2nd Sentence of the Day: “The Ghost Soldiers”

Self’s only quibble, three pages in, is that she wishes they had dropped the word ‘The’ in front of ‘Ghost Soldiers.’

But, she can feel it in her bones: this will be a good story. When O’Brien is firing on all cylinders, he is never ‘just ‘good,’ he is great.

“So when I got shot the second time, in the butt, along the Song Tra Bong, it took the son of a bitch almost ten minutes to work up the nerve to crawl over me.”

Whereas the previous medic came “every so often, maybe four times altogether” to check on the narrator — in the middle of “a wild fight.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Tim O’Brien: “On the Rainy River”

Of course, the title story, The Things They Carried, is brilliant: the listing of each piece of equipment and their weight, all contributing to that sense of dread too large to name.

Then, in “On the Rainy River” (Story # 4), self reads something that seems so basic, so elemental, so sensible, that she can’t believe no one’s quoted it before?

  • The only certainty that summer was moral confusion. It was my view then, and still is, that you don’t make war without knowing why. Knowledge, of course, is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can’t fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you cant make them undead.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA, pp. 138 – 139 mentions Gogol

Loving this book because of all the writerly mentions. In addition to Bulgakov (Must watch the movie with Charlotte Rampling), there are Osip Mandelstam, Mayakovsky, Anna Akhmatova . . .

All tortured, sent into exile, heartbreaking. But at least their words survived.

On p. 138, there’s a mention of Gogol (Self has to type on the floor, sitting on throw pillows; sitting at a desk gives her hand and wrist cramps. But the other day, she noticed spiders crawling over her legs and feet and she’s like constantly on the alert with Off! spray).

p. 138:

In his later years, Gogol had become convinced that God had abandoned him. Tortured, half-crazed, he burnt his remaining manuscripts only days before he died. As though the promise of man’s redemption must perish with him. He claimed the Devil had tricked him into doing so. He’d been only forty-one.

p. 139:

In 1931 when Gogol’s body was exhumed he was discovered to be facing downward. The writer had had a terrible fear of being buried alive, so much so that he’d willed his casket be fitted with a breathing tube as well as a rope by which to sound some external bell if needed.

As the grimness gathers around Bulgakov, the novel can only get more depressing. But so far, self has been able to persist.

This novel won the 2017 First Novel Prize from New York’s Center for Fiction, “the only literary center in the United States devoted to the art of fiction.”

Kudos to Ms. Himes.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Lynchings: AS LIE IS TO GRIN, p. 30

DSCN0035

Currently Reading

Very stream-of-consciousness, this novel is. Self likes it. It’s something like Francoise Sagan meets disaffected young black man in the University of Vermont.

It’s been a long time since she’s read about lynchings in a work of fiction. She certainly wasn’t prepared for the subject to be in the middle of a paragraph about the narrator trying to hook up with Delilah. But there it is. The young man’s personal pain conflates with his memory of a particular story in Jean Toomer’s Cane (A reader somewhere detests Marsalis and calls this entire book a pack of lies. Of course it is. It’s fiction)

  • There were little things that I did not know about her, which made me realize that I had not taken a serious interest in Delilah. I tried to remember more of what she had told me about herself, but was distracted by the thought of a story Jean Toomer had written in Cane, called Blood Burning Moon, about a black man (Tom) who killed a white man (Bob) over his continued dalliance with a young black woman (Louisa) whom Tom hoped to marry. It ended with Tom’s hanging by lynch mob. What gave the story life were the horrible questions that went unasked by the narrator. Why had Louisa chosen to continue seeing Bob, why wasn’t Tom given a fair trial, what did Tom truly desire?

After a while, the narrator’s silent ruminations make Delilah uncomfortable and she asks him to leave. “Why?” the narrator asks.

  • Delilah: You are acting weird.

Then Delilah goes to sleep.

Wow! What. A. Scene.

It’s like this fan fiction story self read, where Gendry sleeps with Sansa. After, she turns him out of her bed and he wanders into a very cold dawn.

Here, the narrator ends up welcoming the dawn “in the little amphitheater between Mills and Austin Halls, twenty yards from the footpath, and stared out at the Green Mountains of Vermont.” (Young men always seem to welcome the dawn after being turned out-of-doors by their paramours or ex-paramours, self notices. Welcoming the dawn = angst/unhappiness/disappointment/frustration)

Later, Marsalis delves further into the life of Jean Toomer and finds that he “looked white.” Is this an echo of the narrator, who is attending the University of Vermont while black? Self guesses there aren’t too many blacks in the University of Vermont. At least, that is the impression she gets (so far) from As Lie Is to Grin.

BTW, is it significant that son has kept his cell turned off for days? It doesn’t even finish one ring before it turns to voice mail. That means the cell is turned off. Right? She hasn’t heard son’s voice since Mother’s Day, and he placed that call in the evening. Self thinks a Mother’s Day call that doesn’t happen until the evening is not really a Mother’s Day call. Right? But it’s better than no call at all. Maybe.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

The Father in THE SUMMER BOOK

Self finds the utter lack of drama in everything the father in The Summer Book does so compelling. He reminds her a little of Will Parry in His Dark Materials: that combination of stoicism and steadfastness.

On p. 144, the little girl, Sophia, prays:

  • Dear God, let something happen. God, if you love me. I’m bored to death. Amen.

In answer to her prayers, a whopper of a storm hits the island.

  • “Wonderful,” the Grandmother said. “But the nets are out.”

Alone, the Father takes out his boat and heads to the point in high wind, to try and salvage their nets.

  • He did it to save his family.

He is literally the only person that his daughter and his mother have to depend on. And never once in this entire book (she’s almost to the end) does he utter a single line of dialogue. It is his stoic immovability, the sense of permanence he radiates, that adds yet another layer to this wonderful book!

This is the storm:

  • The seas breaking against the sheer outer side of the island had grown. One after the other, the waves rose up in their white immensity, to a tremendous height, and foam hissed against the rocks like the blows of a whip. Tall curtains of water flew across the island and sailed on west.

Self remembers how, a few pages ago, a boat came to the island. The father had gone off in a great hurry to meet it and never returned, even though the daughter waited up for him until the wee hours. When he does finally show up, he goes straight to bed. The whole next day, he has a headache and is unable to work. Self finds it so amusing that the girl calms only when her grandmother invents a story about how the father was kidnapped and given a sleeping potion (Does this story ring any bells? It sort of reminds self of Circe in The Odyssey)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

The Mood, the Sea: THE SUMMER BOOK, p. 67

  • The sea is always subject to unusual events; things drift in or run aground or shift in the night when the wind changes, and keeping track of all this takes experience, imagination, and unflagging watchfulness. It takes a good nose, to put it simply. The big events always take place far out in the skerries, and time is often of the essence. Only small things happen in among the islands, but these, too — the odd jobs that arise from the whims of the summer people — have to be dealt with. One of them wants a ship’s mast mounted on his roof, and another one needs a rock weighing half a ton, and it has to be round. A person can find anything if he takes the time, that is, if he can afford to look.

Such beautiful language. Thank you to Thomas Teal for his limpid translation.

In other news: self saw the documentary RBG today. A few things struck her:

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg has the greatest sense of style. Love her fishnet gloves. And the intricate judge’s collars.
  • She was so pretty.
  • Her foundation was a rock-solid marriage, which freed her up to focus on doing the law.
  • Her friendship with fellow Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia was the best.
  • When she was nominated for the Supreme Court, it was whispered about that she was too old (She was in her early 60s).
  • Some of her most ground-breaking dissenting opinions were written after she turned 70.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

How a Friendship Can Be Ruined by Bad Hair: The Summer Book, p. 25

Self loves Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book (translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal). Loves, loves, loves. The prose is so simple, yet has such a magical quality.

A little girl (Sophie, who’s six) and her grandmother spend an entire summer on an island. They’re not the only ones on the island, of course. There are farmers, and also the girl’s father, who is always shut up in the house, working. The girl’s mother has just died. But there is no grief, just a series of snapshots of the girl, the grandmother, the island. Love it.

There’s a section called Berenice, about the first time Sophie invites a friend to the island: “a fairly new friend, a little girl whose hair she admired.”

The fragile bond is broken only a little while later:

Sophie: Well, that does it. She’s impossible. I got her to dive, but it didn’t help.

Grandmother: Did she really dive?

Sophie: Yes, really. I gave her a shove and she dived.

Grandmother: Oh. And then what?

Sophie: Her hair can’t take salt water. It looks awful. And it was her hair I liked.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Lord of the Flies: Terrible and Beautiful

p. 181:

The parachute took the figure forward, furrowing the lagoon, and humped it over the reef and out to sea.

Is this nightmare scenario believable? Absolutely.

Stay tuned.

And Here We Go: The Odyssey, Books 21 and 22

Book 21 is the archery contest. All the suitors try and fail to string Odysseus’s bow, but the mysterious beggar, who the suitors have been abusing all evening, gets up, strings the bow with ease, and shoots an arrow through the lined-up axe handles.

Then

With his eyebrows
he signaled, and his son strapped on his sword.,
picked up his spear, and stood beside his chair,
next to his father, his bronze weapons flashing.

This is how Book 21 ends. Book 22 begins:

Odysseus ripped off his rags . . .  “Platyime is over.”

Self has read three translations of The Odyssey: Fitzgerald, Fagles, and now Wilson’s.

It’s very fresh, in Emily Wilson’s translation. Despite the fact that it’s probably the one where she’s most aware of formulaic utterances and repetitions. It is a story.

Her favorite character is, oddly enough, not Odysseus but Telemachus. His psychological dilemma is  acute. She really identifies with this young man who grows up fatherless, at the mercy of his mother’s boorish suitors. His journey is almost as epic as his father’s. In one section, Telemachus tells how his house is known for the single son. Laertes, his grandfather, was a single child, and so is Odysseus. So is Telemachus. This seems a rather risky practice, but anyhoo it is certainly a powerful image. And every time Athena makes Odysseus or Penelope more attractive to fool other people, self can’t help thinking: Catfish! Catfish!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Sentence of the Day: The Odyssey, Book 9

So they embarked, sat on their rowing benches,
and struck their oar blades in the whitening sea.

Self is so glad she decided to buy this book in hardcover, instead of checking out from the library! It’s the first time she experiences for herself the awesomeness of Odysseus. She is referring to the quickness of his mind.

The above sentence is the first that describes the sea as anything other than “wine-dark.” That one small detail gives the reader such a grasp of how furiously the men were rowing.

Kudos, Homer (or his co-writers)

Stay tuned.

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