Sunday, August 25, 2013

Salinger vs. Fitzgerald in the Quest for Inter- Cultural Interest (or Thoughts after Killing a Whole Sunday with the New York Times)

I just finished reading the New York Times article on the release of new Salinger works and I thought "ehh". Now, before anyone gets up in arms, before Salingerologists  call for my head on a platter, I mean no great offence. What I mean is simply that I have a lukewarm response to the author's published works (fingers crossed for the new work!). In fact, I voiced the nefarious 'ehh' at the kitchen table during breakfast and so, there it was- hanging in the air between the toast and tea and I had to address it, since my husband questioned its existence.

I have to clarify the expertise of my opinion here- I admit the obvious fallacy of having only read Fran and Zooey and (of course, collective eye roll) The Catcher in the Rye. So my response is based on this limited intake. I explained that I read The Cather in the Rye with a voracious appetite, waiting for my life to change, and it didn't. In fact I was bored. Its not that I didn't read beyond the lean prose and into the dense alienation or the undertones of loneliness and disenfranchisement with an inherited identity; it was just that simply, it didn't 'speak' to me or my experience or really, my worldview. I talked myself into a corner and found myself arguing my way back out, though my husband had said nothing to my reply at all. 

"Its not that I think that literature belongs exclusively within and for the culture in which it was created, I just can't find the link into this privileged, caucasian, American world."  Jesus, did I really say that? I did. And its true. I don't agree that First Nations authored literature is for our communities only or that Italian operas are for Italians exclusively, for that matter (on this, my friend Tomson Highway and I agree). So why was I finding it so difficult to penetrate the cultural settings in Catcher? 

I blame Salinger. (Ok, call for the knife and platter now.) I think that if you  are going to each beyond the immediate layer of culture and nomenclature that surrounds your understanding of the world, that you need to be an exacting and profound writer. The first thing that comes to mind is the book I always hold forth to students when illustrating the beauty and magic of a great edit 'The Great Gatsby.' What the hell do I care about privileged, caucasian Americans frolicking, fucking and killing in the 20's? Except that Fitzgerald makes me care. The words in this novel are one of the most carefully curated collections I've encountered. The way each consonant clicks at the right time and each vowel pours when they should. The way the scenes are illuminated first by the moon and then by the glare of noon-day sun is purposeful and emotive. And I suddenly give a shit about this motley group of degenerates and socialites- often one in the same. 

Be great or stay home... or rather, be great or those at home with be your biggest fans and others will find you lukewarm. 

The important thing that happens with Gatsby, for me, is that Fitzgerald never lets the thread of this particular community slacken; never veers from the worldview, language, political and highly problematic racial standings, yet manages to present this world in such a beautifully crafted frame that I linger at the portrait long enough to be drawn in.

So, I will give Salinger another try, I promise (suggest more of his work to sway to skeptical here, fans), but in the mean time, I'm going to re-read Gatsby.

Monday, August 19, 2013

a new manuscript.....


Anything to get away from here, that’s what she would give.

Lucky collected travel magazines filled with velvet hills like sheets of folded fondant and clear waters dotted with candy coloured fish flashing like jewelry on smooth blue cleavage. Sheep grazed in front of castles made haphazard with dilapidation, and women strolled down cobblestone streets in improbable heels like stilt walkers picking their way across pebbled beaches.

The magazines were stacked in precarious columns against the living room wall underneath the big window, organized according to featured destination. So far Mexico was in the lead; a good six inches taller than Australia and stretching a foot above South East Asia. Just recently she divided up Europe and the United Kingdom because they kept toppling to the ground, too tall to be structurally sound.

Her days were hard and beige, bones without flesh. Lucky knew with a certainty that nestled in her guts like a rat in a pile of socks that 'somewhere else' was where she was supposed to be. Somewhere else was where the days would be filled in with smell, sound and texture. Somewhere else was where her life was waiting. She searched the pages of her magazines to find this life, certain that it would be neatly labeled, spelt out in black letters underneath a bright photograph of cliffs melting into the sea like slabs of white sugar, where houses were painted pink and green, where the sky was so bright it hurt your eyes to look at it. It would be called ‘Lucky’s Cove, New Brunswick’ or ‘Coeur de Chance, Monaco’.

Of course, her grandmother would happily pack for the nursing home; they’d drop off the wretched cat at the Humane Society on the way. It'd give Lucky the stare of death with its one eye as they drove away, leaving it on the sidewalk in front of the shelter with a water bowl and a ziplock of kibbles. Lucky wouldn’t care.

“Au revior chat mauvais!” She would wave out the window, flipping him off one last time before burly staff members in clean white uniforms carried it inside.

When she stepped off the plane the air would be warm and fragrant, the people attractive and polite. She would be invited to dinner, offered jobs and shown a charming house needing a woman’s touch. The elderly owner would gladly give it to her if only she would promise to care for it, being without any heirs, as it were.

She’d grow gardens of lush flowers that smelt like homemade soup and complicated perfume. She’d put out an ad for a handyman in the local newspaper, someone who could help her install a fence around her burgeoning gardens and the man who answered it would appear on her doorstep, naked from the waist up and oiled down, tool belt dangling from angular hips. They would fall in love over a long summer full of meaningful glances and awkward discussions about wood and hammering. Their children would be smart and precocious with golden limbs and superior intelligence.

Anything and everything. That’s what she would give.

Of course, those were the days before the world cracked open like a skull and everything she knew to be true and real spilled out like alphabet soup.