Jess Miles Response to Safekeeping

(I didn’t see a thread already started for Safekeeping so I just figured I’d make a new post? Hopefully that works.)

Throughout Safekeeping Thomas masterfully incorporates both dialogue and inner monologue with varying degrees of quotation marks, paragraph indents and speaker tags. Most obviously are the sections where Thomas is speaking with her sister, dropping both punctuation and speaker tags at various points, giving the conversations and informal “standing in the kitchen” feeling. One of her more extreme examples comes in the section “Bluefish and Her Father,” writing: “Come out of there, everybody screamed, it’s a school of blue-fish! They’re feeding!” (96) I enjoy the way dialogue without quotations or indents allows the reader’s eye to travel across the page faster and the conversational tone. I am fascinated by Thomas’s mastery of this element of writing, because it often confounds me in my own writing, especially when dealing with speaker tags and punctuation other than a period.

However, I could not determine if Thomas had a pattern or method to her decision on when to use quotation marks or not. One question I’d like to pose is regarding the rules or techniques (if there are any) regarding punctuation and/or speaker tags around dialogue.

Both Brevity’s nonfiction blog, and American Literary Review note that Safekeeping has a poetic feel to it and one-way Thomas does this effectively is by telling a secondary story through short sentences. For example, in the section “Unfamiliar” Thomas uses short sentences such as “he didn’t knock,” “it was past midnight,” “he was in a furious rage,” “he was nineteen,” and “I felt bad,” giving more insight into her relationship with her first husband by implying he was prone to angry outbursts. In “Coming Home Tomorrow”, it’s short sentences like “she looked at him again,” “he was losing ground,” “she didn’t know,” “he tried to smile,” and “it was over” that sum her second husband’s cancer battle. In both cases, the short sentences offer a poetic element and reminded me of poems from A Sand Opera by Phillip Meters. This is especially true in “Coming Home Tomorrow” where Thomas repeats the line about her husband not being able to raise his arm or sit up at the beginning and end of the section. I also like the idea of “hiding” a deeper meaning behind a surface level one that requires the reader to find it.

Finally, I was taken with Thomas’s use of repetition. Not only that, but the repetition of things three times. Thomas was married three times. The number three holds a lot of significance for her. In “Married Men” Thomas and her sister talk about her eating her cake three times. Thomas and her third husband go on three dates before they’re married. Her third husband doubts her about a rocking chair three times. Thomas ends “Weather” and “What Goes through the Mind While Stripping the Meat from the Bone” with three short sentences and will often repeat phrases in sentences three times. I thought the repetition of things in threes was effective through the book and I am curious about the idea. I’m interested in exploring the idea of if there is a number (or I suppose an object) that holds significance for an author how to carry it through a work through repetition.

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This is not part of my official blog, but I wanted to point it out. Of course, one of the first things that stood out to me (and which I am envious of) is Thomas’s ability to switch between points of view throughout Safekeeping. The one NY Times review Ifound of Safekeeping by Nora Krug argues that the POV switch makes Thomas’s character too elusive. I tend to disagree, I don’t think it made Thomas too elusive because for me at least it was always clear (except for maybe one or too very brief spots) that Thomas was talking about herself. In an interview with American Literary Review, Thomas mentions that she was trying to paint a portrait of her life no matter how messy. I like reflections that are more ambiguous and focused on trying to capture the feeling or essence of someone rather than trying to pin something concrete down. Thomas also mentions in this interview that she used different points of view because she didn’t want to paint herself as either a saint or a victim, and I think she ends up accomplishing this goal, not only for herself but also all of her husbands.

I am interested in what everyone else thought on how effective they thought the different points of view were in Safekeeping.