Posts Tagged ‘Ozick’

The Seam of the Snail

Here’s something traditional. It’s called, “The Seam of the Snail,” by Cynthia Ozick. It’s nothing crazy like Sedaris. It has no over reaching political message like Orwell. It’s just plain old good storytelling. And that’s why I like it.

An article in the New York Times puts it well by saying,

“As an essayist, Cynthia Ozick is a very good storyteller. Her arguments are plots more than carefully reasoned proofs. They twist and turn, digress, slow down and speed up, surprise with sudden illuminations, and only occasionally end predictably. The author’s voice and personality pursue the reader with selective autobiographical insistence.”

The piece contrasts Ozick with her mother. It paints a clear picture of what the woman is like. “Lavish: my mother was as lavish as nature.”

And it goes on with perfect rhythm in the sentences to explain that Ozick’s mother is never perfect. “She thought herself capable of doing anything, and did everything she imagined. But nothing was perfect.”

On the other hand, Ozick is a perfectionist. And she details her writing style as such. In one of my favorite sentences from the essay, Ozick writes:

“It is my narrow strait, this snail’s road; the track of the sentence I am writing now; and when I have eked out the wet substance, ink or blood that is its mark, I will begin the next sentence. Only in treading out sentences am I perfectionist…”

Two words. Active verbs.

And one other. Imagery.

Ozick doesn’t just write sentences. She “ekes” them out. They are wet. They are described as ink…or blood. All those word choices are powerful. They bring life to the description. And it takes a subject that should put the reader to sleep..who cares about an author’s mother and an author’s writing style…and makes it captivating.

Unlike David Sedaris, there is hardly any humor. And well, writing without humor is a hard sell for me. But Ozick proves that good creative nonfiction writing doesn’t have to make you laugh or be something off the wall. It can be something as simple as a character sketch. That’s what Ozick does with her mother.

Again, and I may repeat this until my keyboard croaks, but good creative nonfiction writing brings out truth. Ozick doesn’t hide the fact that she’s stuck up about her sentence structures. She admits that she’s a perfectionist because she knows that’s just who she is.

It makes for a great theme to contrast against the imperfection of her mother. And the title, “The Seam of the Snail” comes from a story Ozick shares about how she would wear dresses her mother sewed; they always had a hidden flaw under the seams. And the comparison to the snail comes from this passage:

“I measure my life in sentences pressed out, line by line, like the lustrous ooze on the underside of the snail, the snail’s secret open seam, its wound, leaking attar.”

That’s a well constructed sentence if I’ve ever seen one. And it proves the point Ozick is trying to make. She knows how to write. And she takes it slowly, carefully, writes like a snail, and puts out highly impressive works of creative nonfiction.

APA Citation:

Kiely, R. (1989, April 23). Watching her spin and sparkle. Retrieved from

Ozick, C. (Ed.). (1985). The Seam of the snail. New York: St. Martin’s Press.