EMIGRATION

Dear President Obama,

You must act immediately with pen and telephone because Congress cannot be quick. Deport Justin Bieber. What sort of name is that? Sounds Canadian.

If you are serious about foreign nationals living in the United States of America, you should also expect each of them to comport himself according to the law and following traditional social norms. In other words, those foreign nationals can not act like Americans today. There should be no second chance. Send offending foreign nationals home, and give others a chance to live here.

Canadians were once polite, civil and fit for American society. This reputation comes from their origins. It is reported in some historical circles that when the French “discovered” Canada, native Canadians said to them “Aca nada.” The French explorers were polite and listened, and Frenchified the word, “A Canada.” The French did not know that the Spanish had arrived earlier in that land and looked around. They repeated to one another. “Aca nada,” which in Spanish means, “There is nothing here.”

However, Canadians are much changed.Rob Ford has demonstrated that. (Notice the Canadians are so polite to overlook Ford’s faults; he’s even running for reelection.) Justin Bieber is Rob Ford’s soulmate, and is proof that Canadians should remain north of the border, living in their igloos, playing ice hockey and dancing with polar bears. These are their preferred activities. Give some sun, warmth and the protection of the red, white and blue, and a Canadian cannot control himself.

With the stroke of a pen and a short telephone call today, you can take the most decisive action of your Second Term and rid the country of a foreign irritant and leave Americans with home grown varieties: Lindsey Lohan – excuse New York City birth – and Miley Cyrus – now show her naked tongue rather than a naked body and Americans can wonder which is photoshopped.

A QUESTION OF PERCEPTION?

I can be impatient especially when I’m reading and little or nothing is coming out. Criticism in some of my blogs on specific books might reveal this weakness. But I like when I learn that I should trust myself.

In A Moveable Feast Hemingway reports a conversation he had with a poet, Evan Shipman who called the younger writer, Hem.

“‘I’ve been wondering about Dostoyevsky,’ I said. ‘How can a man write write so badly, so unbelievably badly, and make you feel so deeply?’

‘It can’t be the translation,’ Evan said…”(p. 137, NY, Scribners, 1964) 

Hem’s was was my impression: Why is this guy writing about mentally ill people staying in Germany? I could not feel deeply for anything Dostoy wrote because I couldn’t get by the writing. I feel good that my reaction is affirmed by someone else in this business.

I also should not be influenced by critics and toady scholars with a vested stake in Russian literature. It is likely they know nothing. Elsewhere in A Moveable Feast Hem gives advice to another writer after a whining conversation: “Look, if you can’t write why don’t you learn to write criticism?” (p. 95)

A Moveable Feast is not directly about Hemingway’s writing career in Paris, circa 1920-1925, but there are many solid points that he makes in passing. He also has an enlightening and funny chapter on F. Scott Fitzgerald and a sour chapter describing the rich discovering a ski resort. 

CRITICISM

Since blogging in August 2013, I’ve read novels and put forth my comments. I’ve been direct – complementary or derogatory. It something is unreadable, I’ll say that.

But this morning I put down a novel (more than 500 pages), and I am reminded of Mark Twains purported evaluation of Henry James’s novels: Once you’ve put down one of his novels, you can’t pick it up.

I won’t identify the novelist or her first novel. The subject matter is something I’ve thoroughly versed with – a student going to college in a strange place. Chapter One is long and slow. Ten pages into it I realized it was common stuff. Not a lot happened – dialogue, descriptions, action – by page 20. But I recognized the source. It was obvious that this author had kept a journal in college and had devoted pages to the mundane as most journals and diaries are. This author had replicated in the book the journal conversations she had tediously recorded as a fresh student. 

If an author will write about a character who is boring, dull, mundane and ordinary, the author ought not to show those traits by being prosaic with the writing. It must be poetry (Lennie, Of Mice and Men). It is entirely possible that this author did not fully understand how the traits of the character might be perceived. That is a failure of the author’s, of editors and of the publisher; it should be noted in criticism. Stumbling along writing characters in common, everyday speech is not the way to do it. Fiction does partly reflect reality, but an author has to make up the language as she proceeds. The author does not get to literature by inserting every sentence ever uttered, remembered for a journal and put into a novel. However, that’s what this author seems to have done, and she should have been more wary. She states a fact that reveals the character is a moron. In the first 20 pages she mentions that the character took Geometry during his senior year of high school. Geometry is a high school freshman or sophomore course.

So I quit this novel before being insulted more. I had to put it down and quit it forever. I’ll be suspicious of anything more from this author. Fortunately there was no expense. I borrowed it from a library where I gladly returned it.

WHAT SORT OF TALE?

A FALSE FRIEND by Myla Goldberg

I try to read different styles of fiction and non-fiction to learn something from style, the writing and the author’s presentation. But I am impatient because there is much to read. If I cannot detect a story and structure inside a book with good writing, I lose interest quickly.

I don’t expect every book to have a chronological narrative. But if a writer begins with “bit,” and she goes onto “bot,” and next to “but,” followed by “bat” and ending up with “bet,” the story, writing and telling need distinction: Voice(s), choice of words, style of writing, immediacy of sentences, a comprehensible of structure guiding the reader at the rudder to make way through the “B-a-e-i-o-u-t.”

All that failed me in A False Friend by Myla Goldberg, and I did not sense a style or a structure otherwise presented to the reader. The story is told by Celia, as a pre-pubscient girl and when in the first chapter Celia’s best friend Djuna disappears in the forest (down a hole like Aiice), Celia has reached puberty. I note the Celia’s voice, words and speech are the same despite aging. These ages and the on-coming womanhood are important in youth because there are bunches and gobs of currents and circuits fed by hormones hitting girls.

Although Celia and Djuna interact with each other, they seem unaware of puberty. Their parents are unaware. Nobody else knows anything. The reader has no guidance except experience, although the book is presumably written for adults. The activities of the girls at nine years seems the same at 13 years.

Should the advent of puberty show up on page 180 as an involved plot point or a plot twist, when the actions between the two girls happened on page 10? I don’t know if that happens because the book lost me as a reader at Chapter 8. One book cover squib praising the novel mentions it is about “girl bullying.” If the author does not have a handle on the perpetrator and the victim, but is writing generically about morals, ethics, behaviors and reason, the writing is not a novel but a sociology. 

Of course with a novel, a story can be presented and the reader can learn from the characters and detect how incidents, however small, may get out of hand and result in bullying. Of perhaps the violence is mean and intentional. What sort of writing tries to make a point in   A FALSE FRIEND:

Chapter 3, page 39-40: “For years Celia had figured she would live alone: a small apartment in Ukrainian Village or Wicker Place shared on alternative weekends with a boyfriend who would have his shelf of the medicine cabinet, his bureau drawer. Their lives with sporadically intersect from Friday to Sunday, phone calls leaving the time in between. She had been perplexed by people who did it differently, had theorized that they were somehow less busy. In high school and college she simply had not had time to meet people. There were marches to organize and fund-raisers to plan, poems to read and meetings to attend. Her chronic overcommitment and loneliness had felt inherent, conditions like diabetes or color blindness that demanded their own concessions.”

In this paragraph Celia recollects the idea of living alone. Note there is no development of that idea from the standpoint of living alone, its glories or deficits. Nor is there development of Celia’s character. There are erratic and errant thoughts about Celia’s busy lifestyle unrelated to living alone: Irregular live-in boyfriends. Why was that desirable? No answer. How other people lived together, a thought completely unrelated to Celia. Celia remembers her earlier years when living with anyone seemed unnecessary: For purposes of this story it is immaterial and off point. But is it nonsensical that a young woman involved in politics, social issues and fund-raisers would not make friends and would have no acquaintances from those activities. What’s a reader to think?

Boyfriend-husband Huck had nights with the boys when Celia was out of town. (45) Does this have much to do with Djuna’s disappearance and the reaction of Celia’s hometown? Nothing. It tells little about Celia, even if the point of the novel appears to be the reaction to Djuna’s disappearance, today rather than 25-30 years before. The story is silent about the psychology of the adult Celia wanting to tell what happened to Djune. Celia shows up at her parents’ home in chapter 5 and tells her parents when Djuna disappeared: I lied. Her parents excuse her – her mother, who works at a high school says, you were just a child (13 years). You were confused.

The mother’s character is incredible. She works in a high school. She ought to know kids lie, including her own daughter. The mother is oblivious. Why does Celia come home and announce the lie? No one asks that. Where does this get anyone? Djune and Celia were friends who had sharp fights. Just before Djune disappeared, a fight had occurred.

An example from history. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were friends who frequently socialized with one another. They also enraged one another. In July 1804 they fought a duel. Burr killed Hamilton. When Aaron Burr returned to New York City, its citizens heard Burr walk around trying to solicit conversation: I fought a duel with Alexander Hamilton, my best friend, and I killed him. History records no one stuck around to hear the full psychological release.

It is either the writing – the mix of bat, bet, bit, bot, but – or it is not presented in the story. I have no sense of remorse, guilt, regret or another other weight on Celia that compels her to come clean in Chapter 5. I would expect that set up in the first four chapters. It’s either bad reading comprehension, or there was nothing in the first four chapters to comprehend.

I lost track of any structure or order in the presentation of story, identifying a concept and generally following it. Words lengthened into sentences and ended nonsensically, Page 49:

“As Huck stood over Celia in the half-light cast by the approaching dusk, he had struggled to imagine a malady dire enough to send her home from work. She’d been know to barricade herself inside her private office with herbal tea, ibuprofen and zinc lozenges to avoid taking a sick day. Huck had considered the possibility that nursing her through some awful affliction would force an end to his late mornings, and perhaps return him to the sort of person who ministered to the slow-draining sink in the bathroom, the loose bedroom-door handle, or their beloved creaking couch. He would restore Celia to wellness, and himself to a person who did all these stuff he was supposed to do, and by the following week they’d both be their normal selves again.     But Celia hadn’t been sick.They’d sat on the couch…”

The reader is happy Celia isn’t sick, but Huck’s thoughts and impressions are overblown. He goes through the litany of her office sick routine, and next remembers he’s supposed to do all the handy work around the house. That’s his job. BUT Celia isn’t sick, and Huck’s ruminations are filler, extra, padding, stuffing or surplus. A reader is a sucker to plow through the routine/Huck’s thoughts, yet no one knows it is completely unnecessary until the next paragraph. The author could get away with it but didn’t write it so: Huck stands over Celia worried she might be sick. Does he wake or disturb her to get her reaction, and to have an emotional release himself? NO. Celia is just being a nine year old girl: She’ll sit on the couch with him.

When the reader’s imagination outruns the author’s, the book is in trouble. Page 53-54, Chapter 5: 

“Celia braved the hallway in her nightshirt. As children, she and Jeremy had been permitted downstairs in pajamas, but their parents only ever left the bedroom fully clothed. At some point Celia had adopted this habit, until Huck – early on in their courtship, the first demand of her he ever made – refused to serve post-coital pancakes to a woman wearing anything more than a bathrobe. The stairway carpet on the soles of Celia’s feet felt like Christmas morning, circa 1981. In the kitchen, she found a note beside a fresh half pot of coffee – Good Morning! Call me when you wake up. Love, Mom…”

Hank and Celia are married. Making pancakes is after-play for Huck, and Celia’s reaction? Celia! Now that you’ve brought it up how was sex with Huck? What sort of condiment did you put on the pancakes – honey, syrup, preserves, a tart marmalade, sour cream or sauerkraut? This passage implied Celia’s parents did not have sex for decades. It also implies Celia didn’t like sex and doesn’t want to talk about it or about anything else. 

I also know the next sentence of the paragraph is NOT, “The stairway carpet on the soles of Celia’s feet felt like Christmas morning,…”
Finally, the reader gets the impression that something is really not right with Celia – she’s mentally ill, or is a complete whack-job or too much of a Daddy’s little girl, or Mommy’s precious friend. She’s completely useless as a human being. Why else would the author leave the reader hanging with Celia thinking about sex with Huck and five lines later a note from Mom?

Heinrich Boell learned to write in part by rewriting published books. A False Friend may provide that type of opportunity to students learning to write. It is easy to be at sea with this book, reading and casting about for any safe harbor, literary pier or an anchorage to steady the boat. An author telling a story must appear to have control, write efficiently and effectively using few words. That is not the experience here. Why suffer through an author’s obvious shortcomings? There are other books to read.

 

 

ONCE UPON A…

Once upon a manuscript I had to edit. As thoroughly as I could I would mark changes, and next RETYPE. The manuscript was never right. Repeat the process. I had a reliable IBM Selectic with expensive lift-off tape and ribbon cartridges, and use loads of white paper. I became an expert with copy machines and an authority where to get copies done cheaply. Two cents a page was the last cost of my mass copy efforts.

Within the last ten years I bought a computer but didn’t write with it for two years. I wrote a history, non-fiction, A PARTICULAR FRIEND, Constitutional Politics 1788-1803, James Madison’s activities to get the government and the American people accustomed to the Constitutional after 1789. A PARTICULAR FRIEND is on the iBookstore, michael ulin edwards. I put my notes on the computer and realized I needed no complicated outline or involved index to the sources: I only needed keywords to take me from source to source, and to reference related sources. The writing of A PARTICULAR FRIEND was quick.

Image

 

I submitted the book to New York agents and surprisingly I found many points, unique to this history, were obliquely and sometimes directly made in histories and biographies of Madison and the early “Federalist” period, published after 2008. One reference is important and related to the stature of “common law,” an important issue in the 1790s, and finally disposed of in 1938 by the United States Supreme Court. A PARTICULAR FRIEND was never cited by that historian writing a large survey book for academic courses. I call this a New York Taking.

How do I know someone borrow points from A PARTICULAR FRIEND? To know about this case, the historian has to have Civil Procedure in law school, a first year class. Next, the historian has to make an association from the issue in Civil Procedure to the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution; it is helpful to have Constitutional Law in the Second Year of law school. I note in law school no one make that association between the Civil Procedure case and Constitutional Law. The third step is realizing that the issue in 1938 before the Supreme Court was the same issue, Madison was attacking, in the United States in the 1790s. Finally, out of the blue in 2010(?) a publisher contacted me and asked for my manuscript. I supplied it. I never heard from them again.

What I wrote in A PARTICULAR FRIEND is better and more insightful than that historian, who for his history digested, summarized and regurgitated published histories of those times. 

No credit, adopting stories and taking outlines of existing stories to be rewritten by a commercial writer happens. It is not fair. I am used to it, because in law where I was primarily a legal researcher, stealing happens all the time.

HOWEVER, the writing of A PARTICULAR FRIEND broke me of the typing, make copies, edit process. I had a manuscript on a computer where I could work it and get it into shape without making a copy. Printer ink is an expense to avoid if the same result can be achieved by  changing the way the mind thinks and works.

Now a manuscript of mine has come out so confused, I need a hardcopy to rewrite or make any other sense to it. If it is on the computer I’ll realize the writing is a mess and no rereading, cutting and pasting, no added passages will carry me toward a future produce. I suspect I may have started one book and written 10,000 words, and begun a second of 25,000 words. A hard copy will give me distance and allow me to work with the writing and present a story.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT AGENTS AND NEW YORK? Trust can not be extended only by writers. I am trying to get manuscripts like A PARTICULAR FRIEND read electronically, rather than pay for the bureaucracy filtering and censoring everything.

So here’s the blog.

AMERICA’S FARMS

No one can devise a farm policy today. Eighty (80) years ago the New Deal began farm programs, and for those four score years Congress has dumped money into farming to support the small family farm.

How many small family farms are there? In California families run agricultural lands, but they aren’t farms – pigs, cows, chickens, vegetable gardens, money crop. Indeed, many or all of those family members get their food in grocery stores in Beverly Hills, in California coastal towns and cities and in Bay Area cities. No one lives on the agricultural lands in the Central Valley.

Americans should not confuse farming with home ownership. There are houses on farms, but mortgaging the homestead is not reason for losing the farm. Otherwise, it would be best to bail out every delinquent homeowner in America.

It is not likely a problem this year, but it was reported late last year if Congress did not renew the Farm Bill, that milk would be $6-8 a gallon. A formula devised in the 1940s would determine milk prices nationally in 2014, now 2015. Note the 1940s was before most Americans were born. Did the lawmakers concocting that price formula figure they were writing a Constitutional Amendment called Milk Prices Forever Sacred?

There have been many changes to farms and agriculture. Machinery and automation have increase productivity a lot. Not many human beings milk cows. They’d rather milk the government for money. Not every family wants to live on the Old McDonald’s farm, where pigs no longer oink, oink here and there. Bill Clinton taught us, It’s “suie, pig!” No one makes money planting a few acres of corn and wheat. Subsistence farming happens, but I don’t believe farm programs are designed for those people. The problems extant in the 1930s are no longer around – certainly not in the same places. Congress should start anew and write Farm Programs suited for 2015.

I began this writing to react to a solicitation in the mail from the American Farmland Trust. HEADLINE: AMERICAN FARMLAND IS DISAPPEARING at x acres per day.

Losing farmland has been a problem in America for a long time. There are many reasons for it. Water: In California water is not delivered or is deemed undeliverable, and land goes dry, groves and orchards dry up and land returns to what nature can make it. Some farm communities in California have unemployment rates exceeding 40 percent because there is no work because no water is delivered.

The example given in the Farmland Trust solicitation is from Arkansas where a family lost its dairy farm – herd, land and equipment. Initially, this is a victory for persons who believe milk is bad for human beings. [They get their opinions and facts from the Internet which is always a trustworthy source.] Another group of diary opponents believe cows create more methane gas than they should; they also believe diary [chicken, pig] farms create too much waste. Finally, there are people who believe dairy farmers might receive too many subsidies than they should. The general humanity of these detractors is to sacrifice cows, land, equipment and the human beings trying to make things work.

I am suspicious that American Farmland Trust is an organization to allow its officers and employees to solicit money and pay themselves the bulk of those dollars, all to solicit more money. The solicitation presents the emotion tug: “beauty and bounty as far as the eye can see,” but no where is mentioned cows and buffalo roaming. The Farmland Trust sends notecards: “a beautiful peach blossom in perfect bloom.” It is obviously not in California where orchards and groves are being desiccated, and trees are cut down for firewood. Another notecard: “a canine farmhand ‘driving’ a tractor.” I’ve never seen a dog drive a tractor, a truck or a car. I have seen dogs playing poker. I note further that American Farmland Trust offered to send a FREE deluxe toy calf: “Milkshake,” “with a gift of $25 or more.” Milkshake is a stuff toy which I suppose is not made in America.

I cannot repeat or summarize much of the solicitation. It is too long. But I can react:

First, I don’t want any class of Americans to benefit from any government program or preference forever!  If a family is farming, that is the business. There should be no absolute guarantee that that farming business should last until Judgment Day. In business is the ever present risk of nature – weather, infestations and crummy growing conditions – and Acts of God. 

Just like an attorney must know and specialize in an area of the law, a farmer ought to watch The Weather Channel or look at the NOAA website and prepare. Farming is not always an environmentally clean activity, and the government gets involved. Smart, profitable farmers know this: Air quality, soil preservation, water contamination, chemical/fertilizer run off, wildlife destruction are all possible. Farms know about these rules and laws because violating them will result in fines and penalties.

To what extent have the owners of that Arkansas farm been prudent? I don’t know, but I know people in the milk business, small suppliers or large chains, make money. They may not be his constituents, but Patrick Leahy of Vermont voiced concern about small dairy producers in his state if milk subsidies were changed. Senator Leahy is the type of guy who would like to spend the last federal dollar on milk price supports.

Second, the complete problem with small farmers and farms is unsolvable by organizations like American Farmland Trust. Donations will waste money while misdirecting attention and misstating the problem. Most small farmers resort to alternative methods of farming – organic farms, speciality crops – or they make products from their farms – cheeses, wines, vinegars and cooking oils. This inventiveness is lost on American Farmland Trust. It’s motto appears to be: Once a Farm, Always a Farm. Manhattan was once farmland. Orange County, California was once tens of miles of orange groves. Washington DC where American Farmland Trust is located was once a swamp. 

A GOOD BOOK

GILEAD  Marilynne Robinson

Usually, I would not read Gilead, a preacher telling his family’s story. It is draped in religion and is set in a small Iowa community. But I read it, and learned something from the telling.

There are no chapters and only two sections. There are a few hundred incidences. The telling of this story is in the form of an oral history. If a parent or grandparent were telling the story of the family, Gilead represents how that elder might tell: Incident here, reminder of that, this doesn’t necessarily follow but is interesting, the next thing, where was I in the story? Gilead is not chronological, but the telling is pleasing because the reader goes from incidents to more incidents, gaining insights along the way along with some learning.

The telling is by an educated man and the story stays close to that character’s roots – religion. If there be a drawback, the doses of religion and faith, undoubtedly supporting the story with biblical passages, whether noted or not, provide a foundation for the story. There is the family – the audience for this testament – the community and church members. Few names are given, as though confidences are kept. Instead, the setting and way of life imparts the demands, life’s work and worth, on the preacher-narrator. In many ways Gilead is about the preacher’s hope that future generations will learn, will hear his confession and will realize his shortcomings, all a reconciliation and realization he never had with his father. In some ways religion can seem repetitive, but in the style of oral history, some repetition should be expected.

I noted I would not usually read a book like Gilead. In my life I’ve read some primary sources. The Confessions of St. Augustine are overpowering. I’ve read some primary sources, and a lot of history about the development of Christianity and its sects, and some primary sources and sermons in those sects. [Waiting on the bookshelf to read it is Harnack, The History of Dogma, about the rise of Christianity.] Gilead has a historical component of telling the lives of its characters in the Mid-west, after the Civil War to the mid-1950s. Inside are few historical events to date anything. Again true to the character, the author sticks to religion. There are important events of faith, of his life and his family, but they have no time.

The fact that incidences and stories happened and will happen again without reference to time, makes Gilead eternal.  

 

READ IT!

VERONICA – Mary Gaitskill

Some snippets on the cover say this story is about beauty. There is much more: A realistic painting of life in the big city, and characters who cannot escape the whirl: Death, life, growing and maturing and love round the novel. 

The story is told by a young model for ten years of survival. She is beautiful but doesn’t know how to comprehend it, work with it and protect herself. Innocent and unaware she lets herself be abused, and that is the life in the big city, Paris and New York: One insult after another ending in terror and horror. The reader senses what happens in Paris is originally decadent whereas New York only produces simulation and derivation.

Beauty goes beyond a physical appearance, until the model feels ugly. As her boyfriend hits her trying to force her to admit she is beautiful, she sinks into the experience appearance has given her: living life can make a person, who is conscious, ugly. The reader understands that discouragements, insults and crudities started the abasement before the violence.  

The model remembers everything. Her memory is supported by literary devices. Gaitskill conceives motifs which she carries through the novel: Rigoletto, The worm goes in... These motifs suggest analogies, metaphors and allegories. Gaitskill tells the tale in lustrous language – the turn of the phrase, similes, metaphors or an unexpected noun. The language gains momentum as the reader creeps into the fright of life in New York. Life with her family is real. Having returned from Paris, the model staying with her parents, returns home for the evening: 

“I kissed Ed on the cheek and got out of the car. In the house sat my father, drinking beer and waiting for dinner. La Traviata was on the record player: I said hi and walked through the room. Sara was in the dining room, crouching an inch away from the TV straining the hear over the music. My mother was in the kitchen, stirring a fragrant pot. How I loved her. How I didn’t know…”(97)

An event in New York seem more fanciful: 

“When we came out, Nadia had moved on and the air of the room had changed like the sea in the wake of a great wave. All the little creatures and shells still stirred, fitful and chaotic. An oyster sweating in his cream-colored shell was talking into a microphone about something nobody could hear. A laughing blond bit of seaweed rolled against a scudding black-haired pebble and they slid down the wall, laughing. Patrick said, ‘Honey, let’s go…'” (175)

Readers might wish Gaitskill would jot down more sentences, but she doesn’t need them. She knows the rule about constructing imagery – economy, efficiency and less is more.

The language allows Gaitskill to shift the voice. The story becomes less of a telling of the model’s experience, struggles and growing. It slides to the model’s impressions of those things: The model stumbles and never finds love; Veronica lingers and dies of AIDS. But love and illness are combined: Veronica’s bi-sexual lover gave her AIDS, and yet Veronica describes the relationship with him, which would make any couple in marriage happy.

Because the model doesn’t see Veronica fade everyday, the reader can believe the model cannot relay the on-coming doom. Gaitskill chooses an easy foil to produce a crushing literary impression and an entertainment disapproval. The model goes to a club and hears a rock band. She realizes:  

“I drank and bit the rim of my plastic cup and lost myself in the music on the sound system. I had succeeded. I had become like this music. My face had been a note in a piece of continuous music that rolled over people while they talked and drank…No one remembers a particular note. No one remembers a piece of grass. But it does its part. I had done my part….    The band came on stage.” (209)

“The room was full of life that wanted forms to hold it [dandified feelings], and it wasn’t picky. Neither were we. We watched as if we were witnessing the preservation of a place in our collective heart – a place that had once been primary that we no longer knew what it was or where it was. And now we felt it: secret and tender, and with so many chambers…   There was Veronica alone in her apartment, locked in full engagement with forces the musicians lightly referred to. The song said nothing about any of them, but they were part of it anyway.” (210)

“…I wanted to tell her [Veronica] this. I wanted her to know that even though she was dying, she was still included in the story told by the music.” (211)

From her distended thinking, the model is returned to reality. Hearing the delight and sensations, Veronica says, “This isn’t a rock song, hon.” (211) 

Growing and maturing by experience is the most pitiful way of life. Throughout Veronica the model goes to jobs, goes out to eat, goes to clubs, drinks, does drugs and meets the wrong, unsavory people engaging in the same or similar activities. There is sex but no love anywhere, beyond a rock song and its collectivity. The model has seen much and lived the sad life of Benjamin Franklin’s aphorism: “Experience keeps a dear school, yet Fools will learn in no other.” Poor Richard’s Alamack. In the end the model has hepatitis. 

There need be no explanation why the model never avoids the desultory lifestyle. That is not the story. But within the story one senses that New Yorkers have pets, small dogs and cats, not only to have an animal to love, but also as an excuse to stay home and avoid the scene.

Parents may not like Veronica, but if they are conscious and aware, they know it represents reality. That world has only become more intense and detached. Veronica is a book for every teenage girl in America, filled with nothing in mind but dreams – marvels, glitter, beauty, wonders – to  read: In a few years the hounds of hell will be upon you – your body, your mind, your mental well being, your financial well being, your health. LIFE – Get ready for it. Beauty doesn’t protect you. Beauty makes you a target. Youth is gone with the first life experience.

An attempt to write about New York failed, yet it is assigned in most American high schools: The Great Gatsby which I previous reviewed, “Loathing Gatsby.” On literary merit, as a depiction of New York and as a reflection of society, Veronica should replace Gatsby as the book to read in high school. There is no character as weak and unreal in Veronica as Gatsby and Daisy are in Gatsby. Yes, Veronica is frank, detailed, obnoxious and objectionable. But what sort of literature do Americans want their children to read? Do Americans want their children to be educated to the world? Should American children know they can read, anticipate and be prepared? Literature can do that. Or should Americans take their dreaming daughters to the water and toss them in and watch them drown?

Veronica is a distaff book. The model activities and thoughts return her to her family. There is realization, understanding and reconciliation. The book ends with “I will call my father and tell him I finally heard him. I will be full of gratitude and joy.” But in the book the exploration for love by the model and by anyone else is incomplete, in the society reflected by the ersatz entertainments tearing participants and the audience apart.

There is no great explanation of what love is and how it should survive – perhaps living in New York with pets. What are men supposed to do? That answer seems carry an ample supply of condoms. Veronica presents a hopelessness about the state of love in society. Love needs a platform protected from the whirl. This is an issue that Americans can resolve.

 

RISKY EDITING

THE LITTLE FRIEND by Donna Tartt

I heard much about this author and decided to give her a try. Tartt likes long and longer sentences. When I experience authors using long sentences, I am inclined to send each a bag of periods.

In History of Florence, Ferdinand Schevill, Ungar, NY, 1961, has many long beautiful sentences conveying a paragraph’s worth of information before the period arrives:

“If we now remind ourselves that Boniface VIII belonged to a lesser clan of the Roman Campagna, the Caetani, and that throughout his early life he had been exposed to the slights of the greater lords, we have no difficulty in understanding that from the moment he commanded the unbounded resources of the papacy he resolved to raise the Caetani to a level with the oldest and most powerful barons of the capital.”(page 168)

This sentence states a longstanding motivation of Boniface VIII and supports inferences why other Roman and Italian families did not like and back the upstart Caetani clan. It also explains why in 1308 (ten years later) when the French sacked Rome Boniface VIII had no friends.

That sentence has its own motors. The reader goes from facts to more facts defining further the subject and other nouns all without a dependent clause following the verb. There are no semi-colons; colons and parentheses. The author has set up the motivation, ability to use power and the projected results of using power.

In The Little Friend Harriet, girl growing up, tells the story of the family. It is the South of the 1950s and 1960s. Every scene in the book may have happened, but readers don’t need a chronicle of a family’s life. The sense that events are similar makes them indistinguishable; family members dwell on nonsense – what-ifs and what-might-have-happened is conveyed. Here’s a sentence about Harriet’s and the family’s outlook: 

“She possessed, to a singular and uncomfortable degree, the narrowness of vision which enabled all the Cleves to forget what they didn’t want to remember, and to exaggerate or otherwise alter what they couldn’t forget; and in restringing the skeleton of the extinct monstrosity which had been her family’s fortune, she was unaware that some of the bones had been tampered with; that others belonged to different animals entirely; that a great many of the most massive and spectacular bones were not bones at all, but plaster-of-paris forgeries. (The famous Bohemian chandelier for instance, had not come from Bohemia at all; it was not even made of crystal; the Judge’s mother had ordered it from Montgomery Ward.) (page 40)

There are oblivious problems, the first being this is a summing up, which runs on. It is better if a novelist tells the story and allows the reader to sum up – reach the conclusion the author wants the reader to make. This sentence sits in the novel like it was an outline point, which should not stand out in the text.

I added the sentence in parentheses because the words or sentences in the parentheses inferentially relate to something that came before. However, it seems improbable any sentence should start with “the narrowness of vision” and link it up with the great family lie, the Montgomery Ward chandelier.

I have been around long enough to know “the narrowness of vision” and “restringing the skeleton.” The secrets and the “dirt” about families are not about whether something is gold or brass, something easily discovered on “The Antiques Roadshow.” Family secrets are about conduct, behavior and thoughts. I would know more about my family not from the filtered fables about favorite souvenirs, but how family members procured their liquor during Prohibition, from whom and how far behind was Elliot Ness.  

There is a lot of parentheses use in A Little Friend. It is irritating. I decided to look it up. Perrin, Smith, Corder, Handbook of Current English, Scott, Foreman & Company, 3rd Edition, 1968, tells, “Parentheses are curved marks used chiefly to enclose incidental or explanatory remarks.” (173) “Parentheses are used to enclose remarks and asides that are not essential to the meaning of a passage.” (174) In essence parentheses are notes or footnotes in another form. A Little Friend uses parentheses correctly but does that use make it a novel?

It is still Harriet’s tale later on:

“Pemberton Hull was driving home from the Country Club in his baby-blue ’62 open-top Cadillac ( the chassis needed realigning, the radiator leaked and its was hell to find parts, he had to send off to some warehouse in Texas and wait two weeks before they arrived but still the car was his darling, his baby, his one true love and every cent he made at the Country Club went either to putting gas in it or to fixing it up when it broke down) and when he swept around the corner of George Street his headlights swung over little Allison Dufresnes sitting out on her front steps all by herself.” (page 104)

I don’t need to know the state of repair of a character’s tuna boat. What is amazing is the car made no noise as it came up the street, and Harriet was upstairs on her bed near an open window and didn’t hear it. When Harriet talks to a boy from town, he mimics the car by sound. (108)

The realization readers have after plowing through The Little Friend (more than 200,000 words) is, how many extra words will I read by the end on page 540? After reading the first 50,000 words, I figure I had read an extra 15,000 words – 75,000 words possible total which is another novel. I refuse.

These words exist in The Little Friend because someone failed to edit it and next blue pencil the text. Long sentences, semi-colons, colons and parentheses return me to my days when I wrote law. I know legal writing when I see it, and The Little Friend is written like a lawyer wrote it. It is informative and mostly clear with a caveat: Legal writing is better organized. A Little Friend is lawyerly not literary.

The types of writing to pass information or to tell a story in a novel is a grand canyon. Each presents opinions; each should present a consistent point of view; each presents the entire opinion in steps. But informational writing follows those guides in every document in order: A, B, C, D. Opinions and their arguments in literature can bounce around: A, L, Z, Q.

In literature an author communicates her imagination; she does not communicate information. Authors shift the order of presentation of opinion: A, L Z, Q may be it. But other devices give structure and order to the story: Voices. There can be more than one. All voices must be distinct from the standpoint of the character: education, biases, prejudices, age, status. These voices pass into dialogue.  In The Little Friend Harriet’s voice seems similar to those of other characters and their dialogue. The drawback is compounded by a united style [or presentation] of writing. For the reader all the characters become the same.

The paragraph about repairs needed on Pembarton’s car would have been better placed earlier when Harriet talks to him: She had introduced him before and knows his “one-true love.” He likely would have mentioned the car, if given the chance because he talked about the car with everyone who would listen. Pembarton also talks about Harriet’s sister. The car arrives but Harriet doesn’t describe any sound, or its effect on her. (104) The sound comes from the boy on page 108. In a novel the characters and the car, obtaining character-like traits, should relay a vignette. Weave the facts into the story about the people rather than data dump: (1)Pembarton’s car, (2) Harriet’s sister, (3) who is Pembarton.  

I tired of reading informational clumps, and stopped when family members began talking about the son, ten years dead, who would now be at college in a fraternity… I realize there is a story in The Little Friend, but it is not well put together. I don’t want to read it.

P.S. I glanced at Donna Tartt’s new book, The Goldfinch (700 plus pages) and was disillusioned. There are words in parentheses on the first page! What type of author has a writing style using parentheses?

WARY READER

I’ve read no Dostoyevsky. I tried something short: The Gambler. It is like reading of characters who are mentally ill. I’ll try another of Dostoyevsky’s stories, but I’ll enlarge this lesson.

The gambler is in love with Maria Philippovna. She knows it, but there are difficulties. He’s not suitable for her, and it’s easy to read why, from his own mouth. He says to her:

“It makes no difference to me…Do you know something else? It is dangerous for you to walk alone with me: many times I have felt an irresistible longing to beat you with my fists, disfigure you, strangle you. And do you think it won’t come to that? You will drive me crazy. I’m not likely to shrink from the scandal, am I? Or your anger? What’s your anger to me? My love is hopeless, and I know that afterwards I should love you a thousand times more. If I ever kill you, you know, I shall have to kill myself as well; well, I shall try for as long as possible not to kill myself, so as to savour the unbearable pain of being without you. Do you know an incredible thing? Everyday I love you more, and that’s almost impossible, you know. After that, how can I help being a fatalist? You remember, on the Schlangenberg the day before yesterday, I whispered to you when you provoked me, ‘Say the word and I will leap into the abyss!’ If you had said a word, I would have jumped. You do believe, don’t you, that I would have jumped?”

“What silly talk!” she cried.

APPARENTLY, being demonstrative and vocal is the Russian way of passion, although that passion is not present in Tolstoy or in Pasternak. It seems doubly impossible that any sensible woman would tolerate this creep and his crap. Are readers expected to believe this is Russian culture, played out in Germany? Is the manner of a nation of chess players – foresee, plan and plot with all subtlety possible and MOVE displayed in this passage or in this story? Dostoyevsky’s message, I love you because I want to smash in your face, is beyond the pale. Note for Dostoyevsky’s male, it is mere “scandal.” Any person who does not read beyond this paragraph is justifiably excused.

“What silly talk!” is the stupidest comment a woman can utter. Trying to understand such a man is foolhardy. Trying to reason with him reveals too many motherly tendencies (and probably too many Psychology courses in college). Hugging and comforting him demonstrates delusion. 

The best reaction is be an American: Disengage (not part of Dostoyevsky’s story). If he offers to jump into the abyss, encourage him. Don’t see him again. Tell him not to bother you. Change the locks on your doors. Be alert. Get a restraining order. And get a gun and learn to use it: If the situation arises, you can shoot off his pecker.