Being invited into a person's living quarters in New York City is a huge gesture of trust. Certainly their choice of art work, furniture, paint color, reveals much about their taste and style. But that's the case anywhere, isn't it? New York is different; it remains a city of neighborhoods built up along the lines of class and race: the Upper East Side for Old Money, the West Side for New. Downtown for the Trendies. And all sorts of strivers and dreamers and regular middle- and working-class folks sprinkled everywhere in between, snapping up any apartment that is bug-free (please!) and not too overpriced (pretty please!). But it's not necessarily the location are addressed that defines a person. You can lease a tiny, rent-controlled studio just off the East side's Madison Avenue -- or, one building over, own a massive multi-bedroom flat inherited from a wily old grandfather. In midtown offices, coworkers wonder if their peers are pulling themselves up by their bootstraps or are really just trust-fund babies. When impressions are everything, would you want any one to know the truth either way?
That's why regular, workaday New Yorkers "entertain" in restaurants. Cocktail bars. Meeting up at the museum. Oh, sure, you'll hear people say it's because of the size of their apartment. That the kitchen is too small to make a reasonable meal. But that's just part of the equation. Because unless you go out of your way to live hugely above or below your means, letting a friend, a colleague, a significant other into your home reveals everything: your attitudes, your sense of style... and the state of your pocketbook. It's one thing if your home is so grand as to intimidate, though in New York there is always someone who has more, bigger, seemingly better. Opening your apartment door invite envy or condescension. It changes the playing field.
The truth comes down to this: in a city obsessed with wealth and status, there are few gestures more intimate than being invited into someone's home.
So when Marty suggested to Anita that it would be fun to just stay in for a night, cook a meal together, and enjoy some wine, she panicked.
~~ from The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
I've been thinking about doing little mini-units on some of the techniques employed in this book. She breaks a lot of rules, and she does it to good effect. Or, rather, perhaps rather than saying she breaks the rules, we should say that she's stretching the narrative with techniques we don't see much in genre fiction.
Here, for example, she uses a technique that Alicia discusses in her book on point of view. Those of you who have read Alicia's book might remember this. It's okay sometimes to start a scene in a more objective or omniscient point of view, and then gradually sink the reader lower down into the subjective third person.
So really, that's what the author is doing in this passage. Except her omniscient isn't exactly objective, is it? We get the sense of an actual narrator, a perspective being provided by someone outside the events of the book. This is sometimes called the intrusive author, but I've never liked that term because it implies that the author is doing something bad. Instead, let's call it subjective omniscient. The external narrator has a point of view.
One of the interesting things about the omniscient point of view is that it lends itself a little more readily to touches of formality. All the colons and semicolons don't jar in this passage, and I'm usually very sensitive to their presence. But because this passage reads in an almost academic manner, the more formal punctuation is less disruptive.
And yet the tone of the piece is anything but formal. Notice the way she incorporates an almost dialogue-like feeling in some of the prose. There are fragments, casual interjections like "oh, sure," rhetorical questions (who is asking what of whom, exactly?), and bits of slang to modernize this mini-treatise on New York apartments.
What else do you notice about this passage? Take a closer look at the way she chooses and organizes her words, and tell me in the comments what you see. And what effect it creates on the overall passage. This is highly controlled writing, and it's well worth a bit of your time to analyze it, even if this particular type of book isn't your first choice for reading pleasure.