Greg Cwik in the Los Angeles Review of Books said that Boris in The Goldfinch is: “quite simply, is the most singularly fun character [Donna] Tartt has created.” I agree, though I don’t need Cwik’s words of affirmation. I knew I found Boris fetching as a few days after finishing the novel, I couldn’t get his voice out of my head.
I muttered like Boris while in a meeting. I wrote a few emails in Boris’s voice to entertain friends. Next thing I knew I was fighting the urge to tweet in the voice of Boris. He is from everywhere and nowhere at once, but somehow Tartt grounded him so thoroughly within the pages that he is threatening to leak out onto the Internet through my fingertips.
The following is my attempt to break down the patterns of Boris’s dialogue. My idea is that I might show you how to tweet like Boris in the hopes that I, then, won’t.
1. Understand where Boris is (not) from
Theo Decker, the main character in The Goldfinch, on first meeting describes Boris’s voice as having a “strong Australian accent, there was also a dark, slurry undercurrent of something else: a whiff of Count Dracula, or maybe it was a KGB agent.”
Boris tells Theo that he lived in Russia, Scotland, Australia, Poland, New Zealand, Texas, Alaska, New Guinea, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Ukraine to name a few. He speaks Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish and was taught to speak English by a barkeep named Judy in Karmeywallag, a town in the Northern Territory of Australia.
- Pepper your tweets with expressions from any of these places, for example: pfft (for ridiculous), eh?, bloody, brilliant, shite, yah, nyah, heaps, and ha!
- Polish is “maybe” Boris’s first language and his mother was Polish, so use this as your default language or culture in a time of crisis. Comfort foods, for example, include black bread, herring, stuffed cabbage, and pickled eggs.
- Russian is “best for swearing and cursing.” Suggestion: Nekulturny – Russian for “you are a slob” or “don’t pick your nose in public.”
- Add in the occasional touch of American teenager: “I’m gonna be sick.”
2. Assume the Boris mindset
Boris knows that everyone around him will behave in wildly inappropriate ways. If they seem to be acting normal, he waits. At some point soon, they become blindingly drunk and try to hit something. Probably him.
Remember that the weather is always against Boris. It singles him out for particular persecution and no one else can possibly understand how bad it can be, “Winter — you don’t what it’s like. Even the air is bad. All grey concrete, and the wind — ”
Soon after they met, the seemingly worldly Boris asks Theo simple questions like, “What is Sophomore?” or “In what province was California located?” Keep in mind that Boris has lived in so many places that he can’t quite remember where he is.
Boris has a moral code that is very clear…to him. He feels assured that every step he takes is justified (or so he will tell you). As he says to Theo, “What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good?”
- Be prepared to shrug and apply a Polish saying to any misbehavior: “…it’s a storm in a glass of water.” Accept all teary apologies without question come the sober light of day.
- If a person dares to suggest that the sun might come out or that it soon will be summer, remind them of its misery: “Mosquitoes. Stinking mud. Everything smells like mold…I would walk on the river bank and think of drowning myself.”
- If in doubt, opt for cultural confusion: Specific questions around local customs will help you sound authentic. All candy bars are Nestle bars. All pop is Pepsi.
- Regardless of what you are doing at the time, brand others as immoral, “Likely you will end up in jail, Potter. Loose morals, slave to the economy. Very bad citizen, you.” It will help you feel better in comparison.
3. Mimic his mannerisms!
Remember that Boris calls Theo “(Harry) Potter” because of his round glasses. Mrs. Spear, the teacher, is “Spirsetskaya.” And Xandra’s dog, Popper, became, “Amyl” and “Nitrate” and “Popchik” and “Snaps” before settling in on a nickname.
Boris overuses exclamation points! They aren’t so much about exclamation, but rather when he is trying to sound convincing (and he actually believes the opposite is true).
As Boris knows many languages, but none of them particularly well, you can swap the order of words in sentences at will.
Also remember that Boris has, “done more drugs by the age of 15 than Pete Doherty…[drinks] beer the way other kids drink Pepsi.”
- Apply nicknames to anyone at any time. They should come from references to your life, rather than theirs, but anything that sounds drug related or vaguely Russian/Eastern European will work. No need to justify your choices.
- Spend time convincing others of things with an exclamation point, especially when you know to opposite to be true: A new girlfriend is “so brave and wise, such a big heart!” You come across someone that you were looking for, “Was not expecting to run into you!” Or, “What! I was trying to be nice!” And especially, “I did not mean to!”
- Start sentences with a verb, like “Was just trying to help you,” or “Will make your headache go like magic,” but feel free to scramble further, “loads better than Ukraine. Miami Beach, compared.”
- Sound smart, but also feel free to not make sense all the time. If you say something dumb, quickly ask someone to light your cigarette or fetch you a beer to cover it up.
To apply the guidelines, I gathered a few actual tweets from writers to show how you might tweet like Boris:
My eating habits are
horrible. Favorite restaurant is Waffle House. How sad is
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January
Boris: Your eating habits, Czar! Horrible! Favorite restaurant is Waffle House, ha! I think better to drown myself.
Finally getting the clay-like kitty litter off the front steps: sprinkled during recent ice storm when #toronto ran out of EcoMelt + salt!
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) January 12, 2014
Boris: Finally making Theo get clay-like dog poop off steps: made Popchik go there when too much sun to walk in #lostvegas with no umbrella!
Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) December
Boris: I show hot @amandapalmer this Nestle bar advert. Made her headache go away like magic. I am genius! http://youtu.be/6mYr90nCFZE
Joyce Carol Oates
Does anyone else wonder about the fate of the turkeys who’d received a “Presidential pardon” at Thanksgiving? We have not seen them since.
— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) January 29, 2014
Boris: Those turkeys! I did see them! Not living a good life and no more pickled eggs. A “Presidential Pardon” is jinx. Slave to economy is why they are not seen.
Who is the bigger fool? The one who says “The Novel is Dead,” or the one who wastes time rebutting moron statements like “TheNovel is Dead”?
— colson whitehead (@colsonwhitehead) November 12, 2013
Boris: Who is bigger fool? The nekulturny who says “Novel is Dead,” or the nekulturny who gets knuckles all bloody from punching the mouth of a moron who time wastes about things like “Novel is Dead?”