Category Archives: story

The frettings of the very rich

When one owns four homes and has fifteen full-time gardeners perfecting one’s seven gardens and eight man-made streams, one will, of necessity, spend a great deal of time racing between homes and from garden to garden, as so it is perhaps not surprising if, one afternoon, rushing to check on the progress of a dinner one’s cook is preparing for the board of one’s favourite charity, one finds oneself compelled to take a little rest, briefly dropping to one’s knee, then both knees, then pitching forward on to one’s face and, unable to rise, proceeding here for a more prolonged rest, only to find it not restful at all, since, while ostensibly resting, one finds oneself continually fretting about one’s carriages, gardens, furniture, homes et al., all of which (one hopes) patiently await one’s return, not having (Heaven forfend) fallen into the hands of some (reckless, careless, undeserving) Other.

percival “dash” collier

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo, p129

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The cover-up

The celebration of marriage. Nuptials.

When I married Ruthy, Aunt Idka showed up at our wedding with a Band-Aid on her arm. She had covered her number with a Band-Aid because she didn’t want to cast a pall on the happy occasion. I felt crushed with grief and compassion for her, for what she must have endured to do a thing like that. All evening I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her arm I felt as if under the clean little Band-Aid lay a deep abyss that was sucking us all in: the hall, the guests, the happy occasion, me. I had to put that story in here. Sorry. 

David Grossman, The Complete Encyclopaedia of Kazik’s Life

David Grossman, one of contemporary Israel’s leading writers, was born in Jerusalem in 1954. His family immigrated to Palestine from Poland in the 1930s, before the Second World War, so he is neither a Holocaust survivor nor a child of survivors.  . . .  His second novel, See Under: Love is an intensely creative treatment of the Holocaust and its aftermath. Some have criticized the degree of experimentation in the novel, given its grave subject matter. Nevertheless, the novel’s deeply compassionate evocation of the lives of survivors and their children, combined with its bold innovations in language and form, make See Under: Love a central achievement of modern Hebrew literature.

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The journalist’s lawnmower

That spring when life was very hard and I was at war with my lot and simply couldn’t see where that was to get to, I seemed to cry most on escalators at train stations. Going down them was fine but there was something about standing still and being carried upwards that did it. From apparently nowhere tears poured out of me and by the time I got to the top and felt the wind rushing in, it took all my effort to stop myself from sobbing. It was as if the momentum of the escalator carrying me forwards and upwards was a physical expression of a conversation I was having with myself. Escalators, which in the early days of their invention were known as ” travelling staircases” or “magic stairways”, had mysteriously become danger zones.

I made sure I had lots to read on train journeys. This was the first time in my life I had ever been pleased to read newspaper columns about the things that happened to the journalist’s lawnmower.

Deborah Levy, Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing

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Truth in literature

Literary truths may have little or nothing to do with historical truth. The Furies and Satan are mythical figures brought to life by the power of their authors imaginations, and the fact that many people once took them for actual human beings has no effect, one way or the other, on how strongly I now credit them when I read the House of Atreus trilogy or Paradise Lost. Shakespeare borrowed his Cleopatra and his Richard 11 from history, but for me they are no more real than his Juliet and his Othello, whom he made up wholesale. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath and Cervantes’s Sancho Panza never existed or else existed in a thousand quotidian forms, but either way, each of them ahs a strongly marked individuality which transcends that of most individuals I have met. This is not to denigrate life, which must in some way be the source —‑if only a vaporous, indirect source — of all literary authority. It is simply to comment on the extent to which the made-up sometimes trumps the actual in terms of believability.

Wendy Lesser, Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books, p. 91

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The language of film criticism

Hitchcock  hated the language of film criticism which evolved with the century; when Hitchcock helped his granddaughter with an essay she was writing on Shadow of a Doubt, his favourite of all his films, she only got a C grade. “That’s the best I can do,” he shrugged.

(from here) 

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A dead goldfish

John Cheever, . . .  wrote to a friend about a visit by [William] Maxwell:

“Bill, as you must have gathered, is terribly fastidious. He once called to say that he was coming for tea. Mary went wild and cleaned, waxed, arranged flowers, etc. When he arrived everything seemed in order. Mary poured the tea. The scene was a triumph of decorum, until Harmon, an enormous cat, entered the room, carrying a dead goldfish. It seemed to be our relationship in a nutshell.”  (from here) 

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Fiction should not be didactic

When I say that fiction shouldn’t be didactic, I don’t mean that it shouldn’t or can’t have political or moral-ethical heft. I’m saying that stories shouldn’t exist as too-easy proofs for one’s pre-existing beliefs. And this isn’t really a moral statement by me, or an aesthetic credo – it’s more owner’s-manual stuff: a story like that simply won’t work. It’s proceeding by methods which are counter to the physics of the form.

When we think of how ‘solutions’ might be presented or represented in a fictive setting, we might want to remember Chekhov’s admonition that art doesn’t have to solve problems, it just has to formulate them correctly. Fiction writing is pattern-making. We aim to make beautiful patterns, but how to do that is not rigorously known, since each pattern’s beauty has to do with the extent to which the pattern is aware of, and referring to, itself. In a fictive space, the mere suggestion of an impulse is often enough. . . . .  So if we see fiction as a scale-model, you only need one railroad car to suggest a national transportation system, and one of the pleasures of the fictive scale model is that sense that everything is present and accounted for and in some sort of pleasing proportion. Whatever might move a human being towards perfection or enlightenment can be shown in a story – maybe fleetingly, maybe through its absence – but I don’t think we need to worry about solutions.

 (From here) 

George Saunders

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The power of memories that never leave

[On  the Russian composer Dimitr Shostakovitch }

 He doubted he could stop drinking, whatever the doctors advised; he could not stop hearing; and worst of all, he could not stop remembering. He so wished that the memory could be disengaged at will, like putting a car into neutral. That was what chauffeurs used to do, either at the top of a hill, or when they had reached maximum speed: they would coast to save petrol. But he could never do that with his memory. His brain was stubborn at giving house-room to his failings, his humiliations, his self-disgust, his bad decisions. He would like to remember only the things he chose: music, Tanya, Nina, his parents, true and reliable friends, Galya playing with the pig, Maxim imitating a Bulgarian policeman, a beautiful goal, laughter, joy, the love of his young wife. He did remember all those things, but they were often overlaid and intertwined with everything he wanted not to remember. And this impurity, this corruption of memory, tormented him.’

Julian Barnes: The Noise of Time, p168

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Leonard Cohen’s farewell to his father

When Leonard [Cohen] was nine, his father died; this moment, a primal wound, was when he first used language as a kind of sacrament. “I have some memories of him,” Cohen said, and recounted the story of his father’s funeral, which was held at their house. “We came down the stairs, and the coffin was in the living room.” Contrary to Jewish custom, the funeral workers had left the coffin open. It was winter, and Cohen thought of the gravediggers: it would be difficult to break the frozen ground. He watched his father lowered into the earth. “Then I came back to the house and I went to his closet and I found a premade bow tie. I don’t know why I did this, I can’t even own it now, but I cut one of the wings of the bow tie off and I wrote something on a piece of paper—I think it was some kind of farewell to my father—and I buried it in a little hole in the back yard. And I put that curious note in there. . . . It was just some attraction to a ritual response to an impossible event.”

David Remnick, Leonard Cohen Makes it Darker, The New Yorker October  17 2016

(from here) 


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Seeing our stories in another

“Our friendship was rooted in the fact that I could somehow see myself in his story, and maybe he could see himself in mine.”

US President Barack Obama  in the eulogy for  Israel’s  9th President, Shimon  Peres, September  30th 2016

(from here)

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