just trying to keep score.

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“Hope opened the door into the ladies’ room and saw, in the mirror above the basins, how her hair was coming out of its pins. She removed all the pins and stood gazing at the crone with the gray, girlishly loosened locks around her shoulders and saw what Diane Arbus might have seen and was appalled, and being appalled pricked her interest right up: ‘I’ve got an agenda: The Arbus Factor of old age,’ Hope looked forward to saying to Jack the next time it would be convenient for Jeremy and Nora to arrange lunch for them at the Cafe Provence.”

Lore Segal, Half the Kingdom

Half the Kingdom should be a grim affair: a story that takes place almost exclusively in the confusing, nightmarish emergency room of huge and depersonalized Cedars of Lebanon; populated by elderly characters in various states of poor health and loss of faculties, from the very sharp but obsessive to the bedridden stroke victim convinced he has already died; all confronting what appears to be an epidemic of Alzheimer’s affecting everyone over 62 in the building. One character makes a crack about Kafka writing slice-of-life fiction, and that crack is not unwarranted. But for all of that, Segal is a humorist, or at least an ironist, and she has the range of reference and the basic humanity to pull something like this above off: two sentences in which a character consciously pulls herself away from disappointment or even horror, that do the same for us. Half the Kingdom is similarly plucky and determined and self-reliant.

Melville House 10.01.13

October 03, 2013, 9:30am  Comments

marcus continued

“Much of my time in those early days at the script design desk was spent creating inhibitors that would keep me from seeing what I was doing.”

And then there’s the second half, which moves from one kind of nightmare (flight, isolation) to another (clinical futility) — and with that shift comes the notion, the difficulty of working with something toxic, creating a panacea out of something lethal. And in this case, a hero who works with objects — letters, “scripts” — in a dizzying array of media, without being able to view even an entire letter.

January 19, 2012, 11:00am   Comments

jesse ball, the curfew

“A servant led him down a tiled passage. The tiles had pastoral scenes: cows, gypsies, birds of different sorts, wattle buildings, haystacks. No two of them were the same. This had a disquieting effect. You would obviously never have time to sit and look at all of them, even were it possible, and so it gave an elusive impression. William wouldn’t like to be forced to give an opinion about it.”
Jesse Ball is interesting, original, working in a particular vein of the current novel, out at the cutting edge. This is the sort of thing he does well, has done well across his earlier couple of books (which, apparently, were published out of order-of-writing, which means that I think this one predates Samedi the Deafness, which I read last). There’s the simply-laid-out, disquieting image of infinite variation, that comes from a place somewhere between Borges and Kafka. There’s the situation William, the protagonist, is in: a violinist who cannot play music, living in a tacitly totalitarian state, spending his days writing epitaphs that lie truthfully (Ball’s word, “epitaphorist,” is gorgeous and perfect). And there’s the last line, edging us toward something like Bulgakov, maintaining that vagueness (what precisely would he not like to give an opinion about? The tiles? The disquieting, elusive impression they give?), leavening with absurd humor. Ball does this well, and consistently, and that’s reason enough to pick up his books.

Vintage 06.14.11

June 29, 2011, 12:00pm   Comments