I spent more time than I care to admit casting around the Internet looking for Isaac Babel’s “Odessa Tales.” The result: no stories, but I did stumble across these remarks by George Saunders in praise of Babel.
In my reading of him, there’s this sense of two types of beauty crossing in Babel’s prose: the beauty of the world, and the beauty of the sentence. The reader feels dazzled by the intelligence compressed into so few words, and then makes that extra effort of visualizing the described thing. I don’t think he’s trying to be accurate, as such. He’s trying to create an impression in the mind. That was refreshing to me as a writer. I’m not much good at physical description. I kind of draw a blank when I try to think of, say, a novel way of describing a tree. But I feel a little more confident if the charge is: Write an unusual sentence with a tree in it.