Tuesday, August 14, 2012

First sentence

In the aftermath of my adventure, I decided to write down the whole thing, starting with my discovery of Treasure Island and keeping nothing back, not even the names of the friends and family members whose problems plagued me; and so even though I'd love to go into the other room and stab someone with a kitchen knife, I take up my pen--a nifty micro-ball which had been incorrectly capped and would have dried out had I not, at the crucial moment, found it and restored its seal.

--Sara Levine, Treasure Island!!!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Not Juliet

Ha! So I'm cleaning the study this morning and I unearth the piece of flash fiction below. I'm not even sure when I wrote it.

Anyway, I'm greatly amused because it prefigures in its own way a particular novel that everyone's reading this summer--even down to the use of a particular name there at the end.


(I'm more laid back than a lot of bloggers about warning people not to reproduce their work without prior consent, but I'll be quite blunt here: Don't do it.)


Not Juliet

It messed you up for a good long while: Ben's parents holding you personally responsible, and why not, since he left a letter so poignant and detailed that no one but you cared that it was totally fabricated (maybe he thought you would be impressed with how convincing he could be, when he cared to try), and your parents shamed by your femme fatale designation. Someone placed Cliff Notes to Romeo and Juliet between the storm and front doors the morning of the funeral; for the longest while you believed that Ben had orchestrated that, too, as well as a whole host of plagues that would befall you when and if you regained your equilibrium.

You escaped to college when the time came, managed to concentrate long enough for a degree. You proved capable of self-support, sought with unerring precision the men women with half your sense would dodge or deflect, men icy and glazed, hardened like statuary. Your hands were so clean the skin puckered.

In time words that rolled and surged through your head like a stormy shoreline surf--He never loved you--He was only happy when you were unhappy--He was nothing but an angry, manipulative son-of-a-bitch--cease to be mere noise and spray; they become groundwater seeped deep in your soul, silent and laden with minerals. Your hands dirty, life bloomed around you, as technicolor and lush as a rain forest.

Yet there's a snake in every jungle, a coil of cobra, a hooded helix that hisses his name in the most unlikely places. Standing in the grocery check-out, your check filled except for the amount, your cashier stops scanning your items, calls to a woman leaving the store, an arrangement of baby's breath and carnations in her hands: "How's Amy?" Have you seen her?" The woman stops, swaying slightly in her heels. "I'm on my way over there right now," she says. "She's not doing too good." Your cashier watches the woman until she steps from the curb, then, before she returns to your cabbages, takes you into her confidence. "Amy's boy hung himself last night," she says. "Over some girl."


Hmmm. Should I assume the reader will supply a sibilant last name to Ben, or change his name to Sam or Steve?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

I procrastinate everything. Since Byatt's Ragnarok is short, I thought starting it the Friday night before a Tuesday Slaves of Golconda discussion deadline would be ample time. Unfortunately, I ran into that Byatt thing that sometimes trips me up, where she's obsessively going on and on listing, categorizing, something that doesn't line up with my own items-worth-obssessing-over criteria. Remember the marbles in The Biographer's Tale? You have to be in the right mood for that kind of thing. (It's why I hold the opinion that while Byatt at her best is a better writer than her sister Margaret Drabble, Drabble is a more consistently interesting storyteller--for me, at any rate.)

And so when I reached Byatt's Midgard serpent-long list of creatures that live in the sea, with subcategories for all the kinds of sharks and crabs, and her lengthy list of every type of animal, vegetable, mineral, disease, etc., that cried for Baldur to be released from the underworld, I was ready to put this title on my own mental list of Byatts That Don't Work for Me (unlike the more lengthy list of ones I love--The Children's Book's in the number one position there). I couldn't keep from zoning out.

And I hated that. I have such a shallow background in Norse mythology and I'd bought this book the moment it was released in the UK in order to remedy that. Surely the fault was all mine.

So Monday night I started rereading the book that failed to hold my attention on Friday night. I was more focused than I'd been over the weekend, plus in the meantime I'd done some dipping into The Prose Edda and Norwegian Mythology, which I conveniently had--unread-- on my shelves. (I definitely want to read The Prose Edda after this quick dip.)

I was much happier with it the second time round. I even appreciated the lyrical nature of the ineluctable listing of things.

What I, here in the Bible Belt, found most interesting first time through and what I continued to marvel at on the second was the young Byatt's ability to reject Christianity at such an early age. She finds the Old Testament and New Testament gods numbing: neither "the sweet,cotton-wool meek and mild one, the barbaric sacrificial gloating one. . .. made her want to write, or fed her imagination."

The thin child walked through the fair field in all weathers, her satchel of books and pens, with the gas-mask hanging from it, like Christian's burden when he walked in the fields, reading in his Book. She thought long and hard, as she walked, about the meaning of belief. She did not believe the stories in Asgard and the Gods. But they were coiled like smoke in her skull, humming like dark bees in a hive. She read the Greek stories at school, and said to herself that there had once been people who brought 'belief' to these capricious and quarrelsome gods and goddesses, but she herself read them as she read fairy stories, Puss in Boots, Baba Yaga, brownies, pucks, and fairies, foolish and dangerous, nymphs, dryads, hyrdra and the white winged horse, Pegasus, all these offered the pleasure to the mind that the unreal offers when it is briefly more real than the visible world can ever be. But they didn't live in her, and she didn't live in them.

The idea of eternity bored her. A string of days "going nowhere" bored her. She prefers the "stories that ended, instead of going in circles and cycles," finding them "grimly satisfactory." The Norse gods who know Ragnarok, the final battle of the gods and the end of the world, is coming, but are too stupid or too resigned to letting the story they find themselves in play out, are the ones she returns to.

Before Ragnarok, I knew of Byatt and Drabble's mother primarily through Drabble's writings, a portrayal that Byatt's taken issue with. Drabble wrote The Peppered Moth in an attempt to better understand her mother, claiming in the novel's afterward she "went down into the underworld" looking for her, mentioning a myth in which a woman rubbed herself with dead rat water in order to gain admittance to the underworld so that she could search for her loved one there. Drabble said writing about her mother left her unable to get rid of the smell of dead rat and mentions feeling biased in favor of her father. Her experience of the mother was one of a manipulative, intellectually frustrated depressive prone to outbursts of rage. Nonetheless, Byatt has stated that Drabble was the mother's favorite.

In Ragnarok, Byatt's describing the time when the same woman was actually happy. She was a highly intelligent woman, "gallant and resourceful in wartime," permitted to teach,  shoehorned back into the life of a housewife, suffering "a fall into the quotidian," once her husband returns. "Dailiness defeated her. She made herself lonely and slept in the afternoons, saying she was suffering from neuralgia and sick headaches. The thin child came to identify the word 'housewife' with the word 'prisoner'."

Despite the war, the nights spent behind blackout curtains, worrying about the Germans "dealing death out of the night sky," the young Byatt finds these years a kind of paradise. If her family had not evacuated from the city, her asthma may have killed her. The bleak Norse myths hum in her head while she's walking through a countryside covered with flowers. When the family returns to urban life, her father takes an axe to a wild ash tree that's rooted itself on the sill of the garden shed in their walled garden. For a child who's loved the World-Ash, Yggdrasil, the removal of the tree closes a gate in her head. She's now on the quotidian side of life.

Please feel free to join the discussion of Ragnarok over at the Slaves of Golconda, or in our discussion forum

A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...