There is the kind of American white-bread, pounded-out style that Truman Capote called “typing”—totally utilitarian, totally fearless of clichés. Then there’s the kind of style that earns a very good waiter a fat tip–like this from Raymond Chandler’s The High Window:
From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.
Repetition, parallelism and irony doing their work. But even not-so-famous examples, too. From The Big Sleep, using the same powerful combo:
The man was long-legged, long-waisted, high-shouldered and he had dark brown eyes in a brown expressionless dace that had learned to control its expression. Hair like steel wool grew far back on his head and gave him a great deal of domed brown forehead that might at a careless glance have seemed a dwelling place for brains.
Agatha Christie, mostly interested in plot mechanics, has little or no time for rhetoric, but she does know how to frame an ironic insight into human nature: From Murder in Mesopotamia:
Women can accept the fact that a man is a rotter, a swindler, a drug taker, a confirmed liar, and a general swine, without batting an eyelash, and without its impairing their affection for the brute in the least. Women are wonderful realists.
What about when men and women cover the same topic? This fantasia on female genitalia from Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn:
A dark, subterranean labyrinth fitted up with divans and cozy corners and rubber teeth and syringes and soft nestles and eiderdown and mulberry leaves. I used to nose in like the solitary worm and bury myself in a little cranny where it was absolutely silent, and so soft and restful that I lay like a dolphin on the oyster banks.
And so on for pages and pages . . . and pages. Literary satyriasis. Urgent treatment needed. Compared with this from Anais Nin, A Spy in the House of Love:
Desire made a volcanic island, on which they lay in a trance, feeling the subterranean whirls lying beneath them. The trembling premonitions shaking the hands, the body, made dancing, dance floor and table and the magnetic blues uprooted by desire, the avalanches of the body’s tremors. Beneath the delicate skin, the tendrils of secret hair, the indentations and valleys of flesh, the volcanic lava flowed, desire incandescent, and where it burned the voices of the blues being sung became a harsh wilderness cry, bird and animal’s untamed cry of fear and cry of childbirth and cry of wounded pain from the same hoarse delta of nature’s pits.
The surrealism barely held in check and spreading like an aura through time, a sudden snapshot of what it means to be a woman.