On with our “word a day”
“Like A House on Fire”: Cate Kennedy
Think about Kennedy’s word choices, her sentence styles, layers of meaning -both direct and indirect; her use of (extended) metaphors and indirect quotes etc to complicate the meaning; they help her draw out conflict between characters and within characters; consider other narrative techniques that highlight differences and communication barriers; anxieties and tension between characters.
Characterisation of an over-bearing mother: p. 27 “Chris recalls the way she used to speak to him, like he was a slow-witted employee; her eye-rolling, histrionic exasperation at the slightest mishap.”
histrionic: excessively dramatic; insincere or artificial; melodramatic displays of temperament;
exasperation; fed up
Notice the simile and the mother’s body language. What annoys her?
“I don’t understand why you can’t just stay, she’ll say petulantly.” p 28
Dialogue – note the tone of voice, the mannerisms and body language. Why is Chris indirectly quoting his mother? What does that indicate?
petulant; irritable; impatient, sullen in a peevish or capricious way.
“Why hadn’t he answered with enthusiastic assent? What would it have cost him to give his father that, instead of a shrug, just for the small mean pleasure of feeling his father turn away, defeated?” p. 32
assent; agreement as to a statement, proposal, acceptance, hesitant agreement, compliance.
Style: Note the series of self-reflexive questions that accumulate meaning.
What do they reveal about Chris’s relationship with his father?
“It’s nauseating, this revisionism; it infuriates him”. (27)
revisionism: the advocacy of revision of some theory or doctrine or critical interpretation; note the negative connotations attached to the mother’s tendency to reinvent the past.
to infuriate: to anger, to annoy
“No possibility that Chris might be permitted to feel the same violent shirking resistance.”
shirking: to shirk – to avoid discharging (work, a duty); evade.
Note the precise use of adjective with the nominal “resistance”
“Chris had wanted to say something, some retort that would salvage some pride, but his mouth had felt dry, scorched somehow.” p. 24
to salvage: the act, process or business of rescuing vessels or their cargoes from loss at sea; to save or rescue (goods or property) from fire, shipwreck, to gain (something beneficial) from a failure; she salvaged little from the broken marriage.
“to salvage some pride” is a common expression
scorched; to scorch; to burn or become burnt; so as to affect the colour, taste etc. or to cause or feel pain; to wither or parch or to cause to wither from exposure to heat; a mark from heat.
Notice the nice alliteration working in the sentence to capture the tension between Chris and Scott.
“There was something deeply dissatisfying about him, something that baffled his father and pinned a strained, mortified smile on his mother’s face when they had visitors.” (p. 24)
to baffle; to perplex; bewilder; puzzle; to frustrate (plans, efforts etc.); to check, restrain, or regulate
to mortify; to humiliate or cause to feel shame;
Notice the difference between father and mother owing to the nuances of the verbs, to baffle and to mortify.
“He’d expected commiseration when he’d related the father-son trips to Scott one time, but Scott had collapsed with mirth instead.” (25)
to commiserate with; to feel or express sympathy or compassion; notice the nominal – commiseration
to collapse with mirth – laughter, gaiety, merriment.
Notice the tension between Scott and Chris which is exemplified by Scott’s unforeseen reaction.
“He just had to wait for the right moment, he’d told Scott in increasing tones of self-recrimination.”
recrimination: the act or an instance of recriminating; to recriminate; to return an accusation against someone or engage in mutual accusations.
Note the use of the reflexive to highlight inner conflict owing to his sexuality; note the nominal used to indicated conflict with his partner, Scott. It highlights fundamental differences that lead to a split/a bone of contention.
‘”What a shame you never thought to take photos on those trips,” she says fretfully.’ p. 27)
to fret: to distress or be distressed; worry; to rub or wear away; to irritate or be irritated; feel or give annoyance or vexation; to eat away ; to corrode;
fretful; peevish; irritable or upset
Note the dialogue and the tone of voice and mannerisms that give an immediate insight into the mother’s character and mindset.
“This the reality, he imagines saying to her, just you and me, your 35-year-old son who you cast as the perennial bachelor, this pitiful pilgrimage I can’t wait to be finished with.” p. 27
perennial – lasting throughout the year or through many years; everlasting; perpetual; a woody or herbaceous plant that continues its growth for at least three years.
Notice the nice alliteration to highlight the feelings of a bachelor that are uncomfortable
Notice the use of indirect quotes to highlight self-reflection; it is a nice way of saying what he would like to say but cannot. It indicates a difference between outward and inward appearances and feelings.