In A.M. Homes’ recent novel, May We Be Forgiven, in the middle of a psychiatrist-monitored game of puppets between two adults, Harold and his locked-up brother George, the following excerpts from page 174 are separated by white space:
We’re loading our hands with puppets and sometimes throwing them across the room, hurling puppets like epithets.
“Winston Churchill,” George says.
“Charles de Gaulle,” I say.
“Nikita Khrushchev,” he says.
“Barry Goldwater and Roy Cohn,” I say.
“Herbert Hoover,” he says.
“Willy fucking Loman,” I say.
Gerwin [the psychiatrist] picks up something that looks like a can of deodorant, holds it high in the air, and sprays–a deafeningly loud BLAST an air horn, like from an eighteen-wheeler.
“TIME OUT!” Gerwin shouts. Both George and I start to say something, but Gerwin interrupts…
Most of us are familiar with the use of white space to denote a change in point of view or a change in scene or to mark the passage of time. In May We Be Forgiven, told in the first person from the point of view of Harold Silver, Homes uses white space in the middle of a scene to mark a change in distance and to provide relief to the reader. First person can sometimes feel claustrophobic, as if our noses are being rubbed in the scene. White space smooths the way for the change in distance of the camera from a close-up to further out. It avoids any jarring to the reader that might have occurred without it. It allows the reader to breathe.
Two paragraphs later and as part of the same scene, Homes again uses white space to zoom out and give the reader a bigger picture:
George is pounding me, whaling away, fists pumping. Gerwin comes closer, but does nothing to stop him. “You fucker, you stinking little fucker, this is only half of what you deserve, you useless piece of shit, you motherfucking…” [ellipses, Homes]
I am trying as best I can to guard my face, my ribs, and my balls. From wherever she’s been kept, Tessie is let loose; she runs down to where we are, barking heavily… [ellipses, mine]
Without the technique of white space, readers might experience the shift in distance with a jerk of the camera or they might be momentarily confused by what they’re reading and need to reread.
More on May We Be Forgiven, which I loved.