rise up, or the sins of a writer

So I’m reading Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout right now. It is her first novel, from nearly twenty years ago, and I’m finding wording in it that bugs me.

One of you fine readers originally suggested I read Strout’s novel Olive Kitteridge, and I’ve been delving into her works regularly ever since. Strout takes her time telling her story, giving a great deal of attention to minor characters and creating a world that is credible and tangible. Best of all, she writes sentences that often demand pausing and re-reading to get the full effect. I’ve copied some of her sentences and passages into my journal. (She’s also not shy about using sentence fragments for effect, my particular writing “sin.”)

But I’m finding a writing sin recurring in Amy and Isabelle that surprises me. Several times I’ve come across the words “rise up” and “gather together” and the like. The apparently unneeded redundancy has always bugged me; perhaps it is a result of the years when I was committing journalism (as the writer Sue Hubbell called it). I wrote lean in those days, and nearly any time I could shave out a word, I did. And what other direction can one rise than up? You can’t gather apart, so why do you need the modifier “together”? And so on.

Yet these occur repeatedly in this novel. Perhaps it does not bug her the way it bugs me. Or perhaps her editor suggesting cleaning these, but Strout insisted her words remain unchanged. (Iris Murdoch was famous for not allowing edits to her works.) I don’t know, but I do know that Strout has a new novel out, twenty years into her career, and if I read it soon, maybe I’ll find that she no longer sins in this way.

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2 Comments on “rise up, or the sins of a writer”


  1. I find both of those phrases Christian in tone. Mostly it’s rise up (gather together does seem irritating). But the caveat is that I get my knowledge of Christianity from bluegrass music, the blues, and Little House on the Prairie.

  2. Paul Lamb Says:

    There is a common Christian hymn that begins “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing . . .” Likely a contributor to the persistence of this phrasing in the wild.


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