We have cooked up a little experiment for you here at the Literary Lab. It's been some time since we've done anything like this, so hopefully you're rested up and ready to participate, because you are an integral part of this experiment.
Here's the deal:
1. We will present prose excerpts from four writers, and tell you who wrote what.
2. We will present prose excerpts from the same four writers, in a different order, and not tell you who wrote what.
3. You will compare the examples and tell us who wrote which of the unidentified excerpts.
4. We'll talk about this tomorrow, based on the results. We have no idea what those results will be or what conclusions we'll draw, but we're Very Excited to find out!
Here we go!
From Michelle Davidson Argyle:
The light along the gulf’s horizon melted twice before the search for Edna was reconciled. She was found bruised and naked amidst a tangle of bright green seaweed. Along with the sand and crushed shells crusted against her salted body were creamy white feathers, twisted and broken. Two mornings before, the search began when Edna did not show for the meal she had so discourteously requested. After Edna’s clothes were found, the beach was scoured for hours on end, night and day, without the help of Mr. Pontellier who, although returned from business because of Edna’s disappearance, believed his foolish wife had simply run away for a few days. “I have no worries,” he replied. “She will return. It is only a spell she is passing through, and if this is what it takes to get it out of her system, then so be it.”
Mariequita was alone when she found Edna sprawled across the sand with her arms and legs flung in uncanny contortions. The woman who had once been a wife and mother was now broken along the shore, comparable to a small child lazing innocently in the weak sunlight— perhaps too stubborn or deaf to obey its mother’s orders to put its clothes back on. Mariequita stared only for a moment as she dug her muddy feet into the grainy sand, wondering whether Edna had really only dipped her toes into the water and been carried away by surprise, or if she had voluntarily swam out to sea in hopes of being carried away.
From Scott G.F. Bailey:
It was not far to the General Post Office on Sackville Street, but because he knew that Mr. O’Hagan would have left the office before his errand was done, Malone took his time walking through downtown. The weather had turned hot and humid and he had no desire to be soaked with sweat by the time he returned to work. In fact, Malone had no desire to return to work at all. Finnerty’s funeral had soured his thoughts for the day. He wandered at random through the crowded streets for some time, paused briefly to look up at the afternoon sun and then carried the package into a pub a block north of the post office.
Malone ordered a pint of stout, paying out of O’Hagan’s half-crown. The parcel lay on the table before him, addressed to Finnerty’s nephew in London. He remembered now that Finnerty had, before dying, written to this nephew but had not posted the letter and that the parcel contained something he’d left to the nephew in his will. He should have remembered the contents of both the letter and the parcel; he’d sat and listened as O’Hagan read Finnerty’s will aloud not a day earlier. But for the last several months Malone had been sleepwalking through his days, acting more out of habit than will. He frequently took breaks from copying or filing documents to scratch out short lists. In his coat pocket, in fact, was one such list he’d scribbled that very morning.
From Anne Gallagher:
As they drew closer to the old house, William hobbled the horses in a small clearing about twenty feet off the path. The two men moved stealthily through the remaining brush and came to rest in the back of the house.
"There’s someone in there, smoke from the chimney," Peter whispered. He pointed to a single stack.
Downstairs, the curtained windows hid any signs of life. William kept his eye on the second floor and was rewarded by a slight movement from the corner room.
"Up there," William whispered and pointed to the window. His heart almost broke when John appeared at the pane. How were they going to get his attention and where were the others?
"Now what, sir?" Peter looked to William for the answer.
"I don’t know. I'm going around front to see what that holds, then we'll come up with a plan. You stay here and if there’s any way you can get John's attention without being seen, do it." William crouched and made his way on his belly through the underbrush around to the front of the house.
Heavy curtains draped the front windows as well. An overgrown garden stood off to one side of the manison. A barely discernable drive led through another wilderness in the opposite direction. Two horses grazed in a field a short distance from the house. There was no barn, any outbuildings to use as cover, or people.
From Domey Malasarn:
The abductions started around the same time Trish met Scott. The first night it happened, Trish had been driving home on Interstate 7 after the couple’s second date. They had gone to a seafood restaurant, a place where Scott’s family celebrated all of their major milestones. She associated Scott with the aliens for a time, so blurry was her memory due to the lack of sleep. All of it had seemed extraterrestrial, not just the aliens, but the idea of being in love with Scott...the idea of being in love at all. On the night she lost her virginity to Scott, she knew that the aliens were watching.
There were two types of beings on the spaceship. (She hated that she now used words like "beings" and "spaceship".) One was a translucent humanoid form, the other like deshelled oysters: small, globular, mucoidal. The oysters slid around on the floor in glossy heaps, sometimes gathering in the corners as they conferred with one another. It was these oysters that seemed to be in charge of everything. The humanoids did all the work, but they were dumb. When they wanted Trish to raise her arms, they would raise their own arms. If she didn’t comply right away, more of them would raise their arms. In her most frightening moments—climbing onto the table, parting her legs for the probes—she felt as if she was surrounded by a tai chi class. She wasn’t even sure they were actually alive, these humanoids; they could have had motors inside them for all she knew. The oysters were the patient watchers. The oysters were the masterminds.
And now the Mystery Excerpts!
I am homesick, Olivia thought. I miss Ali, his breath sweet with dates and almonds and his hair foolishly scented with English pomade like a cheap mobster. I miss the gap between your front teeth, she thought. What am I to do with you, Ali Ali Ali? Your name sounds like the wailing of Arab mothers at a funeral, and I hope you are being cautious. Algiers is a dangerous city, especially for men who take employment with the French oppressors.
A wind came up and Olivia made to snatch the wine glass from the window but she mistook the distance and knocked the glass off the ledge. It tumbled away out of sight to shatter on a paving stone below. Well, it had not been much of a glass.
Olivia stood and leaned out of the window, into the wind. The nights here were not as warm as she’d imagined they’d be. Her skin constricted in the cold air and she felt brittle, useless anger and the urge to scream out, to howl at the sliver of moon. She pushed her shoes from her feet and was about to pull off her dress and lean naked and foolish out into the frigid salt breeze when she heard the children laughing.
Richard stood on the fore deck of the triple-masted clipper, the spray of the water stinging his face. His heart filled with an immeasurable joy. There was nothing in the world like standing on an ocean-going vessel. The smell of the salt as it stung his nostrils, the heavy wetness encompassing him, almost womblike. The vastness of the water mesmerized him, what was on the other side, what treasure could be found there? He loved the ocean the same way he loved a woman.
As comforting as a mother’s hand with the gentle ebb and flow of the tides, the bob and sway as the vessel moved through the water, almost like sitting in a rocking chair suckling on a breast. The sea could also be as furious as a woman scorned, ranting and wild, a tempestuous fury. As beautiful as any woman he had ever seen, with her myriad of effervescent colors, shimmering or dull, the ever-changing hues of virulent blues and purples to chartreuse and moss to grey. And formed like a woman; the swell of a breast, the curve of a waist, the sway of her hips as she walked away. Yes his only true love was the ocean.
As the cookies baked, she slept and I studied her long, thin body lying limp on the couch. Her eyelashes, frail and skeletal, fluttered against her cheekbones. She was wedged between dream and sleep, unconscious of the fact that I was breathing her in. My heart beat wildly at the remembrance of her taking me into her arms years earlier. I was eleven, and she had whispered into my ear that there would be times I would feel sad, but those times would pass. She caressed my forehead, her hand smelling of lilacs. That was the year he died, my father, her husband. That was the year she began to tremble, the year she hid her red hair behind golden curls, the year she put up the fence. Change advanced gradually—in layers so slight I was only now beginning to see them, and for a brief moment I caught a glimpse of how thick these layers, these gradations of change had become, but another moment of reflection brought me back to the deliberate acceptance I learned years ago.
From the window behind her, bars of yellow light fell across my mother’s closed eyes. For a moment, she was so hushed with some thought wedged in her mind that I could hear the leaves fall outside. It was autumn, a season of change, but with my eyes focused on my mother, I felt as if there would only be one season, one age that would stretch further than I could ever imagine.
He woke to a strange sound. Orange light from a streetlamp below shone up through the blinds and streaked across his bare chest and legs. He panted, as if waking from a nightmare, though he had no memory of any dream. His skin was pricked with heat. The bed sheets were damp. The stench of skunk came in through the open window.
He looked at his room, inverted as it was from his position on the bed. He had knocked over the nightstand and the lamp lay disjointed beside an empty water glass. The bulb had popped when he swatted it to the floor—this he remembered. Bright light and shattered white glass and the coiled fuse dimming from orange to red to black. His alarm clock was still plugged in and he could see the first red digit unobscured by the lamp. It was after two in the morning. He heard again the sound that had woken him. It was a cry in the night, half man and half animal. It was the sound of pain. He groped for his clothes. He stood and stepped over the mess, careful not to cut his feet on the shattered glass.
Below, the rooms were bright in the moonlight and the streetlamp light. He could make out the clear path to the kitchen. He turned on the faucet and cupped his hands under the running water and drank. He reached into the cupboard, found a bottle of aspirin, and took some pills with another swallow from the tap.
And now you tell us who you think wrote what. Save discussion of stylistic indicators leading to your decision for tomorrow, if you will. Please make your decisions before reading the comments! You will be most helpful if you are an unbiased observer! Thanks awfully much!