what you don’t say may be used to further your character (or is that too daggy?)

I’m preparing notes for my class talk this semester (on the mesmerising Dog Boy by Eva Hornung) and it made me realise that I never said anything good about Peter Temple’s Truth, which I struggled through last semester. I did find something to admire in it very much – an example of realistic dialogue that progresses character beautifully, by what it assumes.

The detective, Villani, is talking to his dad, Bob. Bob begins:

‘Gordie’s Gordie. Be here five minutes after Luke shows up.’

‘Doesn’t do that for me.’

‘Scared of you.’

‘Bullshit.’

After this exchange half a day passes, in which Villani mows the lawn and thinks a lot about the trees he and Bob planted when he was wee. Pages later they share a beer and are talking about other things.

They sat on the shady side of the house. After a while, Villani said, ‘Why’s Gordon scared of me?’

‘Bob wiped a beer tidemark from his upper lip. ‘Well, you know. People.’

‘What?’

Bob frowned at the landscape. ‘You’ve got a manner.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Boss manner.’

Initially Villani outright dismisses Bob’s statement that Gordie’s scared of him. The conversation moves right on from ‘Bullshit’, and we’ve no reason to think that’s not the end of it.

Almost half a day later, Villani doesn’t say ‘Is Gordie scared of me? or ‘Why did you say Gordie’s scared of me?’ His phrasing suggests not only that he hasn’t forgotten what Bob said, but that he’s been thinking it through and come to the conclusion, through his own reflection, that Bob’s right. The conversation has progressed without us.

There’s one last coda to the sequence – the next day when Villani’s leaving:

‘The finances,’ said Villani. ‘Coping?’

Bob Villani flexed his arms. ‘Why wouldn’t I be?’

‘Just asking.’

‘That boss stuff,’ said Bob.

Bob refers again to Villani’s ‘boss manner’, though Villani’s behaviour is not in the context of Gordie or the other boys. What they discussed has become part of their history, and their shorthand vocabulary of expression with each other.

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