Monday, August 28, 2006

smarts. fiction Aug 7 and 28.

Both Richard Ford's "How Was It to Be Dead?" (Aug 28th issue) and Edward Jones' "Bad Neighbors" (earlier) adhere to the formula described here, by Mary Burger. Or, if you want, here is the argument, the rest (follow the link) is proof:

"All New Yorker fiction pieces stop at the point where the person makes a bad discovery about himself or herself or the world. That he is or she is a failure personally—in love, usually, romantic love or familial love—or that the world is a failure toward his personal or her personal sensitive nature—that the world is violent, that unequal distribution of power causes pain and unhappiness, usually to the less powerful, but sometimes to the powerful as well."

Burger argues that this works for the New Yorker's non-fiction as well as fiction and I'd agree. "The melancholic condition of privileged passivity . . ." Now that's harsh, honey.

But I like the way "Bad Neighbors" has a series of sort of dramatic and emotional high points, which feels sort of like tightly bound knots, before the final realization thing.

And I liked the snide, seedy, hilarious tone of the narrator (Frank) in "How Was It to Be Dead?" Especially here, where I think he's sort of mocking Frost and his manual labor, "Something there is in humans that wants to make sure you're doing something busying at the exact instant of hearing unwelcome news - as though if your hands are full you'll just rumble right on through the whole thing, unfazed." (61) Who really says "something there is" unintentionally? And within the context of the narrative, the reference is a little more pointed - he's feeling threatened by another man (Wally) in his wife's life.

I also kind of like the suggestion that Ford's fiction might actually be about Americans in Vietnam. Or rather, the story raises the question, "Where was Frank during the war?" He mentions, "many of my old classmates had gone to Nam like Wally and come back Democrats." Wally came back injured (hence his long disappearance, hence the story) and not necessarily a Democrat; that's unclear, isn't it? But did Frank not go? Did he not return a Democrat? Or did he? Or did he protest?

I also read Lahr on stagefright and Schjeldahl on Klimt, but that's for another time . . .

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Blogger juniper pearl said...

not so about the fiction, not so. alice munro's recent story, "dimension," ended on an especially affirmative note, particularly for alice, who isn't always an especially affirmative woman, and t. coraghessan boyle's piece about the mudslide (in one of the december issues) made me want to stand up on my seat and cheer. of course, all the examples in the world wouldn't keep you hecklers from your heckling. i think if there is a disproportionate shift to the glum side, it's an issue with the form more than with the fiction editor. when you have to squeeze a lot of impact into a brief space, you have to choose your emotions carefully, and, sad but true, it's tough to make happiness pop. i think it's also easier to come up with ways to make a character unhappy and/or disappointed than it is to make him or her see the silver lining.

the irish might say "something there is." some of them, anyway. and yoda, definitely yoda.

4:47 PM  
Blogger zp said...

my statistical abilities are zero. hence the exhaustive poll of mike rowe lovers.

i'm glad to hear that some of the fiction does something different. maybe you could alert me when i should read the fiction? any reader might, since i'm way more apt to skip it altogether if left on my own.

12:25 AM  
Blogger zp said...

and now that you mention it, i'd suggest that frost is quoting the irish and yoda is quoting frost.

11:26 AM  

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