More about Emma Bull’s Territory:
I very much appreciate Emma Bull’s careful choice of words, in Territory and in her previous work. So many of her words are exactly right. Some readers and writers are picky about words; I’m among them. Emma Bull is among the handful of authors I count as very often finding the mot juste. More difficult to get right is the rhythm of the sentences, paragraphs, and larger structures. I agree with Ursula LeGuin when she says, following Virginia Woolf, that finding the right rhythm is even more important than finding the right words. The rhythm of the ritual at the climax of Territory would be hard to improve. I’m going back to reread War for the Oaks, looking for the same rhythmic excellence.
Bull’s descriptions of Mildred’s inner reflections on writing as she learns to write capture the anxiety of not seeing how the structure will coalesce, the way the materials dictate their own form. This is one way to write, anyhow. I like the similarity she displays between reportage and this way of writing fiction. In some academic and other non-fiction writing, this is very much how the process works.
The LC subject headings and the reviews and tags I’ve seen so far seem to have missed what in my mind are some of the most salient themes of the novel: the development of a friendship of equality and independence between a man and a woman, and the development of a woman as a writer; the parallel between Mildred’s appropriation of her powers as a writer and an independent person and Jesse’s appropriation of his earth and air sorcery; the raw drive for power that disguises itself as law and order; the double edge of loyalty.