Tuesday, August 07, 2007

90s short stories

Take, for example, Lynne Tillman's Absence of the Heart (from the 90s series, Serpent's Tail, London, 1990), recommended by Harry Matthews, Gary Indiana, and Edmund White, and signed by the author. She writes, "To Tim -- very glad to meet a sympathetic [sone] All my best. Lynne T [squiggle], June 1991." It's a book of stories, but I'd thought it was likely a novel. The stories appeared prior to this publication in various literary journals. They are, for example, "AKA Mergatroyde" in New Observations, 1985; "The Trouble With Beauty" in Conjunctions 14, 1989; "A Nomadic Event in the Body," in Semiotexte, 1984; "Weird Fucks," in Bikini Girl magazine, 1980; "Diary of a Masochist," published anonymously in Paranoids Anonymous Newsletter, 1978; and "Madame Realism" in an artist's book.

My manfriend and I used to go to a bookstore on the west side of Madison in his old used Chevrolet Malibu station wagon, a car named "the space potato," because it was long and beige and had rust spots on it, like eyes of a potato. Anna Smith worked there; she was a talented experimental poet trained in acting, and my manfriend liked her, and it was an occasion to flirt with her while I sat in the aisles, mesmerized by titles. When it was time to go, he'd come and find me, and there I would be, reading the backs of books. "Don't read blurbs," he told me. "Read books."

Harry Matthews writes about this book by Lynne Tillman, "In Absence of the Heart, Lynne Tillman lures us into unfamiliar ground with utterly persuasive, utterly duplicitous candor. Once there, we shall never be brought safely home. ..." Gary Indiana writes, "Lynne Tillman has the strongest, smartest, most subtly distinct writer's voice of my generation. I admire her breadth of observation, her syntax, her wit."

Maybe it's that I live with my mother that the word "fuck" gets me highly annoyed, as if no one ought to use it. Even my mother used it once. I had said, "I'm not taking my fucking car back into that repair shop so they can overcharge me," and she said, "You're not going to have your ~fucking~ car much longer if you don't." She said it very precisely. There was no ambivalence in the way she did it. Her diction ting'd it like a bell.

A friend, yesterday, told this joke on the phone about Ferdinand the Bull. Some bulls are standing on a hill overlooking a field with cows on it. One bull says, "Let's run down the hill and fuck that cow." And another bull says, "Let's walk down and fuck all of them." A wisdom joke, he called it. He didn't realize that I had given up on sex, so it's no joke I would find amusing, but maybe it is wise. Did I get it? I suppose. It's about running vs. walking. It's the word "fuck" I don't like, but I guess that's the word we use.

"Weird Fucks" sounds like a list story -- it might be a list story. It's the opening piece in the collection and runs from page 7 to page 43. Pretty long. She writes (p. 9), "I was a slum goddess and in college. He looked something like Richard Burton; I resembled Liz. It was, in feeling, as crummy and tortured as that." I like the phrase "slum goddess in college." The first passage I opened to in the book and read, just by flipping through the pages, was very intriguing, but I will not be able to find it easily again. Here's another one: "As we entered the restaurant, he said casually, 'Some crazy person kept calling me today.' Ah, I thought, that's how he talks about me, the me he's dissociating himself from." He tells her, "'I'd pick up the phone and there'd be no one there.' 'No one there?' I asked. 'No, the phone kept ringing, I'd answer and there'd be no one there. Finally I put the answering machine on.'" (p. 65, "Hung Up").

From "Absence of the Heart" (p. 67): "It was a battle for her to think. It was pointless. She spoke to herself. I am the one who waits. I am the one who will be waited upon. I have the kiss that can change men's lives. I can awaken the dead. I can never die. I am empty. I am perfect. I am full. I am all things to all men. She shook her head violently. He watched everything. The shake of the head, a sign to him. A fire lit. Something was burning. He felt ill, he felt wonderful. She was sublime, and he wondered how words like that existed before her."

Perhaps I should read the whole book. Read it to do it justice from the inside then reinvent the ways in which it partly molded me, or not and shrug it like a sleeve or do and get out of it like pants. Reading fully is to put your hands in the hands of the maker. It is not a glance.

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