Sunday, November 7, 2010

Clink Your Glasses

Voice is everything.

There is not much difference between the strident, disagreeable voices you hear in coffee shop conversations or, indeed, in telephone calls soliciting news of your state of health before plunging into attempts at selling you things you didn't much want, nor even more to the point, many of the books you find staring out at you from the shelves of bookstores, the library book sale racks, or in the mere advertisements of forthcoming books in the better reviews.  All these things have voices, rely on voice, fly or fall on the conveyance of voice.

Factor in the audio book and you have ratified yet another way the effect of voice on result; a well performed audio book will impart dramatic quality to a mediocre text.  An excellent text, poorly read, has to settle for its chances at the lower levels of success.

According to our tastes and sensibilities, we embrace, put up with, or are put off by the emerging voice in a transaction, be it literary, political, romantic, or merely the occasional commercial transaction we must all engage.  We have some time in the past made the necessary accommodations with those we regard as friends--as they have with us.  The live quality in the voice of a friend is love.

If a story has no discernible voice, most readers will give it one resonant with their own taste, which is an acknowledgment to the writer of a loss of control of a major sort.  A writer can ill afford a neutral voice or, for that matter, any tone suggesting passivity; the tone of a story must reflect the feelings and attitudes of those who are plucked from the comforts of the Sunday afternoon doze to confront the incessant needs of drama.  These needs, as insistent and yet notional as a cat, wanting either ingress or exit, do not allow the character any more leisure than what has already been taken.  Persons in real life situations have distractions, moments, priorities, perhaps even individuals for hire or emotional blackmail to do their bidding.  Persons in stories have no such choices, rather they face the Ben-and-Jerry menu of consequences, things that we readers know will happen to them down the line no matter what they do.

The thing that keeps us at our reading is the suspense of seeing what those consequences will be, how smart we are to have avoided those consequences in similar situations, or perhaps the envy of imagining a consequence we dare not hope for (because we know we have done nothing to earn the outcome, because always in the back of our mind is the intent to do the things we hope will provide consequences we can not only live with but enjoy).

By the time we have reached a certain age (which varies among us) we have heard voices of parents, teachers, clergy, politicians, scientists, prognosticators, sales persons who tell us we look way groovy in a particular item of clothing we have serious doubts about.  We have heard friends telling us in the particular voice of for-your-own-good that something we are contemplating is the equivalent of a major magnitude train wreck.  We have heard silver-tongued orators and professional actors declaiming lines in which wisdom and understanding and love dwell.  We have, if we have been at all fortunate in love, been compared to a summer's day and come out the better for it.  We have been warned by favored waitpersons off particular dishes at particular restaurants--"The chef is having a bad day."--and we have been reminded by students of our effect on them even while the voice of an administrator from the same institution is plangent with the need for more careful articulation of teaching goals and their results.

The cumulative effect of this experience has given us a sensitivity to voice in all its permutations, even voice originating in us and our written expression.  We are wary of how a thing will sound, acute to our opportunities to say the things we have to say, eager for the right note, that ebullient clink of sound that is as a joyous flick against the side of a crystal wine goblet, resonant with the cheer of the moment and the awareness of the wonderful fluid within it.

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