Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Goyen’s distinctive style permeates any other investigation into his fiction, be it for character, for plot, or for theme. The surface of his language is inescapable, seeming to envelop the reader in a lyrical web that can best be approached as a kind of spoken music, a cadenced, colloquial music put down in words from deep attention to the rhythms and repetitions of a regional, yet interior, voice. Goyen’s voice, a blend of Texan and Mexican and rural tongues, touched by the King James Bible and the Romance languages, cannot be located in the mapped world; his language charts its own place, becomes a world at times so heady that a single sentence tumbles through so many transfigurations of simile that anyone in search of a regular story would feel lost and perhaps even fatigued by the force and passion in the prose.

As in much of Goyen’s fiction, someone in “A Shape of Light” struggles to listen, to comprehend, and then to set down for others a story essentially too complicated to be told. Much of the experience that seems worthy of being passed on is noncorporal, or spiritual, in nature and therefore doomed to find only partial expression in language. The effect of this visible effort is nearly magical; the complexity of overlapping texts, of records and messages, retellers and relisteners, brings to light what cannot otherwise be spoken. To simplify stylistically would be a lie in the face of the mystery. In this way, Goyen’s voice embodies both a fictional territory all his own and a very intense struggle to make lasting shapes, to “tell it” against the destructive intrusions of time and death.