Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

The response to the tour in North Dakota and the far reaches of Minnesota (Ely for instance) has been strong. That in itself is not surprising though the readers come from the four corners – New England, Florida, San Diego and Washington. More surprising is (more…)

All is well under the sun! The events at Western Edge in Medora, at Books on Broadway in Williston, and Main Street Books in Minot prove the voracity of North Dakota readers (including visitors to the state). Thank you to the INDIE-bookstores and INDEPENDENT THINKING readers!

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Thank God it’s over.

But wasn’t it fun.

I have to admit it was though it goes to show that political correctness and inclusivity go further than absolute merit. For an organization that has to bring forth nine contenders for Best Picture award because it keeps the audience tuned in—why not 16? Oh, college football already does that one—you can expect anything but rigorous honesty. Still, political correctness and inclusivity have a place and, for some like my brother and my girlfriend who tied for the forecaster’s prize (16/24 correct), are readable commodities. What do they tell me on the morning after?

  1. Despite the hype and promotional fortune spent pushing Gravity as a great, well-acted film, it was denied but one of the Big Six (Best picture, actor, actress, director (which it won), and supporting roles). Because of the hype and promotional fortune spent pushing Gravity as a great, well-acted film, it was granted eight “minor” awards – all earned, but who cares? Well, Gravity’s loss in Best Picture category frees me from my vow to boycott George Clooney films. And where was he last night?
  2. Best picture? 12 Years a Slave deserves the award, but the choice—over American Hustle and, especially, The Dallas Buyer’s Club—shows how P.C. and the big I work.  The voting may have easily gone to The Dallas Buyer’s Club but AIDS and sexual identity play less well (as do sexy shysters) than does the plight of Blacks in America, a condition far graver for the numbers and persistence of their difficulties. There is little argument there. So, to remain correct and open, spread the joy around: 12 Years a Slave gets Best Picture and Supporting Actress awards; The Dallas Buyer’s Club gets Best Actor—let M.McC. thank God—and Supporting Actor (a hands down favorite, earned). What about American Hustle? Go to the box office.
  3. P.C. and I., again. How can you give awards to someone whose agoraphobia and arrogance will not let him leave the Big Apple? You cannot. But how can you deny, hands down, the best performance by an actress? You cannot. Cate Blanchett had no real rivals and presented herself as the consummate actress she is.  (Applause).
  4. Now for the screen play, which Ms. Blanchett touted. No doubt Woody Allen wrote it, but am I alone to decry the so obvious, shameful, and deceitful “borrowing” from Tennessee Williams’s A Street Car Named Desire? Do so few Americans read from their literature or pay attention in high school English classes that they do not recognize this unacknowledged literary debt? Does the Academy know the difference between Original Screen Play and Adapted? This is no allusion. This is not just influence. Mr. Allen has taken, and taken liberally, without a word of credit I know of, from an original, iconic work. Now, what do we call that?  No one says a word. I hoped Ms. Blanchett at least would acknowledge her inheritance from Blanche DuBois, but nothing. Well, those who complain about the Genius of 42nd Street have to be classed with the Farrow clan, shrill detractors to the modesty and integrity of an American icon.  Please, at least, when you set San Francisco, do it, not New York. (Apple sauce).

Last word? DeGeneres: let’s have her back again.

I will go from memory here, memory of the Picaresque: a story told, more or less, while traveling. Tom Jones is one. As the hero, and perhaps heroine, travel along, they meet folk who tell them their life stories. What is learned from these folk by the hero might be less important than the entertainment they provide, but the stories are usually linked thematically at least.

If one accepts my loose definition, she might begin to think of Sigrid Nunez as a picaresque novelist. What is different here, though, is that a central narrator – in the two books I have read, The Last of Her Kind and A Feather on the Breath of God – relates the stories to her reader. Usually, they do not speak much for themselves except through the narrator’s retelling. The sources are varied and believable:

Solange’s story is told mostly from her sister’s perspective: her longings for her sister, her worries, her suppositions (many of them true), the stories (of Solange’s travels, loves, and delusions), and what the reader “overhears” Solange saying to her sister. Occassionally, we get to directly see Solange in action, during the acid trip for instance.

Turner’s story is notable in that we learn much from daughter Ann, who is certainly not an objective source, then later from his own words/actions related by the narrator, and words shared with Edie, his sister-in-law (some of which were memorized by the waiter – see “Indulgence” or the post, “Marries”). This last piece leads to what is less of a criticism than a characterization. It starts with a question: How can that conversation between Turner and Edie be known to the reader? Easy. Magic.

The magic comes through Nunez’s picaresque point of view. Most the The Last of Her Kind is told from the first person, in Georgette George’s voice. Within this narrative Georgette speculates, for instance about what Solange is up to, whether or not she went to Woodstock, then later confirms what she has wondered as fact. Sometime she varies the speculation to fit later revealed facts. It is a wonderful way to weave what she cannot see or know with what she can. Nunez keeps narrative control in that way.

But what about that which she cannot know? Like the luncheon of Edie and Turner?

She prepares us for this revelation by switching to third person: “Trial and error has shown that I cannot accomplish this difficult thing – the trick is to be cold about the hottest thing there is: love – unless ‘I’ becomes ‘she.’ “ And with that she ends Part Four and begins to relate the love between Georgette and Turner. Now in the third person the narrative can become omniscient enough to tell us what happened between Edie and Turner (and to have the fun of the waiter noting parts of the conversation). Nunez returns briefly to first person in Part Six, but her foray into third person prepares us for another story, Orphan Annie and the Hand of God.

It is possible to form objections about some of this, but it is hard not to accept it and like it too.  Objection: the lapse into third person means Georgette is going to reveal something, but it isn’t going to be as intimate as we would like.  In some ways, Georgette’s readers are treated like her children, “I lie about the symptoms . . . I keep the pills out of sight.” The reader, even within the first person narrative, does not experience that which Georgette does, but is told about it much in the same way we are told about Ann, about Turner, about Solange. Keep us at a distance, like a stranger walking down Fifth Avenue. It feels New Yorky.

How will Nunez tell us what we want to know – or do not want to know – about Ann after she disappears behind the walls of Marysville State Prison? Since George is not one to really be the friend she could have been, we won’t be going up there to visit Ann.  Instead of doing this George is busy doing other things she never shares with Ann (thanks heaven). So, how to tell the reader? Enter Olympia Underwood.

Here is a first person narrative feeling like a third person narrative.  The resemblance in feeling if not style of this narration to the story George tells promotes the suspicion that this is not another voice but simply a narrative-rouse. Would the reader prefer a firsthand account – replete with emotive sentiment and honest feeling – to this supposed prison-story that gives us a window into Ann’s life after Kwame? Would George’s children be better to know of their mother’s illness? It is difficult not to be thankful for a peek through the prison wall – perhaps a shorter one – but it is equally hard not to wish for a more intimate and extended account from our main narrator. To be kept at a distance feels incomplete, like we will wake the next morning finding our Picaresque story-teller already beyond the crest of the next hill.

 

 

I have been thinking about Lars and Trond, the neighbors in Out Stealing Horses. Do we get to see enough of their relationship to think about what might happen later, after the book ends? Maybe.  Here is what I think is so:

The two have common history rooted in the same place.

They enjoy the physical work of life.

They have lost a huge part of that they once thought their lives included: a father for Trond, a farm for Lars.

Neither went back.

They are over sixty and live within sight of each other.

I think this is a recipe for friendship, at least I would like to think so. Lars seems, to me and to Trond, like a decent fellow, careful, deliberate, thoughtful.

Each could use the other’s companionship even though neither moved there to be near. So, each could use the other’s forbearance too. On that, I think, they could count. I can see them doing some fishing together, working projects that are too hard for one man, keeping an eye out for each other. Cooking for two might be something Trond is willing to do, maybe even twice a week and on special occasions.

Well, we don’t get to see much of that. So, I wonder, what is Lars doing in that story? He intensifies Trond’s loss of a father. Yes, it is a greater loss when your dad fathers another man’s son even if just for a while. It raises our curiosity about the father’s life after Trond returns to Oslo.  If Jon had returned to find Trond’s father still there (his mother was, we know), I don’t think it would make sense for him to demand the farm. Are we, then, to think that he had died? Left? Or was he just living up stream still? (In that case, would he have been a father to Lars? Lars calls him “my stepfather” during the account of the dog shooting). I am not sure which is most likely.  We don’t really have to know.

But Lars is doing something else here. If it were just Trond who was suffering a loss – even though he was the boy in the golden trousers and lived a full live, albeit not without tragedy – alone, the story would be about an individual. More about him, less about us.

But there Lars is. He lived a life parallel to Trond in loss and suffering. He was booted out, young. He did not return. He also lost a father and, like Trond, a sibling (twice).  This makes the book more a tale of two men whose lives intertwined briefly but significantly.

If this is so, would Trond be the Sydney Carton who loses a father that another man might have one? The allusion strengthens the argument that Lars’ presence adds a universal scope to the theme. We have to see life as loss. How much it hurts will be up to us.