David Casarett’s novel, Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness, is a showcase for Thai culture. In our last discussion on “cultural” references in fiction, we focused on the author’s addition of Thai food and descriptions. From him, we can learn how to incorporate foreign food in our writing.
In this post, I would like to show how David tastefully choose his words for TONE SETTING.
Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness, by David Casarett,
Nurse Ladarat, the main character who is thrown into a mystery at the hospital, had some training in the United States under Professor Dalrymple. Note in the following quote from page 20 that Ladarat not only explains the Thai traditional greeting in an efficient way, but also compares it to the American way. Whether her thinking is right or not, is not the question. Anyone has the right to her opinion:
They greeted each other formally wais—the traditional Thai greeting. A sort of half bow, with palms pressed together at chest level and brought up to the nose as the head was bent. Much more sanitary, by the way, than the Western tradition of a handshake. More sanitary, and more respectful.
The omniscient aspect of the narration explains the wai greeting to us. Brief, so that it does not become a chance to info-dump. Then, the narrator quickly reverts back to the inner thoughts of the protagonist using Ladarat’s rhythm of speaking to herself which has been established since the first page of the novel. In this way, we sense her voice in the sentence fragment of “More sanitary, and more respectful.”
Not only is this an efficient way to give a definition embedded in inner dialogue, it is also a good example of TONE SETTING. The author’s helps the reader to associate these word choices with words the character herself would have used in speaking. These descriptive words illustrate the character’s values. In this case, this fragment lets us know that Ladarat holds these personal goals: sanitation and respect. We image she carries this into her work behavior. We will expect it of her.
This example of TONE SETTING is not unlike the phrase we encountered in the last blog post. Ladarat had made a “virtuous” decision when she chose the khan neon dam, the black sticky rice dessert. How can a food be virtuous? We are not sure, but we do understand that Ladarat prides herself in seeking virtue. Again, great TONE SETTING through the author’s WORD CHOICE.
How does David Casarett’s novel teach us how to include foreign food into our writing?