twinkling transgressions, and not.

I’ve found quite a few authors who have allowed eyes to twinkle, though none have resorted to exploding with merriment. Most of what I found was not good.

I’ve decided not to give you citations, because in one case the author is dead, and I have no urge to beat anybody up.

“He eyed them with a twinkling eye. “

“He laughed, his green eyes twinkling impishly.”

“…Paul said, grinning and narrowing his eyes, which were the twinkling blue of a boy’s, though he was fifty-five years old”

And then I came across Tim O’Brien, who shook things up, as he always does. O’Brien is best known for his collection of short stories about his experiences in Vietnam, The Things They Carried. In the story in question, there’s a dead American soldier in the road.

“The one eye did a funny twinkling trick, red to yellow. His head was wrenched sideways, as if loose at the neck, and the dead yong man seemed to be staring at some distant object beyond the bell-shaped flowers along the trail.”

There’s cliche, and then there’s what you can do to turn cliche on its ear and make it work again. This is one of the many things O’Brien does so well. The right detail, the right twist, and you’re on that road in Vietnam looking at this unfortunate young man and seeing him clearly, as painful as that must be.

PS I haven’t listed The Night Before Christmas (which somebody mentioned yesterday in a comment) as a good or bad example. That one you’ll have to deal with on your own terms.