The Underneath by Kathi Appelt – A Lesson in Poetic Prose

Synopsis: A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the Underneath…as long as they stay in the Underneath. Kittens, however, are notoriously curious creatures. And one kitten’s one moment of curiosity sets off a chain of events that is astonishing, remarkable, and enormous in its meaning.
For the Writer: The book is stylistic, poetic in its tone and cadence of delivery. It is somewhat reminiscent of Walter Wangerin’s work, especially The Crying for a Vision, or Kate Dicamillo’s The Adventures of Edward Tulane. Every word counts. Much like a poem, every phrase is constructed in keeping with the colour, emotional tone and subject. Rhythm is as much of the story as the narrative.

An example: Trapped in her jar, Grandmother felt a wave of longing rush through her. Would she ever see the goldy sun? Or her friend the alligator? Would she ever know the feel of wind and rain and the silver moon against her skin? Skin. For a thousand years, the only skin she had touched was her own. Dry and brittle. Skin. [The Underneath by Kathi Appelt p.228]

 

The story itself draws from Aboriginal Folklore and the intersection of the spirit world with reality figured in the oppressive antagonist, Gar-face. As the drama unfolds the phrasing and vocabulary  blur the two worlds. This book is a lesson in how to establish a consistent tone across your project through measured phrasing and the sound of your prose.

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