The first time I noticed dialogue as something more than an awkward carrier of exposition and conflict was when I read “Nine Stories.” Even Salinger’s uncollected stories have some of the most memorable, striking dialogue I’ll ever read.
DeLillo in End Zone and Players (said to Thomas LeClair that he wanted to capture intimate dialogue, the secret speak of couples. Early Thomas McGuane (Sporting Club, 92 in the Shade, Bushwhacked Piano). Joyce, in his short work, and some of the later school scenes in Portrait.
agreed on all those names. i’ve always also been a huge fan of sam lipsyte’s dialogue. it might take a little bit of yr suspension of disbelief in that his talkers are always so good at gab, but i like the fact that they often talk around or through each other, which, in some ways, feels realer to me than judging them by their slick diction.
I approach dialogue in fiction (as a reader, not a writer) the same way that Harmony Korine approaches dialogue in film, in that “[w]hat I remember [most]…[are] specific scenes….” It would be kind of difficult for me to state that J.D. Salinger’s “Nine Stories” contains some of the absolute best dialogue I’ve read and mean it wholeheartedly, but it’s easy for me to wholeheartedly mean what I say when I make the same statement about “Bananafish”–just because the individual moments and the individual pieces tend to click with me more and become more memorable in contrast to the dialogue from an entire short story collection or an author’s entire body of work. That of the singular piece means more to me, I guess (if this comment makes sense at all).
Donald Westlake. Elmore Leonard. For some reason crime writers seem to nail dialogue better than other genres and literary fictionists – probably because it’s so important in their stories, is my guess.
He’s probably not read as much now as he should be. But this guy who was at Black Mountain with Olson and Creeley, and who hung with Franz Kline and Pollock,and who later in life taught writing in prisons, had a terrific ear for the raw power of speech. He’s one of my candidates for best prose writer of the last century. I
MISS LONELYHEARTS is full of devastating writing, and Shrike’s monologues are justly famous, but nobody ever did hard-boiled dialogue like West does in that novel (and DAY OF THE LOCUST is nearly its equal.)
beckett and wodehouse for certain types of surface play. chekhov and dostoevsky for wild swings between crazed idea-making and emotional sad-sackness. carver and didion for dialogs that are opposed monologues. dennis cooper, dfw and mamet for frustrated american retards attacking one another. most of these names could be switched out for one another from category to category!
Yeah, I kind of found it funny that I immediately thought about novelists instead of playwrights. Very strange; I guess I have my biases. But Mamet definitely. I remember finding this very hilarious nugget a few months ago:
“Yes. I wrote this play called Bobby Gould in Hell.
Greg Mosher did it on a double bill with a play by Shel Silverstein
over at Lincoln Center. Bobby Gould is consigned to Hell, and he has to
be interviewed to find out how long he’s going to spend there. The
Devil is called back from a fishing trip to interview Bobby Gould. And
so the Devil is there, the Assistant Devil is there and Bobby Gould.
And the Devil finally says to Bobby Gould, “You’re a very bad man.” And
Bobby Gould says, “Nothing’s black and white.” And the Devil says,
“Nothing’s black and white, nothing’s black and white—what about a
panda? What about a panda, you dumb fuck! What about a fucking panda!”
And when Greg directed it, he had the assistant hold up a picture of a
panda, kind of pan it a hundred and eighty degrees to the audience at
the Vivian Beaumont Theater. That was the best moment I’ve ever seen in
any of my plays.”
Delillo always, but especially in his plays. He’s got a good ear for interruptions and exchange. And, of course, Hem. The dialogue in The Garden of Eden is perhaps some of the best I’ve ever read. I think it has to do with the complexity of thought vs the simplicity of speech.
I read that short story for the first time the other month, was bored out of my mind by the dialogue in it, ended up skipping past it to the end of the story. I didn’t know what was about to happen either and wasn’t anticipating that ending, but yeah, either way, the dialogue didn’t draw me in for some reason.
Paula Fox / Desperate Characters: compelling balance there between stylistic verve and a real ear for the illogical spirals of talk and how they entwine. Also Bellow in MR. SAMMLER’S PLANET, where a dying rich man laments his daughter’s “fucked-out eyes.”