaging and fucking bejeweled, Oscar WIlde’s language gleams and trembles like the scarlet flash of a ruby caught in the eye of a martyr’s skull in a Roman catacomb.