21 December 2012

Part of a Winter Solstice Story

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 9:37 am

Anyway, the Fenimores, Mr and Mrs Fenimore, I say, Mr Fenimore is really pioneering. He’s small and slim, but always looks as if he’s setting out on an adventure with an imaginary hiking stick in his hand.

I know the type, Paula says.

He takes over the after-school chess and judo clubs, I say. He starts up an after-school cookery class and takes a lot of flak for being a man who runs a cookery class. Mrs Fenimore helps. She always helps. She is always there helping, she’s a shy person who smiles a lot, while her husband, whom she looks at with eyes full of a sad, hopeful love, runs the school clubs, and not just those, he forms a neighbourhood wine club where our parents and the other neighbours who don’t have kids go to the Fenimores’ house to taste wine, Mrs Fenimore puts invitations through everybody’s door, smiling shyly if you look out the window and see her on her rounds. JACK AND SHIRLEY FENIMORE INVITE YOU TO A SPECIAL WINE TASTING. Loads of people go, all the neighbours go, my mother and father go, and they never usually go to anything. They’ve never done anything like it before. Then everybody talks about how nice the Fenimores are, how much they like the Fenimores’ house, car, garden, cutlery, design of plates. Then the Fenimores organize a theatre visit. JACK AND SHIRLEY FENIMORE INVITE YOU TO EDUCATING RITA AT THE EMPIRE. Everybody goes. JACK AND SHIRLEY FENIMORE INVITE YOU TO A MULLED WINE EXTRAVAGANZA. JACK AND SHIRLEY FENIMORE INVITE YOU ON A SOLSTICE ASSAULT ON BEN WYVIS.

Assault on Ben who? the man (I’ll call him Tom) says.

No, I say. Ben Wyvis is a mountain. Ben is a Scottish word for mountain.

Yeah, I know, I know that, Tom says.

You don’t know nothing, Paula says. You didn’t know what angora was a minute ago.

Anyway, I say. About twenty of us, who’ve all lived under Ben Wyvis for most of our lives and have never been up it, seven or eight adults and the rest kids my age, some younger, a couple of older ones, get into a minibus the Fenimores hire, because Mr Fenimore’s just got his minibus driving licence, and drive to the foot of Ben Wyvis to see how high up it we can get on the Sunday before Christmas, December 21st, a gloriously sunny Sunday, bright and crisp and blue-skied.

And then what happens?

Oh, okay, I get it, it’s a game, Tom says. Okay. You get to the top and you have the most fantastic party and you kiss your first boy up a romantic mountain on the shortest day of the year.

The minibus breaks down, Paula says. You never even leave the neighborhood.

Halfway up the mountain, I say, the sky changes colour from blue to black, and half an hour later it starts to snow…

– from “Present,” a short story by Ali Smith in her 2008 collection The First Person and Other Stories



  1. Eh bien, monsieur? You will plizz explain…

    There’s an early 60s novel ‘Winter Solstice’, which I looked up a while back and have already forgotten it, and the author has been too. It’s all up in Maine, and my sister and I both checked it out of the library when she was teaching summer recreation classes and I was taking swimming lessons. But that’s all I can think of to say.

    ‘bright and crisp and blue-skied’, ‘up a romantic mountain’. Oh dear, until further enlightenment.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 21 December 2012 @ 10:33 am

  2. ‘About twenty of us, who’ve all lived under Ben Wyvis for most of our lives and have never been up it,’

    What plucky people! My, I’d like to get to know. Just looked her wiki.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 21 December 2012 @ 10:45 am

  3. Two days ago I read someone’s commendation of Ali Smith; yesterday I found this short story collection on the library shelf. This is the third story in he book. I figured it might be some sort of omen to have read a solstice story the day before the solstice, so I excerpted from it here. So far no deeper message has been revealed to me.

    It’s a tricky little tale. The narrator is in a pub waiting for her food when Tom, another customer, starts “chatting up” Paula the barmaid. It’s late November, cold outside, and Tom is telling Paula about the magic of the frost on the roofs, reminding him of Christmases in his childhood. Paula isn’t buying: “You don’t half talk a load of wank,” she says to him. He’s not dissuaded. The narrator laughs at one of Paula’s rejoinders, so Tom crosses the bar to sit at the stool across from her. How about I tell you girls what Christmas means to me, what a really happy Christmas is? Tom yells at her. She can feel the hostility; she stands, gets her car keys out of her pocket, leaves the pub without eating. She’s gets into her car but, being “two whiskys down,” she realizes she can’t drive. “It was cold out, bitterly cold. It would soon be bleak midwinter.” She turns on the ignition and activates the seat heater. Sitting in her car looking back in through the pub window, she begins trying to guess what story Tom was going to tell about a really happy Christmas. Then she imagines it being her turn to tell a story. So she pictures herself telling them the story about the Fenimores and the solstice assault on Ben Wyvis. I like it that she imagines Tom thinking that her story is the setup for a storytelling game, and so he proposes the romantic first kiss: story within story within story.

    The narrator finishes imagining the end to her Ben Wyvis story. She looks through the side window of the pub: “The man had his back to the bar. He was holding a near-empty glass, staring ahead into space. The barmaid was leaning on her elbow. She was staring in the opposite direction. They stayed like that, unmoving, like figures in a painting, the whole time I watched.” She doesn’t know these people and doesn’t want to know them. “But if I went back inside, I could eat. And if I went back inside, if I was simply there, those two people would speak to each other again, they’d be able to, even if I was just sitting reading my paper or eating my supper ignoring them. I looked down at the roofs of the houses sheened with the fierce frost, like a row of faraway houses in the kind of story we tell ourselves about winter and its chancy gifts. I opened the car door and got out. I locked it, though I probably didn’t need to, and I went back into the pub.” The end. I like it.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 December 2012 @ 2:26 pm

  4. Well, she does offer the Perfect Christmas Gift of lowering the decibels of her cuntiness, I’ll grant you. I can only wish it happened more often.

    It’s the author’s problem, it’s my problem. She wants a bare style, but she doesn’t even care if it has a rhythm, a grace. And it sure doesn’t have any. Maybe that is what is required to illuminate this rather hard-bitten bar, and maybe that’s what you think was what made it a good story. I can’t get past her stylistic nubbiness. All this ‘up it’ and ‘up the mountain’ are sometimes used, and indeed I’ve sometimes thought ‘up the ass’ was amusing, because not quite necessary.

    I suppose I ought to have more *empathy* for these people who could easily have gone ‘up it’ and didn’t, but a storytelling session about how they haven’t been ‘up it’ and still aren’t, because they are just going to talk about how they haven’t been ‘up it’ is somewhat depressing. But that’s a whole other story, and may have to do with what vernaculars we can have a feeling for, no matter how provincial. Does make me think of how I naturally like a lot of Southern dialects and vernaculars and even hick talk, but definitely Flannery O’Connor and nothing in ‘Crazy in Alabama’, written by somebody or other, and not all that much in ‘Modern Baptists’, also written by somebody or other.

    Also, I guess the idea of a storytelling game has to appeal to you. Telling stories, yes for me, storytelling ‘game’, I guess not. I think it’s possible that, after reading you for some years now, you are very interested in the mechanisms of storytelling in themselves more than I am. In that, I’m pretty earthbound, can’t get past a whole populace who haven’t ‘been up it’ in fact.

    Did make me long for a full-bodied ‘Dubliner’, though, I was even ready to hear some old condescending half-gifted teacher start going on about the ‘bright, copper boiler’.

    Don’t know much lit. from that region, but often still think of ‘Dark Hour’, that paedophilic thing by Philip McCann that was in the New Yorker during Tina Brown’s rather brilliant New Yorker years. Here you don’t even know what they’re drinking, in that I found out ‘can of Lilt’, bottled by Coca-Cola, but sold in Uk and a few other countries. I didn’t find out till the other night by googling, though. When a friend and I read it in 1995, we thought it was some kind of beer or dipped snuff. Some years ago the blogger Lars of Spurious mentioned it in one of his loud pieces. But I’d really thought it was snuff, too, just like the countrified sorts I used to see rural types dip (yuck.) McCann had a harder style. The young boy says to ‘my Old One’ “Do I not have clean shorts?” No answer. “Then fuck off!”

    Won’t Michael have some insights into Ms. Smith?


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 21 December 2012 @ 4:43 pm

  5. Not much music here I agree. It reminds me of another book I read and liked recently: The Keep by Jennifer Egan. It too has the stripped-down prosodic functionality and the tricky storytelling structure; I like that one too. Egan’s next book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, won her the Pulitzer, but it’s not as good as The Keep. There’s a bit more flare in the writing, but the structure of interlocking short stories seemed like a lazy way out. The characters/stories revolve around the popular music industry, which I suppose merits attention of the casual reader. I understand that the book is going to be adapted into a TV series, which is how it reads actually, as an outlined “treatment.”

    But seeking for my personal talismanic message in this Smith story on this longest of nights, I discern something like this: put yourself in a position to listen to the world for stories — make yourself “go up” the mountain or into the pub even if you don’t feel like it — then craft your own stories for imaginary audiences. Kind of like a long fortune-cookie message. I can picture her using stories like this one as object lessons in her MFA teaching sessions, or whatever is the equivalent degree in GB.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 December 2012 @ 6:04 pm

  6. I finished the new 10-day cine-musique, the little text, you know, and am very pleased with it. I heard from Christian a few days ago, and wrote the final dates at the bottom, since this was very atypical, and the dedication I just put there.

    The cruelties are continuing, and it’s time I made official here something you still ought to consider, given that I’ve looked at the filth (to which the lafayette now adds ‘creativity’ to the ugliest of the parodies yet put up, or equivalently ugly, including new posts to prove the ‘subversion’ wrought by some lone parodist against minor academics, as if some result was anything other than invisible) I put this here so as to deflate every one of those monstrous efforts, and so you need not look at the most recent one if you haven’t. They are so ‘banalized’ by now, it has no effect.) None of the ‘theory’ about this ‘parody’ holds, the ‘cruel and tasteless’ is not creative, it is wallowing in sewage. But if such is written, they should know it is having little effect, including the revolting ‘judgment day’ crap.)

    I wouldn’t have put this here except that there is a constant theme of ‘published work’ and ‘calling publishing houses’, etc., and that needs the above so it can be corrected here. i haven’t pursued other publishers as much as I should, but then the Jackson Pollockianism of IDNYC is too much a Plum Pudding (as you know, these are sometimes allowed to ripen over several years, when I did it I thought 2 months before boiling it for 6 hours on Christmas Day was enough) to be read quickly by but a few, although I’ve no doubt it eventuarlly will be, or Toni Bentley would not have proved the exception to the rule. With my ‘little text’, I’ve done a major restructuring of style.

    But that’s not the point. The point is that the offer I made to you (and Dominic) over 2 years ago, that Art & Fiction is something you really ought to consider as means of publishing something of yours. Although a ‘Founding Father’, as Christian calls me, of Art &
    Fiction, I am not part of the day-to-day, which has some fiction writers but almost always concentrates on painters as well. But what matter if your work is embellished by some artworks? So I can’t guarantee anything (and I’m no longer offering the invitation to Dominic, you’ll see that my blunt approach to these things is sometimes well-placed–he hasn’t earned it), but you must consider at some point submitting something to Christian and Stephane, and what you write is considerably better in my estimation than what their fiction writers produce (who, for me, are a little along the lines of Ms. Smith’s barstool fantasy about days that are ‘blue-skied’. I mean, gimme a fuckin break, WHO ever described a beautiful day as ‘blue-skied?’ AWFUL. Hard glares of blue.

    The other point is, he won’t read your bleug and see that as an example. He only reads my own bleug about once a month, although he does love ‘the little text’. I would certainly put in a word if you find among your texts one you think Christian might like to consider. And he’s very generous when it comes to these things.

    I’m putting this here because the premise of every one of those parodies about you and me is predicated on how I wouldn’t ‘help you with publishing’. Well, it’s true, Art & Fiction is not a large outfit, but they’ve published, in extraordinary high quality editions, over 100 books, and continue to do so.

    I added two sections to ‘the little text’ since you saw the first few additions. One of them focusses on Dionne Warwick as one of those ‘protecting artists’, but one of the things she said reminded me of the hurtful things these parodists pride themselves in, and which I’m glad to have left behind, having once done them myself, and they are nothing but wastes of time. She has done a lot of AIDS charity work as well as the Bacharach reunion song of 1985 ‘That’s What Friends Are For’, and she was speaking of a friend she saw die of AIDS, sayind “You have to be granite not to want to help people with AIDS, because the devastation that it causes is so painful to see. I was so hurt to see my friend die with such agony”, Warwick remembers. “I am tired of hurting and it does hurt.”

    It was that last phrase that is so typical Dionne: “I am tired of hurting and it does hurt”.

    So I’ll admit that some of those parodies remind me of her sentence “I am tired of hurting and it does hurt”. Maybe since I know they hurt is why I can look at them and then write this, which cancels them out–and it does that whether you decide Christian’s outfit (they publish prose and poetry in English, of course, as well as French) or even whether you decline to post this. Although really, why not? The last one is so hideously stupid that it does seem that if they are allowed to show these publicly, then why should they not expect people to ‘revolt’ and says “THAT is fucking shit”. I would not have written it here first had not lafayette joined in with the other two on the ugliest one, so that the pose of diplomacy he’s always used is gone.

    Actually, some of the little stories Art & Fiction has published are more like Ali Smith’s, so they’re a lot less critical than I am, and god knows, you write better than somebody finally ‘went up it’.

    So I wrote this here for me as well, because I think those things are very often written not for ‘subversive, revolutionary reasons’, but rather purely because of the cruelty in itself. Then again, you may not be interested in Art & Fiction, but that’s all I have at the moment, and the main message is that Christian hates bleugs, so he’s not going to look at even your best work on here. You’d need to send something if you decided to. I think I’ve said this before, but “I’m tired of hurting and it does hurt”. I’d write him for you if you wanted (again), and, if nothing else, the monsters have been rendered totally impotent in their attacks if you do leave this. Their whole last series of mean posts collapses due BULLSHIT DEBUNKED.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 22 December 2012 @ 10:43 am

  7. Congratulations on the new little text, Patrick. And thank you for reiterating your offer to put me in touch with Christian. When you and I exchanged correspondence on this subject before, maybe a year or two ago, I wrote that I could imagine creating an arty fiction that would embellish my larger project and that would align with the Art&Fiction publishing trajectory. I still think this is true, but at present I feel the pull to finish writing the series of seven books, the last one of which is gradually assuming a clearer shape. I’ve not really given serious thought to publishing since I first envisioned this series of books about three years ago. When the seventh seal has been affixed to the seventh scroll then I’ll feel more freedom to explore possibilities for publishing and new writing. Of course I’d like the seven to “go up” together somewhere, so I’m inclined to try that before unbundling them. When the time comes I will put together an overview of these seven books and ask your and Christian’s opinions about how best to proceed.

    I’ve not visited the offending blog in two weeks or more, nor do I intend to do so any time soon. But trying to stir up animosity between the two of us predicated on your unwillingness to help me get my books published is misguided folly.


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 December 2012 @ 11:41 am

  8. Well, we might have something to say about your overview, but also just keeping the door open for shorter works as well. And some of the bleugposts are not off the table either, it’s just he won’t read them here and connect it with putting it in print. Some might need merely be printed up, some might need a touch-up here and there; that sometimes comes up automatically when it’s in new ‘casing’. My ‘little text’ won’t be put in print. What surprised me was that I got a piece written for the bleug (and starting out as one of my mere old-fashion-flutters) that I liked even better than what I’d done in print.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 22 December 2012 @ 11:53 am

  9. D’accord: the stand-alone shorter work would be more opportune for the Art&Fiction. I look forward to reading the new cine-musique.


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 December 2012 @ 1:12 pm

  10. It’s an excellent piece; intriguing to watch it evolve from the earlier shorter version into multi-layered extravagance.


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 December 2012 @ 8:10 pm

  11. Thank you.

    I had to do a little more tweaking just now, that sentence about El Cholo after 20 years didn’t make sense as it was, and just came across as bad Didion. While it was somewhat strange that the booth upholstery was still in such good shape, it’s hardly dramatic, but that it was the booths that made me finally remember I’d been there before was the point. I’d tried for years to remember where we’d been, so it was like an old ghost, and even that was 2004.

    I read some of Katie Roiphe’s essays this week, who says more men imitate Tom Wolfe. Sometimes I’ll find myself doing it, not too often though. i thoroughly enjoyed ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’, though. Flop movie if there ever was one. That old 90s scene with Mailer and Updike saying his ‘A Man in Full’ wasn’t literature was pretty strange, though, but I haven’t read it. Probably prefer his really old 6os things the most, like Kandy Koloured Tangerine Flake Baby. I imagine Harlan Ellison was imitating Wolfe way back when he wrote his very good Hollywood story ‘The Return of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie’. I think this is a remarkably good story, and definitely catches something that the more famous writers about Hollywood dp not. Ellison has some other good stories that have that unmistakable Twilight Zone atmosphere, and he wrote some Twilight Zone episodes.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 23 December 2012 @ 11:37 am

  12. Tom Wolfe’s ‘A Man in Full’ just isn’t very good, though the style is pretty readable and there’s a lot of good research in it. I didn’t think Bonfire of the Vanities was really anything to write home about either, but he at least pulled a story together there. A Man in Full just doesn’t go anywhere. And there’s the downside of his style – a recurring theme where he tries to show that he’s a bit of a lad at heart by indulging in some gratuitous homophobia and racism. A bit of a jerk, for all his early stuff was very good and original.

    Ktismo! If you’ve not been looking at the Cultural Parody Centre for a while, you’ll have missed the plot suggestion for your next novel I left in the comments.


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 24 December 2012 @ 4:57 am

  13. I didn’t much care for Bonfire, which I believe is the only of Wolfe’s books that I’ve read. The story did move right along though. And at least it is a “book.” Last night over the salad and cheese course the host of the evening declared that a text isn’t a “book” until it has a printer’s binder wrapped around it. I called him a dick and a pompous ass and headed for the door. Happily Anne didn’t apologize for my rudeness as she too gathered her things and said her farewells.

    You have a plot suggestion? If it’s at the cpc I presume it’s another shot at my unpublished status, an easily-opened scab obviously for me but the inspiration for an occasional fictional scene like the one performed last night, which we were already savoring on the drive home, as well as a persistent thematic element in my writing. So bring up your plot suggestion over here, L. I’ll give it a look and let you know what I think. Maybe other commenters can have a go at it too. Of course you’re aware by now that if it throws personal criticisms at me or any other blogger, their identities thinly veiled by “parody,” then it will not pass the Ktismatics politesse screener.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 December 2012 @ 7:12 am

  14. “Bonfire of the Vanities” is about style, and if you don’t know how Park Avenue operates (and most New Yorkers even don’t), it’s all in the detailing, and you won’t find a better tableau vivant in writing form of the social x-rays (most of which continue, and most of the gigolos and other men continue). You are AT a Park Avenue party. Stringing a story together is nothing to praise anyone with faint damns about, and the story is never that important with Wolfe, and why he isn’t a great writer. The women writers like Katie Roiphe probably don’t read the male writers who really do influence, but for obvious reasons, I don’t want to get into a discussion here.

    ” I didn’t think Bonfire of the Vanities was really anything to write home about either, but he at least pulled a story together there. ‘

    There really is something about Manhattan. People who don’t live in it don’t want to know about it for a variety of reasons. And that I won’t explicate and enumerate either, people are jealous of New York, although I guess that’s a small price to pay if you’re not actually IN Pittsburgh, where I was once the victim of condescending Cambridge whorebag and her porcine friends, who said that 9/11 turned New Yorkers into pussycats.

    It’s unbelievable he’s put this about his comment on ‘your next novel’ here. Yes, it’s the title mentioned, with me and you as the two characters. You can’t get published–absurdly, because of me–and yet you have some Satanic bargain with me: If you skin enough ‘young boys’ asses’ to fix my own ‘sagging ass’, I’ll ‘get you published’. In the end, I will do nothing for you, so you plan to shoot me with a shotgun (riff on the adorable ‘kiddie splatter’, I guess, to which lafayette thought the host had some ‘very good ideas’ or some such). That he’s written this here is simply beyond credulity. His own comment is as ‘neutrally’ insulting as the cartoon, in which your face is affixed to an ass, and I’m in ‘Baby Mullins’ dress.

    It just seems to me that if you call some condescending type a ‘dick’ for remark which cannot even be construed as technically accurate–say, for example, even if we hate e-books and they destroy our eyesight still further, that at least blows his ‘academic dinner party’ pose. Because I hate e-books myself, but they’re BOOKS in a literal sense. You must never have liked him anyway. I can’t say, since you’ve told that much of the story, why you didn’t argue with him a bit before the high dudgeon moment. A published short story is not a ‘book’ per se either.

    So you have a juxtaposition of a tacky dinner party host and a blog commenter who is recommending his comment on a blog post which pointedly insults you (nevermind me, for the moment, although I’m the other character.) Does he just want you to look at the hideous picture and original text–out of which his comment is directly derived, and where you are ‘Doylie’ and I’m ‘Maddy’ (of ‘logorrhea’-writing.)

    It’s pretty obvious he just wanted to see if you’d publish it, because one thing it definitely was not even premised on: That it had anything to do with ‘your next novel’. It was pure ‘damage control’ and not for the cpc either. He knows cooperating with that post implicates him, and he’s part of what the ‘therapeutic cruelty’ is about. And you’re obviously subject to what Dionne Warwick said too when it comes to getting tired of the hurt. I mean, storming out is okay, and I’ve done it I’m sure, but you could have also continued to add insult to injury by stringing along ‘shit-eating asshole’ and ‘CHEESE-SERVING CUNT’ and plenty of other things, just sitting there and staring him down. Although even storming out was less gentlemanly that you’ve been here, where you’ve been cool and clever. Of course he’s not going to put that comment here (and I wouldn’t have even described it had the title of it not been mentioned, etc.), and the one he has put does ring of determined duplicity, sort of ‘let’s see if I can get away with this’, even though the thread basically became about publishing possibilities offered by me, and then some talk on my part about how the best texts aren’t necessarily in print, even if they have been. The ‘prestige factor’ is very analogous to the theater vs. movies. A great stage actor is most often going to be seen as greater than a great film actor, i.e., Greta Garbo is a great actress, but does that really compare to what Laurence Olivier did as King Lear, Richard III, Hamlet, etc. Catherine Deneuve came from stage actors, but because of stage fright, has never appeared on stage. I don’t think that makes her a lesser actress than Vanessa Redgrave, who wants to do as many Euripides bitches as she can get her hands on, but you get the gist. So, a lot of bloggers talk about, you know, with posts like ‘in print, then’ from a few years ago, but STILL who wants to read them? In that case, there still weren’t anything but some book reviews. What the fuck is that? And that writer wants to be the next Jonathan Franzen–bonne chance pour quelle noble ambition. But he was still EMBARRASSED that he was ‘just a blogger’. There are so many blog posts that are better than so much printed material by now, although maybe not for the most part still. It’s like also the early days of flickers and nickelodeons and movies, which were all considered VERY low-class as far back as the late 19th century (was it the Paris Fair in 1899?), and continued to be in the first years of silents in Hollywood, which is one of the reason the great early Jewish moguls were able to start out their wealth ‘n’ parvenu numbers (when they did) in movies. That’s all in Neal Gablers book, How the Jews Owned Hollywood, and it goes into Adolph Zukor as deeply as it does Louis B. Mayer.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 24 December 2012 @ 8:30 am

  15. I read Bonfire shortly after it was published, and shortly after I had made a business trip to New York. I met with two guys from Newark, both of whom almost surely had mob ties. The big cheese of the operation had adopted an obviously fake name — I’ll call him Ethan San Mateo — and for our business lunch he took us to some high-gloss sushi place. We were already doing business with these crooks, subsequently investigated by the SEC for securities fraud, and I had recently been promoted to managing the line of business in which San Mateo was a key account. I remember thinking that traffic was moving more slowly around Manhattan than it usually did in Minneapolis where I was living at the time. Clearly San Mateo and his associates were more Jersey Shore than Park Avenue, but participating in these shady NY business deals almost surely tainted my reaction to Bonfire. Maybe some day I’ll try another Wolfe.

    Even before arriving at the dinner party I had an inclination to burn some bridges with these people. Almost surely the host’s remark was intended as a personal jab, motivated in part as a retaliation for my dismissing some novel he’d liked quite a bit. It was a ridiculous remark, and I could have taken a different tack to expose its inanity. Still, je ne regrette rien. Sometimes you can tell a book by its cover.

    Ass skins and shotguns? That doesn’t sound like a “book” to me. I have no intention of looking at his comment in situ, nor of discussing that blog or its posts and further.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 December 2012 @ 10:09 am

  16. Bonfire isn’t a great book. It’s just that what Wolfe is good at, he’s very very good at. The best parts, by far, are his meticulous pictures of the Upper East Side. Taken by themselves, they are on a level with Proust’s Paris (almost, and the best section may even be a homage to the long dinner party with Oriane de Guermantes presiding with her drolleries–that’s about 100 pp. and is my favourite part of the whole Recherche).

    He’s probably not capable of writing a great novel, and why should he have to? The 60s essays in Tangerine Flake and Electric Acid Test are every bit as germane to the period as Didion’s, although her ponderousness tends to make hers ‘last longer’ in people’s minds. Interesting, though, that the essay form is so powerful; Roiphe said Didion is more imitated by women writers than any other, and Wolfe more than any by men writers. She definitely writes a better novel than Wolfe, but it’s still not her novels that are considered her best work by most. But Roiphe’s essay on Didion right next to one on Susan Sontag is interesting, because in the former she focusses on the works and excerpts in great detail and the powerful influence on authors’ styles (as when I pointed some of it out automatically a while back in that NYReview article on Karl Rove by Mark Danner, where it was obvious even before the Roiphe essay. I don’t really think Maureen Dowd imitates Didion that much though-part of Roiphe’s own elitism and Joannie-worship.). In the Sontag, I think none of the works are mentioned except ‘Illness as Metaphor’, which she wrote after she beat her first cancer. It’s got material by Sontag’s son David Rieff about her final cancer. I was familiar with some of the material from a NYTimesMag article he wrote a few months after her death, and it was already pretty harrowing. Point being, Sontag was more of a personality, the well-known ‘public intellectual’, than she was a writer. People don’t tend to dwell on her novels (I find them unreadable), although they do also still talk about her famous essay, whether on camp or photography, or Against Interpretation–now I remember Roiphe does mention that one as ‘Sontag going against herself’. It was a good piece.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 24 December 2012 @ 10:44 am

  17. I just took up where he left off with a bit of contextualising, setting it in a bigger frame involving Portal, N.Dakota – YOUR kind of town, you DID say that – the Northern Lights, the USA’s nuclear weapon stockpile at nearby Minot airbase, nuclear war, and Manitou the spirit-heart of America – .
    Happy Christmas to all of yez!


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 24 December 2012 @ 12:49 pm

  18. The snow has begun, so by morning it should be just like the ones we used to know.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 December 2012 @ 7:35 pm

  19. “It was cold out, bitterly cold. It would soon be bleak midwinter.”

    Your ‘just like the ones we used to know’ made this come back to mind, although I noticed it the first reading. Maybe such quoting in prose that’s supposed to flow simply seems natural to some, I think it only works in more pretentious, urban prose to do this–and I do it. It can seem trashy even then if it hits a wrong note, but in simple tales like Ms. Smith’s it doesn’t seem trashy, but rather just ‘a bit off’–yes, exactly, it seems a bit ‘bare life’, heh heh, which is probably my response to her whole style–since she wouldn’t even dream of adding something about the carol (I surmise.) Maybe this is common practice by now, though.

    I think the problem with a ‘bare life style’ is that it brings out the miser in one, but also may just be an acceptance of a style really not quite formed–a bit too ‘pro-life’, one might say.

    This kind of thing is also hard for me to accept in a simple-toned tale, use of ‘bleak midwinter’, since most know this from the hymn:

    “In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
    earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
    snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
    in the bleak midwinter, long ago.”

    As a child, this was occasionally sung, it is very beautiful, I remembered it as ‘snow on snow on snow’ instead of ‘snow on snow, snow on snow’, but maybe not. I think almost anyone in the UK knows it, though, and Terence Davies’s use of it in the masterful Christmas section of ‘Distant Voices, Still Lives’ is close to indescribable without sounding ridiculous. You should see it if you haven’t. It’s a choral version, and the camera is moving across a wintry landscape, which eventually stops at the Christmas table with Pete Postlethwaite and the children he terrorizes.

    Just looked up the carol. It’s a poem by Christina Rossetti. From wiki: “The poem became a Christmas carol after it appeared in The English Hymnal in 1906 with a setting by Gustav Holst.

    Harold Darke’s anthem setting of 1909 is more complex and was named the best Christmas carol in a poll of some of the world’s leading choirmasters and choral experts in 2008.”


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 24 December 2012 @ 8:18 pm

  20. Oh vell, my own foregoing is hardly a model of paragraph ordering, which I got lazy about while looking up the hymn lyrics and wiki, but c’est la vie, I don’t think bleug comments are all that formal, and one thing about wordpress–you can’t fix it it IS broke. I think my wrongful repetition still allows the message across. Do you think this kind of ‘bare life style’ is gaining more acceptance? I think MacCann’s story from 1995 was about a desolation, but the style didn’t seem to have glaring things (at least to my ear.)


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 24 December 2012 @ 8:32 pm

  21. She did nothing with the song other than citing the title in passing, but it signals the narrator’s shift from discomfited flight into near fugue-state story imaginings, reminiscences, and the renewed possibility of human contact — the Christmas spirit, in short. A bit off perhaps because it is the only bit of classical culture invoked in the story. I probably should have invoked her two-sentence structure: The snow has begun. By morning…


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 December 2012 @ 8:36 pm

  22. No, that’s not her style, that’s more bad Didion.

    Okay, I guess that’s something understood as nothing unusual,and that anyone would just understand she meant the song. Yeah, i can see that’s me going a bit too far.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 24 December 2012 @ 8:42 pm

  23. Aha, that’s right, it is her style. She wouldn’t do minimalist Didion, so I can be a real prick again about bare life.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 24 December 2012 @ 8:45 pm

  24. Maybe the bare life trend is recession-austerity prose. When I write bare-life it’s not a conscious attempt at minimalism, neither a paring down nor a hoarding of words, but rather a struggle to write anything at all. I seem to write this way more often since returning from France; what I wrote then was more expansive and extravagant. Although I believe I have become more attentive to selecting the bon mot, rather than lapsing lazily into suburban Midwestern parlance as if it were some sort of folk dialect or populist democratic flatness.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 December 2012 @ 9:33 pm

  25. The stories in Ms Smith’s collection have been veering progressively toward slice-of-life lit-fic mundanity, abandoning the clever structural moves of the first three stories. I’m losing interest.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 December 2012 @ 9:45 pm

  26. But your comment about the bare-life as recession-austerity is quite illuminating. I thought about it a good long while on going to sleep last night, although my own version (not so obvious) popped into my head immediately.

    By today, you’ve added the last sentence and another remark about the Smith stories. And in your comment just before those, I finally understood how the story works–the movement into a kind of mundane use of ‘bleak midwinter’ brings about a fugue state in which the storytelling leads to human exchange and the Christmas spirit.

    But I realized that I have a version of this bare life that doesn’t seem so, because I will never be able to really do it literally. If I can’t write ‘expansively and extravagantly’, I don’t think I’ve written any ‘real writing’, even if I momentarily think it’s good or even very good. So what happens is I finally write the ‘Starlet’ piece, not thinking it will be any different from other confections I’ve written. Then somehow it has its own deepening that I had not projected, and I find I’ve written something that I take seriously, no matter how impractical it may be. And it will then be the first thing I’ve thought well of since IDNYC came out. Which last part, the poem at the end of the 2001 cine-musique, was written just short of 2 full years ago.

    So it’s bare life in that I’ll hardly ever write, because I can’t find the privilege to right something in ‘vertical time’ as often as before–diminishing returns. While I put a final date at the bottom some days ago, I’m going to have to change even that, because as recently as last night I was working for some hours on getting spacing, punctuation, re-shaping sentences. Something I don’t ever do anymore. I think I had to find something I thought was better than IDNYC or I was just going to slip away in some sense. You refer to the bon mot, and it’s those and sometimes just really needing something polished. For me, it always has to be full-bodied before I’ll bother to polish anything–as witnessed by my poorly structured comment on the hymn. Has to do with the purpose–I just wanted to get the message across in that case, didn’t care if I myself was writing well, or even decently.

    Ironically, you’ve clarified this story in a way so that I can respect it, even if I don’t love it. I probably was resisting the understandable defiling that does occur when we do think things like ‘bleak midwinter’ as a part of our unspoken flow of words, how it’s moved away from the majesty of such an extraordinary carol (and most aren’t, as we well know: Who really wants to hear ‘extract of round yon virgin’ yet again? And we’d talked about the ‘populist democratic flatness’ with ‘a couple burgers’. I always notice it even when I don’t think it’s important, e.g., when I read Josh Marshall’s TPM notes, he never puts the ‘of’ in. He runs a pretty good ‘rag’, which I depend on in a lot of ways, but I think he’s wrong to do that. He’s wrong to do it, because he can afford not to. It would never be allowed by NYTimes editors if they caught it–and they might not, if it wasn’t even caught at NYReview, which is much higher-toned–but some of this is the speed-drivenness that the internet editions always are, that required buzz..I often see grammatical messes in the online NYTimes, which will have been caught for the paper edition, which is itself 10% the size it used to be and I haven’t bought it myself for years.

    But we cannot really love too much of the actual reduction in style. I did some research on that other Scottish writer, Philip MacCann, the one I liked. He stopped writing fiction a few years ago, not seeing any point in it any further. And if it goes more and more into this ‘struggle to get anything at all written’, it’s hard to know what to think. I rarely have the ‘right to really write’ anymore. You don’t write as ‘expansively and extravagantly’ as you did before returning from France.

    But then a surprise sometimes happens, even after you’ve (I’ve) anticipated and ruined things so many times that there’s no choice but to be still and wait. The cliche is ‘following the dream’, but in the second part of the old song, Hal David gets the hope up with ‘with a dream in your heart you’re never alone..’ but then lowers the boom very painfully with ‘dreams turn into dust and blow away…and there you are without a friend…you pack your car and drive away…’ Having accepted this reality, it seems that I did have a friend after all, and not in San Jose either–on the Great Big Freeway! And that is the gentleness with which that friend makes a gift, and times it so I don’t know it till Christmas morning. I’ve rarely been so touched, so that a little more tweaking can finish up the piece for today.

    I don’t think bare life can ever be something one is fully conscious of. Knowing that, the search is for an elegant simplicity that is no more ‘expensive’ but can be inevitable enough to take the place of the despair that the thought of bare life can never not suggest. Bare life is something in which the mind always does hurt.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 25 December 2012 @ 9:33 am

  27. This story by Smith I’ve excerpted is predicated on regret, the narrator sitting in her car musing on what she could have said in that bleak midwinter pub — l’esprit d’lescalier, as the French call it. There’s another such story in this collection, which I have now definitively abandoned. But now I’m thinking about the dinner party in which I called the host a dick and a pompous ass. These seemed well-chosen insults at the time, and they still do, with a seamless integration of affect and language perfectly suited to the provocation. And still the need arises for a full post-mortem, which served as our Christmas morning entertainment. The hostess had just been telling us about her book club’s current selection, Blink, a nonfiction about how it’s possible unconsciously and spontaneously to arrive at a right decision if one has immersed oneself previously in the subject matter in question. I felt the blink intuition come upon me as without premeditation the insults flowed. You see, it’s just like that other time, the host reiterated to the hostess — presumably they had discussed this prior event before our arrival. Are all of your dinner parties like this? he asked Anne, who did not reply. The hostess retreated to the kitchen; Anne retained her place at the table; the host and I stood nose to nose in heated verbal exchange. He gave me a hug — an obvious power move; do you like this? I asked sarcastically from within my impassive posture. But you still haven’t read my edited correspondence about the Peace Corps, he reminded me over the porch railing as I headed toward the car. I’ll read it; send it to me, I replied as I walked down l’escalier into the dark parking lot — just the right reply, I still think.

    But now I’m thinking about this situation as a short story, or perhaps an episode in a novel. I can trace a hypothetical trajectory through the evening, extending long before the evening to “that other time,” looking for the “tipping point” (written by the author of Blink and discussed briefly over dinner) for this encounter. But now it would require some sequelae. In a horrific melodrama we might have the hostess be scarred by PTSD from a prior abusive relationship, cowering in the kitchen while the two men spar verbally, stepping forward with the knife with which she had carved the tenderloin. Or just play it straight: it’s already more dramatic a real-life scenario than most literary short stories. But to write such a story would require a more elaborate prosody, in the tradition of Henry James but with hotter juices, with all sorts of psychological wheels within wheels turning, rather than just a straight recounting of events. It was an emotionally inspiring evening, juiced me up for this sort of extravagance. A few more socially inappropriate encounters like that one and I’ll be all set.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 December 2012 @ 6:39 pm

  28. Impressive passion, but for the first time, I can’t follow the sequence of events, confusing Xmas morning with 2 events with this couple. I can’t tell when the ‘reiteration’ was, the other night? And the edited manuscript on the way to the car? the other night or at your place? when did the hostess ask Anne if all your dinner parties are like this? When did you say ‘send it to me?’ I hate to sound like the Cambridge Whorebag, but could you clarify some of these? or were they meant to meld into each other? When did the host hug you and you accuse him of unrequited homosexuality….


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 25 December 2012 @ 6:56 pm

  29. I thought Anne followed you out after you be-dicked this fuck. When did she keep her place at the table and not answer?


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 25 December 2012 @ 6:58 pm

  30. Yes, sorry, too sloppy. Christmas morning consisted entirely of Anne and me revisiting in memory the events of the dinner party. The “reiteration” I inferred. Some time ago the host had seen me react with anger at another event in which he had participated, and subsequently I had heaped mild scorn on what I deemed a particularly philistinic remark made by the hostess. I presumed in light of his aside to her at the dinner party that the two of them had discussed these events. You see, the host insinuates: it’s him, not me, who is the dick and the ass. Then he turns to Anne and asks about the chronicity of my condition; she doesn’t reply (to her subsequent regret; she thinks now that she should have reinforced my message to the host). Then the host stands, comes around the table, I advance toward him, I continue berating him, telling him I hope never to see him again. The hostess steps into the kitchen; Anne watches the encounter from her spot at the table — later she said she thought the two of us might come to blows. He offers the awkward power hug; I reject the gesture. I leave; Anne immediately follows after getting her coat and gathering her things. And then as the two guests walk into the darkness the host steps out onto his porch, calling after me that I hadn’t yet read his book — or rather, his “book” — about the Peace Corps. Send it, I say over my shoulder as I head for the car.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 December 2012 @ 7:49 pm

  31. I’m glad you told the rest of the story, because you are well rid of this asshole. He just couldn’t quit. Unbelievably rude to try to ‘get cozy’ with Anne, especially. Anybody with half a brain doesn’t do that with a couple even if it’s well-known they loathe one of the two of them. I did enjoy, early on in my bleug, pitting the Cambridge Whorebag (I know, her ass again) against her husband, to whom I’d sent links to the bleug. The answer came not from him, which would have impressed me, but rather from her, which she thought would preserve her Pittsburgh —-‘– status. As things progressed, she was shocked when I told her ‘I actually thought William might be interested, he’s a lot more like me than you are, and anyway, you’ve always hated my writing’. ( I invoked her just now, because it’s usual to find some of my sentences thorny, but yours usually are quite comprehensible, and she hated anything that wasn’t pure academic. I hate her writing, in fact.) Then she tried another move, and I didn’t reply for about 6 weeks, since the mails were so —-‘– oppressive, and when I did I said “Well, if you aren’t going to buy the book, then I think we have nothing else to discuss”. To have the last word, she wrote back some shit that started with “Pity…because we both love the piano..” I never told her she also plays like shit.

    Her husband is very witty, though, from Nottingham, and big Roman scholar at Columbia, and he may well have forwarded the mail to her, because I had concluded it with ‘so much for Pittsburgh’.

    But it may matter less what the dialogue was with these ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ and their ‘get-the-guest’ routine, than just being shed of them. If you want to do something story-wise about them, that doesn’t sound bad with the ‘blink’. Later, I thought your original post was interestingly expressionistic and nicely hysterical, and that it was good for you to write it up like that. It was you who said you wrote ‘bare-life’, that hadn’t occurred to me, it’s Ms. Smith who’s definitely literal bare-life. You usually pull back from doing it that way, and it was a combination of that plus some reportage, kind of a rough sketch of what you might turn it into. I think Anne is funny not saying anything, after all you’d already profaned the word DICK.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 25 December 2012 @ 8:16 pm

  32. “after all you’d already profaned the word DICK.”

    LOL. I guess I need an alternative go-to insult for situations like this. Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf would be the inevitable tone if I were to stretch out the melodramatic possibilities, you’re right. I doubt that it will take that form, but it seems likely that the event will find its way into the fiction. The antisocial conclusion of the evening manifested my more pervasive desire to “go underground” for awhile, which I mentioned on a recent thread and which structures the expressionistic topography of the next “book.”


    Comment by ktismatics — 26 December 2012 @ 10:38 am

  33. Ali Smith is one of the “forty-seven writers” offering their selections for 2012 “book of the year” in the Times Literary Supplement. I presume she was invited to opine and that her name carries some weight among the TLS readership. Smith extols The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan: “”I think it’s one of the most cunning and spirited novels I’ve read for years,” “that this novel is a debut is near unbelievable;” “it is an intelligent and deeply literary novel.” No copies of Fagan’s novel are stocked in the interlibrary loan consortium to which my local library has access, so for me and for now it remains invisible.

    Regarding “bare life” stylings, Ads’ new post, cites Fredric Jameson on Raymond Carver’s minimalism contrasted with Hemingway’s. The title of the post, “Emotional Unemployment,” reiterates the possible recessionist-austerity interpretation I suggested earlier on this thread. I came across a good 1992 essay by Winfried Fluck (sounds like a Pynchon name) on the Hemingway-Carver contrast. Entitled “Surface Knowledge and ‘Deep’ Knowledge: The New Realism in American Fiction,” the piece also invokes Tom Wolfe and Don LeLillo in support of Fluck’s argument that Carver is more of a postmodernist in disconnecting “real” events from meaning.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 January 2013 @ 12:06 pm

  34. Love your three Smith quotes. I think this is possibly evidence that she is a deeply half-literate writer. This kind of —-‘—– is very popular in modern Britain, and has been for many years. It’s an amusing syndrome in some ways, although I wouldn’t quite accuse Ms. smith herself (have no reason to) of such obvious stinginess, i.e., it works particularly to exploit the American Anglophile with the plummy accent (when mastered) and then you find all sorts of tattered things in the house, just like Glenda Jackson’s hurried cup of instant coffee with hot water from the tap, or the disgusting canned tomatoes and shoe-leather collops Christian and I got at a Lyme Street, Liverpool, cafe, whose interior had not changed for some 80 years (this was nice, ghostly). That’s why that opening of Patrick Keillor’s ‘London’ is so profound, Paul Scofield scornfully comparing London with the Continent: Something about ‘Old Smoke’ and how “it’s so exOtic…so HOME-made…” This film is barely known in the U.S., although every bleuger I ran into when I used to read the brit-bleugs knew it well and also ‘Robinson in Space’.

    Of course, when the exotic and homemade is also good, that’s very pleasant. I didn’t know that amazon had it so you can watch whole movies, just noticed when I was doing the post on ‘Distant Voices, Still Lives’. Davies is another thing, though. You get some of that particular brand of British meanness and cheapness in 1983’s ‘The Ploughman’s Lunch’, though, the title coming from merchandising these traditional things, back in the days before people were liberated into everything ‘really just being touristy, isn’ t’it?’ as in that vulgar Michel Houllebecq. Well, NO. But, okay, there’s an example: Not seeming semi-literate, just loathsome. Ms. Smith isn’t loathsome.

    I take your word on Ads’ new post, and agree in advance that Hemingway had ‘deep knowledge’. In the Katie Roiphe essay on Didion, she talks about the rhythms that we hear, etc., from Didion’s style, she herself having cited Hemingway’s sentences. And I agree. I find myself writing with their rhythms from time to time, and I am very clear on which ones give me the most pleasure to have somehow exhumed: His do. I think it’s because hers are more artificial, and you do it to be chic, whereas his really are original, and you sometimes find the sentences; but you hadn’t been ‘trying to write like Hemingway’. When I wrote ‘Souvenir of Mink Snopes’, that was almost directly lifted from Didion’s ‘Democracy’. I adore Hemingway’s sentences in ‘The Sun Also Rises’, and there were times in that ‘little text’ when I would think of Pilar’s memories of Valencia in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 10 January 2013 @ 3:53 pm

  35. You probably knew, but the Glenda Jackson reference is from ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, with the famous screenplay penned by ‘Professor Gilliatt’, that sad case. I love Glenda, though, she’s a great woman. David Thomson mocks her ‘English gruffness’, but I think hers is the real thing. And you never see it to greater advantage than in ‘Return of the Soldier’ and Ken Russell’s ‘The Rainbow’. Somehow Russell ‘gets’ Lawrence, you never know quite how such a buffoon could, but that scene at the wedding party with Glenda and Chris Gable (who’d been a great Royal Ballet dancer) makes you feel the book itself, all the snowdrops that would have been gathered for the bride, and maybe a bit more still when she says, as he is making a wedding father’s speech and his nose is demanding slight picking, and she comes to the rescue with “{ had an angel up me nose one time…”


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 10 January 2013 @ 4:02 pm

  36. Here’s the punchline from the quoted portion of Jameson’s Nov 2012 LRB essay (behind paywall):

    Hemingway’s avatar, Raymond Carver, then learned to mobilise the minimalist technique of ‘leaving out’ in the service of a rather different and more specifically American sense of desolation and depression – of emotional unemployment, so to speak.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 January 2013 @ 6:03 pm

  37. Went ahead and looked over there, saw little worth noting, nothing convincing, certainly not ‘Ads’s musing on how there was never anything to mention in the first place. Yes, some would cling to this and, indeed, neither mention nor allude to anything at all. Easier that way, to be sure. But I don’t see why there is even any such thing as ‘a specifically American sense of desolation and depression’ and ’emotional unemployment’ strikes me as quite gross.

    Does immediately bring to mind Robbe-Grillet, with his glee at writing surfaces. But R-G is never going to be about emotion, mentioned or not, and isn’t supposed to be; it’s sort of a cine-musique of a very literal sort. But even there, he’s alluding to something, just creating a new world where all can be surface because that’s such an alluring way of looking at things.

    I knew nothing of Carver, which is an obvious gap, but one I won’t correct. I just read a few things–his own tortured existence may have ‘discovered’ this ’emotional unemployment’ by not getting to drink anymore. Noel used to say that AA types, in particular, definitely don’t forget their ‘first love’. I can think of few things more important that being able to control alcohol consumption, and for so many reasons: Doing AA really sounds like true emotional unemployment. But it’s pretty clear those who end up there could not control it, and some of them do end up not really liking the ‘God grant me the serenity…’ business.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 10 January 2013 @ 6:53 pm

  38. I was thinking about Robbe-Grillet today as someone who eschews the deep characters and meanings. There must have been a pitched battle in the early sixties between the French nouvelle-vague auteurs versus Robbe-Grillet, Blanchot, Bresson, also Antonioni in Italy. Carver I like well enough: I remember with some vividness a story in which a couple is invited for dinner by another couple that has a really ugly baby, There’s a peacock living on the property that comes into the house and plays with the baby on the living room carpet. Somehow this happy incident inspires the guests to have a baby of their own — maybe it’s because even a butt-ugly baby can find some beauty, though the husband-narrator never explains. In the last paragraph we learn that he is looking back on this dinner party from maybe ten years on, when we learn in briefest terms that the child they conceived when they got home that night would come to ruin their marriage.

    I don’t see Carver as “Hemingway’s avatar, and I think “emotional unemployment” isn’t right either — as if the emotions aren’t working. I think it’s this issue of opacity, where the Carver narrator has no privileged access, no reliable way of ascribing meaning or intent or feeling to characters. While there is a flattened affect in these characters, they are observant, puzzled, and influenced, often in unpredictable ways, by the events they experience.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 January 2013 @ 7:55 pm

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