Category Archives: Fiction

What you usually call disgusting is my beauty.

lydia-davis

Lydia Davis

While I was supposed to be reading Herman Melville’s poetry and Literary Criticism throughout the ages, I received The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis in the mail and I couldn’t read anything else. What the title of this entry suggests is how Lydia Davis turns everything we’ve ever known on its head. Where was she fifteen years ago for my beginning fiction courses? I can’t regret the years I haven’t read Lydia Davis. Let’s just be thankful, right?

I title this entry in reaction to the story: “Cockroaches in Autumn.” She begins:

“On the white painted bolt of a door that is never opened, a thick line of tiny black grains–the dung of cockroaches.”

Not a word wasted, this first line sets theme, character and introduces plot through a fragmented thought.

Later:

“I am alert to small moving things, and spin around toward a floating dust mote. I am alert to darker spots against a lighter background, but these are only the roses on my pillowcase.”

This dispassionate assessment of the infiltration and nerves that can set one into an anxiety spiral sheds new light on the subject: herself as an experient. It’s as if she sat down with the thought: I wonder if I can show myself as a removed observer and anxiety ridden at the same time? Mission accomplished.

She ends with the fragment:

“The white autumn light in the afternoon. They sleep behind a child’s drawings on the kitchen wall. I tap each piece of paper and they burst out from the edges of pictures that are already filled with shooting stars, missiles, machine guns, land mines…”

All of these fragments study, at arms length, relationships of sharing our spaces and environment with others, whether they have goals to subsist or to gain insight.

The entire collection asks: what do you know of the world? And the answers are many, layered, not over-thought, on the page at least, and will reside with you for the rest of your life. Thank you, Ms. Davis!

 

 

 

 

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It Was Raining When the Taxi Arrived (Elizabeth Bowen)

house in paris

(Please remember: My titles are always the ironic, boring version of what the author actually wrote!)

In my endeavors to enter graduate school, I’ve been researching (going down several rabbit holes) to further tease apart that elusive “author-self” relationship in the narrative, specifically that apex of choosing: memoir or true fiction? Synonymously, I’ve been delving deeper into Elizabeth Bowens’ writing by reading (or dare I say swimming in?) The House in Paris. Her main characters: Henrietta and Leopold both possess the sophistication beyond what we today call “tweens.” Writers usually have focused on the Bildungsroman – that coming of age so compelling because of the nature of that “age” where they finally reach some sort of place past epiphany. But what of Bowen’s adult children stuck in time, or to use Passage to India’s extended metaphor: butterflies in a net? The net is woven by uncaring parents, or parents who don’t have the wherewithal, emotional substance/inventory, or funds to provide for their children and these children remain in stasis.

So goes the tale for Henrietta and Leopold in The House in Paris. This novel is not for the reader who enjoys turning pages. If you enjoyed Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or constantly quote Stephen Dedalus’s “shout in the street,” than this book is for you. A.S. Byatt’s foreword in my Anchor Book paperback version reveals Bowen’s “cool judgment” she enlisted to show how both children and adults can be stuck in the same ineffective life-loops.

I’m always drawn to Bowen’s language, first. Plot second. All external events reflect an internal world. Near the end, we intimately know how dejected the main characters are and step back out into the day, released for the moment into physical real time (the whole novel is in the span of one day, a la Woolf).

“The taxi stuck in blocks, jarred, swerved clear, darted between lit buses solid with heads. On kerbs [sic] people watched it come and drew back suspiciously. I have not met the French, Henrietta thought. It was funny to stare into their unseeing eyes. The taxi pumped itself through wet-evening Paris in jerks” (262).

I won’t get into Hypotaxis but suffice to say, we are subjected and awash in Henrietta’s one small thought amidst the taxi: jarred, swerved, darted. I teach this stuff and yet to write it, I think there’s a deep editing that’s almost a mystical experience in which these masters engage.

Notice the adverb stand out? That is what you call a well placed and intentional adverb. I’m sure Stephen King (eschewer of adverbs) would approve. The unseeing eyes of the French are also the unseeing eyes of Henrietta’s reality. She can hide. This paradox lies in that passive nature of being unseen: this notion is both convenient for when a child wants to hide in anonymity but also tragic for when that terrible humanity rises, and the child needs love.