the next writer in the series: june 1, 2014

photo 4

In  The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote, I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we … Continue reading

the next writer in the series: march 1, 2014

tumbledown

In  The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote, I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we … Continue reading

shakespeare days

The New York Times September 15, 2013

For a long, long time, I’ve wanted to read all of Shakespeare’s plays–all 38. In June I was re-reading one of my favorite books, The Writing Life, by Ellen Gilchrist. And in it, there’s a chapter about “The Shakespeare Group.” Ellen … Continue reading

the forgotten waltz, unreliability, and wine lines

If you were to ask me to recommend a novel written in the first person, I would say Anne Enright’s The Gathering. I’ve read it twice and I’m thinking about reading it again. But I just finished her most recent novel, The Forgotten Waltz, and although I didn’t like it as much, in some ways, it makes better or more use of the powers of the first person, in particular unreliability.

In an interview in The Paris Review, Enright says:

The wonderful thing about this kind of unreliability is that it reflects the unreliability of our own narratives about our own lives.

And,

Gina Moynihan is the kind of person who realizes what she’s saying in the saying of it. And I think many of us are similar. Until you start articulating something, you don’t quite know what it is, and you don’t see the mistakes or flaws in your own argument until they’re in the air. She’s in the process of realizing what she’s saying, in the process of realizing what she knows or what she has refused to know–that’s the journey of the novel.

From Gina in The Forgotten Waltz:

But it was the first time I had said the words out loud, and it might have been true all along but it became properly true then. True like something you have discovered. (157)

Two other things. One of my favorite lines ever, which now makes me look at birds in a new way:

I think how kissing is such an extravagance of nature. Like birdsong; heartfelt and lovely beyond any possible usefulness. (81)

Finally, writer Hermione Lee wrote a dead-on but spoiler review in The Guardian, which includes this great summary of some of the wine lines to be enjoyed in The Forgotten Waltz:

They measure out their lives in large glasses of imported wine: there’s the phase of being “mad into chardonnay”, the “sauvignon blanc” years of happy marriage, alsace riesling as a spur to adultery, cracking open a “Loire white” as a reaction to bereavement.

So I started writing this post early this morning, then stopped to exercise and run some errands, and now it’s almost 3:00, and I have to leave my desk again. But I find I have still more to say about this novel. Until tomorrow…

related posts:

no place on earth

It’s difficult to think of anything other than the stunning crimson and gold leaves outside my windows.

I have been doing too many other things lately. And I have come to the place where I need to set aside time for writing.

Why do you refuse to admit that in poetry, as if in a mirror, I attempt to collect and to see myself, to pass through and beyond myself.

Last week, for a few days, it was doing nothing–long walks on the beach, listening to the ocean, watching the sea foam extract itself from the waves that produced it and scatter down the beach. Staring at the flower of a jellyfish, remembering being stung as a kid.

Sunrise on the Atlantic. Beautiful, yes, but I prefer sunset on the Gulf.

Oh, this innate bad habit of always existing in places where I do not live, or in a time which is past or is yet to come.

One week until I send in my last packet. In seven weeks I’ll be in Vermont. In a little over eight weeks, I’ll have graduated.

The memory of it would have vanished utterly had he not enclosed it in a fortress of words…

No Place on Earth by Christa Wolf (born in 1929) is a different kind of book than what I usually read. Wolf is a German author, who in this slim volume writes about the imagined meeting in June of 1804 of an unknown female poet and a famous male writer at a social gathering “for tea and conversation.”  One hundred nineteen pages of almost no action and some dialogue. Mostly, it’s the back and forth of the relentless minds of these two characters, as if their minds were communing, on the subjects of life and death, the freedoms of men and women, the necessity of art:

That time should bring forth our desire, but not that which we desire most.
The repressed passions.
We are not worthy of that which we long for.
We must understand that longing needs no justification.

busy being alive

from the archives: july 28, 2010

Ellen Gilchrist‘s first book was not published until she was in her forties. In “A Reading Group Guide” at the back of Nora Jane: A Life in Stories, she is asked about this:

“I didn’t begin to write seriously and professionally until I was in my forties because I was busy being alive.”

Now she has been writing for thirty years: stories, novellas, and novels. In these books, she often writes about the same characters. In 1999, Margaret Donovan Bauer published The Fiction of Ellen Gilchrist. In it, she wrote:

“Gilchrist’s point of uniqueness is that all of her work is interrelated to the extent that her whole body of work…is part of an organic story cycle, a story cycle that continues to evolve as each new book appears, comparable to the roman-fleuve. It is a story cycle in the full sense of the word: there are no definite endings to the individual books and, distinguishing her work from the roman-fleuve, there is no clear beginning to the cycle.”

In 2005 all the stories Gilchrist had written to that point about Nora Jane Whittington were collected into one volume and organized in chronological order of Nora Jane’s life. I had read these stories before and had copies of them. But to read them all in a row and in the “right” order felt a little like seeing that wick that Mary Gordon referred to…I did find one or two inconsistencies, but those felt more like proof that this wonderful thing–Nora Jane Whittington’s life–was real.

In the same reading guide referred to above, Ellen Gilchrist was also asked if she had planned to write about the same characters over and over again. She said that she planned her writing the same way she planned her life:

“On a day-by-day and obsession-by-obsession basis.”

Obsession-by-obsession. I like that : )

[In similar fashion, all the stories about Rhoda Manning were collected in 1995.]

~cross-posted at the Contrary Blog

the squad: goon 3

Each chapter of Jennifer Egan‘s A Visit From the Goon Squad can stand alone as a story, but united, these chapters took my breath away. I got chills as I discovered yet another connection between them: Characters who age and reappear. Younger selves revealed. Shadows filled in. Events alluded to that come to pass. The language itself (Chapter 13 is called “Pure Language.)

The subject of time and what it does to us is threaded throughout Goon Squad. From Chapter 3: “Ask Me If I Care:”

Lou looks so happy, surrounded by his kids like any normal dad, that I can’t believe this Lou with us is the very same Lou.

From Chapter 5: “You (Plural):”

My questions all seem wrong: How did you get so old? Was it all at once, in a day, or did you peter out bit by bit?”

From Chapter 11: “Goodbye, My Love:”

“Let’s make sure it’s always like this.” Ted knew exactly why she’d said it…because she’d felt the passage of time.

From Chapter 13: “Pure Language:”

What he needed was to find fifty more people like him, who had stopped being themselves without realizing it.

And in that moment, the longing he’d felt for Sasha at last assumed a clear shape: Alex imagined walking into her apartment and finding himself still there—his young self, full of schemes and high standards, with nothing decided yet.

And the hum, always that hum, which maybe wasn’t an echo after all, but the sound of time passing.

In addition to time, A Visit From the Goon Squad is also about music. The book is divided into Side A and Side B, recalling 33s and 45s. The main character, Bennie Salazar, founded the Sow’s Ear record label. In my previous post, I quoted an excerpt that mentions, in the same paragraph, Bennie and a Jets game–a subtle reference to Elton John’s song.

Chapter 12 is Alison’s (the daughter of Sasha who worked for Bennie) power point presentation on “Great Rock and Roll Pauses.” This 75-page slide show is stunning in its juxtaposition of word restraint and emotional impact.

In addition to the surface, there’s below the surface, before the surface, after… From Chapter 6: “X’s and O’s:”

I’d said something literally, yes, but underneath that I’d said something else: we were both a couple of asswipes, and now only I’m an asswipe; why? And underneath that, something else: once and asswipe, always an asswipe. And deepest of all: You were the one chasing. But she picked me.

E. M. Forster wrote in Aspects of the Novel: “Music … does offer in its final expression a type of beauty which fiction might achieve in its own way … and when we have finished does not every item…lead a larger existence than was possible at the time?”

Final post in a series of three on Jennifer Egan’s award-winning novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad: first post and second post.

*cross-posted at The Contrary Blog

Pure Egan

In her selected shorts interview, Jennifer Egan talked about how, years ago, she abandoned a story because she couldn’t find any way to rein in the material. Well, in A Visit From the Goon Squad, Egan is the master of compression.

In Chapter 1, she creates a shortcut based on a time period idiosyncratic to the story.

Prewallet, Sasha had been in the grip of a dire evening: lame date (yet another) brooding behind dark bangs, sometimes glancing at the flat-screen TV, where a Jets game seemed to interest him more than Sasha’s admittedly overhandled tales of Bennie Salazar, her old boss, who was famous for founding the Sow’s Ear record label and who also (Sasha happened to know) sprinkled gold flakes into his coffee—as an aphrodisiac, she suspected—and sprayed pesticide in his armpits.

Later in the story, she uses the term postwallet. These terms cut down on word bulk, making the story tighter. Egan will use such a shortcut again in Chapter 4, “Safari,”—postcoffee.

Also in “Safari,” Egan uses a technique that she herself specifically referred to in the interview as a shortcut:

It’s Cora, Lou’s travel agent. She hates Mindy, but Mindy doesn’t take it personally—it’s Structural Hatred, a term she coined herself and is finding highly useful on this trip. A single woman in her forties who wears high-collared shirts to conceal the thready sinews of her neck will structurally despise the twenty-three-year-old girlfriend of a powerful male who not only employs said middle-aged female but is paying her way on this trip.

On the next page, Egan uses the terms Structural Resentment, Structural Affection, Structural Incompatibility, and Structural Desire. The use of these terms is also brilliant characterization of Mindy:

And keeping Lou’s children happy, or as close to happy as is structurally possible, is part of Mindy’s job.”

Later in this story, Egan will use the term Structural Dissatisfaction, threading the shortcut throughout the chapter and reinforcing the coherent fictional world she is creating in this particular story.

In this same chapter, Egan again shows how quickly a character’s life can be told by connecting it to an image. Here, she shapes the key elements of Lou’s past into a contrail, short itself for condensation trail, the artificial cloud line created by the exhaust of an airplane:

Lou is one of those men whose restless charm has generated a contrail of personal upheaval that is practically visible behind him: two failed marriages and two more kids back home in LA, who were too young to bring on this three-week safari. This safari is a new business venture of Lou’s old army buddy, Ramsey, with whom he drank and misbehaved, having barely avoided Korea almost twenty years ago.

Pure Egan.

Second post in a series of three on Jennifer Egan’s award-winning novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad. For the first post, click here.

cross-posted at The Contrary Blog

toes

I painted my toenails orange for June, green for July. They’re sporting yellow polish at the moment.

I broke three of my toes growing up–one when I put my bare feet down to stop a swing.

My second toes are longer than my big toes, although not by much. Apparently this has a name–Morton’s toe. I’ve heard it’s a sign of intelligence.

Eyes and hair are overrated. I’m going to write about toes.

a life in stories

Ellen Gilchrist‘s first book was not published until she was in her forties. In “A Reading Group Guide” at the back of Nora Jane: A Life in Stories, she is asked about this:

“I didn’t begin to write seriously and professionally until I was in my forties because I was busy being alive.”

Now she has been writing for thirty years: stories, novellas, and novels. In these books, she often writes about the same characters. In 1999, Margaret Donovan Bauer published The Fiction of Ellen Gilchrist. In it, she wrote:

“Gilchrist’s point of uniqueness is that all of her work is interrelated to the extent that her whole body of work…is part of an organic story cycle, a story cycle that continues to evolve as each new book appears, comparable to the roman-fleuve. It is a story cycle in the full sense of the word: there are no definite endings to the individual books and, distinguishing her work from the roman-fleuve, there is no clear beginning to the cycle.”

In 2005 all the stories Gilchrist had written to that point about Nora Jane Whittington were collected into one volume and organized in chronological order of Nora Jane’s life. Of course I had read these stories before and had copies of them. But to read them all in a row and in the “right” order felt a little like seeing that wick that Mary Gordon referred to…I did find one or two inconsistencies, but those felt more like proof that this wonderful thing–Nora Jane Whittington’s life–was real.

In the same reading guide referred to above, Ellen Gilchrist was also asked if she had planned to write about the same characters over and over again. She said that she planned her writing the same way she planned her life:

“On a day-by-day and obsession-by-obsession basis.”

Obsession-by-obsession. I like that : )

[In similar fashion, all the stories about Rhoda Manning were collected in 1995.]

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mrs. somebody somebody

I just finished the third wonderful debut collection in as many months. Which I think is truly remarkable. As are the ten connected stories in Tracy Winn‘s Mrs. Somebody Somebody, published in 2009 by SMU Press with Random House recently publishing the paperback.

These stories are so different, as different as their narrators, that it’s easy to forget they’re related, that they all take place in Lowell, a mill town on its last legs. Coming across a character from another story felt like recognizing an old friend. I know her, I would look up from my book and want to tell someone. Or hey, I’ve seen that music box before.

From the girl who wanted to be Mrs. Somebody Somebody, Stella Lewis, in the first and title story:

“My hats were all over the bed–leftovers of my hopes for the party. I kept my back to her and heaved open the window to the morning, as if that would bring a fresh start.”

From Dr. Charlie Burroughs in “Blue Tango”:

“He drove his shovel into the ground, and turned the earth. Shoveled and turned, hoping the rhythm of the work could fill the hollows in him, and make him know he was home again. His anticipation of how it would be made it hard to see how it was, exactly.”

And from the delightful narrator of “Another Way to Make Cleopatra Cry,” eight-year-old Kaylene about her step-mother:

“She started reciting the poem of her purse. ‘You’ll find Avon lipstick named ‘Moonbeam Misbegotten.’ A half pack of Marlboros. Two gold hoop earrings.”

Stella Lewis, Dr. Charlie Burroughs, Delia Burroughs, June DeLisle, little Franklin Burroughs, Kaylene, the older Frankie Burroughs, Helen Burroughs, Izabel, and Frenchie Duras–It’s just as June DeLisle thinks in “Gumbo Limbo.”

“All sorts of lives ran right alongside the one she was living.”

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more of this world

Nine stories make up New Orleans’ writer Barb Johnson’s wonderful debut collection of linked stories, More of This World or Maybe Another. In the first and title story, Delia is the narrator and we meet her boyfriend Calvin and his sister Charlene, who goes by the name of Chuck. Regarding place, often used to link stories, we’re not yet sure where we are, but from the top of the water tower, Delia describes what she sees:

“In the other direction, night is rolled out as far as Delia can see. There’s swamp out there, she knows, and the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond that, there could be anything. More of this world or maybe another.” (17)

In the second story, “Keeping Her Difficult Balance,” the first sentence uses the word place and before the first paragraph is over, place is established, not only for this story but also for the preceding one (and it will turn out, for the collection as well): “this bayou, which is right smack in the middle of New Orleans…Not at all like the one from her childhood in the boonies of East Jesus.” On the next page, the boonies are given a name: “…Gremillion, where she and Calvin grew up.” Two of my favorite quotes come from this story:

“This, Delia decides, is how artists are, how she herself wants to be. Everything isn’t necessarily logical or practical. Life can be this way or that way or some other way altogether when you’re an artist.” (33)

“She’s discovered that, to make Calvin fit into the picture, she’s been shaving away at pieces of herself. The piece that loves to read, for instance…And Delia has realized that she shaved away the part of herself that deep down thinks real, true love probably has more attraction to it than what she feels for Calvin…But she wonders if her crankiness with Calvin might be from having to listen to the shaved pieces of herself shouting at her: WakeUpWakeUpWakeUp.” (35)

The nine stories in More of This World or Maybe Another are linked by character, by time, and by place. Delia is mentioned or implied in every story (although there are three other narrators). Other characters reoccur. The stories appear in chronological order, with at least one character in each story being recognizably older, giving the reader a sense of time passing, of a real world. Every story takes place either in New Orleans or in Gremillion, where Delia grew up. These three methods of linking the stories add to the layered and rich feel of the collection. Recognizing characters we know from other stories and watching them grow up is a way of giving the reader of each story an additional delight—the delight of recognition in a larger world.

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it is all just shopping

Wanted to share this quote with you from Anne Enright‘s The Gathering:

“I love this undertaker.  He has that thing that young people got, sometime after I grew up.  He does not pretend.  He does not judge.  He talks about the caskets in a ‘whatever’ sort of way, like it is all just shopping–the real questions are elsewhere.”

What a lovely, original, and novelistic dichotomy Enright allows to emerge from the personality of this character.

And another reminder to ground myself in what’s important as I scurry around for those last few gifts.

 

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the signal

In Ron Carlson‘s new novel, The Signal, a book that includes both clotheslines and abandoned places, each word counts, as each word should but often doesn’t in novels. The Signal packs a lot into its 184 pages: six days in the life of its main character Mack.

Its cover looks, as one of my children said, “like a book I wouldn’t read.” I’m not sure whether he meant it looks “sensational” or “like a guy’s book,” but I agree on both counts about the cover, not about what’s between it. In The Signal, it’s a toss-up whether the language or the story is the most alluring part of the novel.

“This was his life, riding out two hours from a ranch that itself was an hour from town and still knowing there were unknown hours ahead.”

“The tinted window went down and there was her face.”

The descriptions will give you goose bumps, and the dialogue is tight. Listen to this conversation between Mack and his father, whom he describes as “…his presence in the world was like order itself.”

“Do you know what you’re doing?”

“No, sir, I don’t.”

“Are you going by your gut?”

“By something.”

“Do you think you can get a girl by showing her a bear?”

“No idea,” Mack said.

His father folded his arms and leaned on the doorframe. “Me neither. How many were there?”

Mack is also the narrator, and we’re right there in his point of view, a close third, yet without even a space break, Carlson zooms out seamlessly, giving us a little distance: “The two hikers stepped out into the high-atmosphere sunshine…”

Some will argue that there’s too much plot, but in my opinion The Signal offers a brilliant example of plot arising out of character: Mack’s choices drive the plot forward.

I’ll leave you with my favorite passage:

“The sun was weak light, and the chill was general headed for a real freeze. The watery yellow day wanted to break his heart. The season had foundered and each day was now a brave imitation of the day before. In September the year fell away and in the car you’d get a late baseball game on the radio as you drove to town sounding like it was coming from another planet, the static and the crowd noise and the announcers trying to fend off the fall shadows.”

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snooping

DSC00053I discovered Snoop by Sam Gosling in a note by @piscivorous on Facebook. Its subtitle is What Your Stuff Says About You. I was interested in this book not only for what it could tell me about how to portray fictional characters but also for what it could tell me about me.

Chapter One begins with the story of John Steinbeck taking a shower in a hotel room before it had been cleaned. He named the former inhabitant Lonesome Harry:

“I could feel that recently departed guest in the bits and pieces of himself he had left behind.” from Travels With Charley

What was left: some laundry receipts, an unfinished letter in the trash, an empty bourbon bottle…

In a chapter entitled, “When Good Judgments Go Bad,” Gosling writes about extreme hoarding, which is defined as “the repetitive collection of excessive quantities of poorly useable items of little or no value with failure to discard these items over time.” I’ve written a story about this entitled, “Little Things,” which is almost finished.

Apparently the difference between pathological hoarding and ordinary collecting is that collectors enjoy their collections. Hoarders are disturbed by their booty. There’s an easy lesson there.

My favorite lines of all are about identity:

Identity is “the thread that ties the experiences of our past, present, and future into one narrative.”

“It is a story you tell about yourself to make sense out of what has happened in the past and kind of person you are now.”

I love this question that Gosling asks in the first chapter: “…what are the mechanisms by which personality reaches out and connects to the physical world?” His answer:

identity claims“: (posters, awards, photos, bumper stickers). To assess their meaning, notice whether they are directed toward others or toward the self, whether they are in public or private spaces, and notice discrepancies between between public and private spaces, between front and back yards for example.

feeling regulators“: stuff to help us manage our emotions and thoughts. My little notes on my desk: “Begin anywhere.” “I am a work in progress.” “Believe.” My pictures of the ocean…

DSC00216behavioral residue“: A scavenger after peering into Cher’s garbage wrote: “It was like I had her whole world in my hands.” Apparently the incredibly telling aspect to trash is that it reflects “behavior that really happened.” In my trash in my study at this minute: wrapper from an IcyHot Sleeve for my elbow, zip lock bag with crumbs from my RyeKrisp snack yesterday, an empty tin from my Big Dipper Clarity candle, crumpled lists that have been accomplished.

To paraphrase a popular commercial: What’s in your trash? OR What’s in your character’s trash?

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the sweet in-between

DSC00172Some of you may remember that on my first try with the Kindle, when I was reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, it did not go well, and I switched to the physical book itself. My second try, using the Kindle to read Infinite Jest while I was traveling, went great. I wondered if it was because I’d already held the real book in my hands.

I think it was more a matter of my getting used to the Kindle. A couple of weeks ago, right before Sheri Reynolds‘ most recent novel, The Sweet In-Between, came out in paperback, I wanted to read it. Right that second. Aha. Kindle. I was reading it in about three minutes.

And I totally loved it–even reading it on the Kindle–and was not ready for it to end when it did.

Now to write a post on it without having the actual book. You can see the first problem in the upper right-hand corner.

The second problem was no underlining. BUT the Kindle has a feature called clippings, and I was able to easily pull up all the passages I had marked. So here we go…

DSC00150

borrowed a friend's book for this picture

The Sweet In-Between is written in the first person and narrated by 17-year-old Kendra, who goes by Kenny and who is in the middle of an identity crisis. Her sort-of step-brother’s girlfriend, Sneaky, describes her as follows:

“I mean you’re like a boy in all the good ways, and you’re kind of like a girl in all the good ways too.”

She describes herself here: “I feel funny, like I might not be who I always thought…”

Kenny is an endearing character, one, as Linda mentioned in the comments to the previous post, you want to fight for.

“Here’s the thing: There are holes that never go away, holes that never fill back up no matter what.”

If you’d like to read a book where the voice of the narrator comes shining through, this is the book for you. Here are a few examples:

“I love cutting grass. You can see exactly where you’ve been and where you need to go next. You can’t really hurry. You just move steady, one step at a time, and with that lawn mower handle vibrating in your hands, you know you’re alive.”

“It’s dark out, the moon still hanging around, a good time of day, before everybody wakes up and ruins it.”

“Even though I don’t have a camera to practice with, I like the idea of framing a thing for the world, picking a moment out of all the other moments, and click–there it is. (Or there it will be.)”

Nothing will ever replace real live books for me, but I’m happy to have the Kindle as a part of my library.

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yellow letters from a shoebox on a rainy pm

IMG_2254So many things left unmentioned:

  • David Foster Wallace’s skilled use of the French language: “Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rolants” (719) and hilarious translations from English to French:  demi-maison (730) and from French to English: see Marathe below.
  • The way Tavis is described: “His smallness resembles the smallness of something that’s farther away from you than it wants to be, plus is receding.” And Stice “shielding his eyes with his hand and assuming a horizon-scan expression whenever Tavis heaves into view, seeming to recede even as he bears down.” (519)
  • That “…the key to the successful administration of a top-level junior tennis academy lies in cultivating a kind of reverse-Buddhism, a state of Total Worry.” (451)
  • Infinite Jestisms: to eliminate someone’s map, to give someone the fantods (also used by MT in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (thanks to Steven!)), “many wonders”
  • Scenes we’ll never forget: Erdedy waiting for the pot (17-27), Orin in the shower with the roaches, the videophone situation (144-151), Poutrincourt on achieving goals (680-681)

H o w e v e r, what I would like to do in this last post of the series is to say a la prochaine to some of the lovable, quirky, and flawed-as-we-all-are characters of Infinite Jest, in their own words, in the words of other characters or in the words of the narrator.

IMG_2089Steeply:

“…our whole system is founded on your individual’s freedom to pursue his own individual desires…Sunsets over the Pacific. Shoes that don’t cut off circulation. Frozen yogurt. A tall lemonade on a squeak-free porch swing.” (423)

IMG_2088Marathe:

“…should he exit and roll like no person’s business…” (752)

IMG_2092Lyle:

“An oiled guru sits in yogic full lotus in Spandex and tank top. He’s maybe forty. He’s in full lotus on top of the towel dispenser just above the shoulder-pull station in the weight room…” (127)

IMG_2090Erdedy:

“…at this precise time his telephone and his intercom to the front door’s buzzer sounded at the same time, both loud and tortured and so abrupt they sounded yanked through a very small hole into the great balloon of colored silence he sat in, waiting…” (27)

IMG_2089Kate Gompert:

“I don’t hate myself. I just wanted out. I didn’t want to play anymore.” (72)

“…and then it’s happening, too, the whole horrible time, it’s about to happen and also it’s happening, all at the same time.” (73)

IMG_2088Orin the punter:

“I miss commercials that were louder than the programs.” (599)

And referring to watching entertainment on disks, “But it’s not the same. The choice, see. It ruins it somehow. With television you were subjected to repetition.” (600)

IMG_2092the Moms:

“Avril made it clear that the very last thing she wanted was to have any of her children feel they had to justify or explain to her any sort of abruptly or even bizarrely sudden major decision they might happen to make…” (288)

And from Mario: “The Moms hangs up stuff like shirts and blazers neater and more wrinkle-free than anyone alive.” (768)

IMG_2089Himself:

“I drink this, sometimes, when I’m not actively working, to help me accept the same painful things it’s now time for me to tell you, son.” (160)

IMG_2090Mario:

“…cheerfully declining even to try to learn to really read, explaining he’d way rather listen and watch.” (188/189)

“Mario’d fallen in love with the first Madame Psychosis programs because he felt like he was listening to someone sad read out loud from yellow letters she’d taken out of a shoebox on a rainy P.M., stuff about heartbreak and people you loved dying and U.S. woe, stuff that was real. It is increasingly hard to find valid art that is about stuff that is real in this way.” (592)

IMG_2088Gately:

“He took zero in the way of shit and was a cheery but implacable exponent of the Don’t-Get-Mad-Get-Even school.” (55)

IMG_2088

Hal:

“I am not just a boy who plays tennis. I have an intricate history. Experiences and feelings. I’m complex….” (11)

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

[final in a series of 5 posts on finishing IJ]

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faces in the distemper

IMG_2371When Mari Strachan was a little girl, she used to create pretend newspapers, carefully writing the stories in pencil, drawing a picture to go with them, and then sewing the pages together. She says, “I’ve always loved the physicality of books and paper and writing instruments…”

Now she is 64 years old, and has just published her first novel, The Earth Hums in B Flat.  Her first novel! Congratulations, Mari!

Mari Strachan is Welsh. She lives part of the time in Wales and part of the time in London. As early as she can remember, she has loved books and reading and words, so it makes sense that she grew up to be a librarian, a book reviewer, a researcher, a translator, a copy editor, and a web editor. And now an author.

In The Earth Hums In B Flat, the main character is 12 1/2-year-old, Gwenni Morgan. Strachan reveals Gwenni’s personality in the way Gwenni interacts with objects in the world around her.

For example, early in the novel, imaginative Gwenni sees faces in the distemper [a kind of paint] in the scullery:

“The green distemper on the walls is beginning to peel and flake, shaping faces with sly eyes and mouths tight with secrets. There are new faces there every day.” (page 6)

Gwenni is, in fact, surrounded by people with secrets. Strachan pulls this thread through the novel.

“They’re not watching me this morning. They’ve closed their eyes and grown long ears so that they can listen…” (page 43)

She uses the faces to show Gwenni’s emotions:

“You scared the faces in the distemper, Mam.” (page 92)

“Will the faces open their mouths to scream out our secrets as the new distemper washes over them like a wave and drowns them?” (page 93)

It’s Gwenni’s relationship with the world around her that makes her such a compelling character. For more on this novel, please check out my review in the summer issue of Contrary Magazine as well as this  interview with Mari Strachan at The View From Here Magazine, in which Strachan talks about where she writes, the difference between drafting and writing, and her favorite words.

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