Kenneth Harvey

I wonder. I seriously wonder. I seriously wonder if any editor would have read, approved and published “Inside” if it was Kenneth Harvey’s first.

Why? Why would I think this? Because of the blunt, punchy style. I would love to know how many commas are in the whole book, what the proportion of commas-to-sentences is in the whole dang thing. Has to be very low. Has to be one of the lowest. Yes, I’m imitating the style here.  Or trying to.

Here’s a sample:

“He left the bank and went across the street. Bought two cases of beer. He always liked the feel of that. A case heavy in each hand. Hanging from where he gripped the handle-holes. Anchored on both sides. Enough money for two cases. That was reassuring. They walked back to his wife’s house. There was a party going on. Everyone knew they were getting the money. His wife told them all. Faces he’d never seen before. Hands grabbing at him. Touching him. Patting his shoulder.”

That’s sixteen sentences, zero commas. If you were counting.

Hey, I liked the book. Like standing in the boxing ring with no gloves on. You’re taking hits to the jaw. No words are wasted. Spare. Brutal. Tough. Why use a long sentence with flow and structure when five will do?

Half of “Inside” is style. The other half is a portrait of a man, Myrden, making a transition. He’s trapped between the “inside” of prison and his experiences on the outside. He’s trapped by his own “inside.”

At times, I was worn out reading. So many stops and starts.

“Fourteen years you get past those plans. You lose your plans. People make plans for you. You become almost nothing. Nothing to no one. People forget about you. You forget. You disappear. Up at eight. Lights out eleven-thirty.”

Kenneth Harvey - Inside

Kenneth Harvey - Inside


“The police. The police officers. The welfare office. The woman behind the desk. Why are you here? What can we do for you? Is employment not an option? She wanted the information. She asked the questions. But she couldn’t have cared less.”

The writing leaves daubs of paint on the canvas. Furious brush strokes. The style smashes many alleged “rules” about writing. There is no formula at work here. Harvey writes what he sees, hears and feels on behalf of Myrden. Blunt like a two-by-four, the four part catching you in the teeth.

I enjoyed seeing the rules tortured. That unsettled feeling gnaws at you the same way it’s probably chewing up Myrden as he struggles to find an even keel on the outside. The ending is rough. With no rainbows at the outset, I certainly didn’t expect anything but darkness at the end.


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