Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hemingway / The End of Something

The End of Something

 by Ernest Hemingway

In the old days Hortons Bay was a lumbering town. No one who lived in it was out of sound of the big saws in the mill by the lake. Then one year there were no more logs to make lumber. The lumber schooners came into the bay and were loaded with the cut of the mill that stood stacked in the yard. All the piles of lumber were carried away. The big mill building had all its machinery that was removable taken out and hoisted on board one of the schooners by the men who had worked in the mill. The schooner moved out of the bay toward the open lake, carrying the two great saws, the travelling carriage that hurled the logs against the revolving, circular saws and all the rollers, wheels, belts and iron piled on a hull-deep load of lumber. Its open hold covered with canvas and lashed tight, the sails of the schooner filled and it moved out into the open lake, carrying with it everything that had made the mill a mill and Hortons Bay a town.
The one-story bunk houses, the eating-house, the company store, the mill offices, and the big mill itself stood deserted in the acres of sawdust that covered the swampy meadow by the shore of the bay.
Ten years later there was nothing of the mill left except the broken white limestone of its foundations showing through the swampy second growth as Nick and Marjorie rowed along the shore. They were trolling along the edge of the channel-bank where the bottom dropped off suddenly from sandy shallows to twelve feet of dark water. They were trolling on their way to set night lines for rainbow trout.
“There’s our old ruin, Nick,” Marjorie said.
Nick, rowing, looked at the white stone in the green trees.
“There it is,” he said.
“Can you remember when it was a mill?” Marjorie asked.
“I can just remember,” Nick said.
“It seems more like a castle,” Marjorie said.
Nick said nothing. They rowed on out of sight of the mill, following the shore line. Then Nick cut across the bay.
“They aren’t striking,” he said.
“No,” Marjorie said. She was intent on the rod all the time they trolled, even when she talked. She loved to fish. She loved to fish with Nick.
Close beside the boat a big trout broke the surface of the water. Nick pulled hard on one oar so the boat would turn and the bait, spinning far behind, would pass where the trout was feeding. As the trout’s back came up out of the water the minnows jumped wildly. They sprinkled the surface like a handful of shot thrown into the water. Another trout broke water, feeding on the other side of the boat.
“They’re feeding,” Marjorie said.
“But they won’t strike,” Nick said.
He rowed the boat around to troll past both the feeding fish, then headed it for the point. Marjorie did not reel in until the boat touched the shore.
They pulled the boat up the beach and Nick lifted out a pail of live perch. The perch swam in the water pail. Nick caught three of them with his hands and cut heir heads off and skinned them while Marjorie chased with her hands in the bucket, finally caught a perch, cut its head off and skinned it. Nick looked at her fish.
“You don’t want to take the ventral fin out,” he said. “It’ll be all right for bait but it’s better with the ventral fin in.”
He hooked each of the skinned perch through the tail. There were two hooks attached to a leader on each rod. Then Marjorie rowed the boat out over the channel-bank, holding the line in her teeth, and looking toward Nick, who stood on the shore holding the rod and letting the line run out from the reel.
“That’s about right,” he called.
“Should I let it drop?” Marjorie called back, holding the line in her hand.
“Sure. Let it go.” Marjorie dropped the line overboard and watched the baits go down through the water.
She came in with the boat and ran the second line out the same way. Each time Nick set a heavy slab of driftwood across the butt of the rod to hold it solid and propped it up at an angle with a small slab. He reeled in the slack line so the line ran taut out to where the bait rested on the sandy floor of the channel and set the click on the reel. When a trout, feeding on the bottom, took the bait it would run with it, taking line out of the reel in a rush and making the reel sing with the click on.
Marjorie rowed up the point a little way so she would not disturb the line. She pulled hard on the oars and the boat went up the beach. Little waves came in with it. Marjorie stepped out of the boat and Nick pulled the boat high up the beach.
“What’s the matter, Nick?” Marjorie asked.
“I don’t know,” Nick said, getting wood for a fire.
They made a fire with driftwood. Marjorie went to the boat and brought a blanket. The evening breeze blew the smoke toward the point, so Marjorie spread the blanket out between the fire and the lake.
Marjorie sat on the blanket with her back to the fire and waited for Nick. He came over and sat down beside her on the blanket. In back of them was the close second-growth timber of the point and in front was the bay with the mouth of Hortons Creek. It was not quite dark. The fire-light went as far as the water. They could both see the two steel rods at an angle over the dark water. The fire glinted on the reels.
Marjorie unpacked the basket of supper.
“I don’t feel like eating,” said Nick.
“Come on and eat, Nick.”
“All right.”
They ate without talking, and watched the two rods and the fire-light in the water.
“There’s going to be a moon tonight,” said Nick. He looked across the bay to the hills that were beginning to sharpen against the sky. Beyond the hills he knew the moon was coming up.
“I know it,” Marjorie said happily.
“You know everything,” Nick said.
“Oh, Nick, please cut it out! Please, please don’t be that way!”
“I can’t help it,” Nick said. “You do. You know everything. That’s the trouble. You know you do.”
Marjorie did not say anything.
“I’ve taught you everything. You know you do. What don’t you know, anyway?”
“Oh, shut up,” Marjorie said. “There comes the moon.”
They sat on the blanket without touching each other and watched the moon rise.
“You don’t have to talk silly,” Marjorie said. “What’s really the matter?”
“I don’t know.”
“Of course you know.”
“No I don’t.”
“Go on and say it.”
Nick looked on at the moon, coming up over the hills.
“It isn’t fun any more.”
He was afraid to look at Marjorie. Then he looked at her. She sat there with her back toward him. He looked at her back. “It isn’t fun any more. Not any of it.”
She didn’t say anything. He went on. “I feel as though everything was gone to hell inside of me. I don’t know, Marge. I don’t know what to say.”
He looked on at her back.
“Isn’t love any fun?” Marjorie said.
“No,” Nick said. Marjorie stood up. Nick sat there, his head in his hands.
“I’m going to take the boat,” Marjorie called to him. “You can walk back around the point.”
“All right,” Nick said. “I’ll push the boat off for you.”
“You don’t need to,” she said. She was afloat in the boat on the water with the moonlight on it. Nick went back and lay down with his face in the blanket by the fire. He could hear Marjorie rowing on the water.
He lay there for a long time. He lay there while he heard Bill come into the clearing walking around through the woods. He felt Bill coming up to the fire. Bill didn’t touch him, either.
“Did she go all right?” Bill said.
“Yes,” Nick said, lying, his face on the blanket.
“Have a scene?”
“No, there wasn’t any scene.”
“How do you feel?”
“Oh, go away, Bill! Go away for a while.”
Bill selected a sandwich from the lunch basket and walked over to have a look at the rods.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

James Salter / A brief survey of the short story

James Sater

A brief survey of the short story part 72


James Salter's unreliable genius

Some of his short stories have conspicuous faults – not least in their portrayal of women – but the best show a unique, sad beauty

Chris Power
Friday 14 April 2017 08.05 BST

here is no complete life. There are only fragments.” These lines from James Salter’s 1975 novel Light Years express a belief, perhaps even a philosophy, which informs all his writing. It is one that would favour the short story, which prioritises the extraordinary moment above the changes over time found in novels. So does Salter’s prose, which is lyrical but extremely economical. Structurally, however, his instinct is towards the expansive: he likes to move through large stretches of time. This combination has resulted in a relatively small body of short stories (two collections, from 1988 and 2006) that is unlike the work of any other writer.
In American Express, Salter spends half the story summarising the legal careers of Frank and Alan, two young, talented New York lawyers. They dedicate themselves to a case nobody wants and it makes their name. They establish their own firm, with “new offices overlooking Bryant Park which from above seemed like a garden behind a dark chateau”. There were “young clients, opera tickets, dinners in apartments with divorced hostesses, surrendered apartments with books and big, tiled kitchens”. When Salter is in this summarising mode you might sometimes doubt his ability: he tells rather than shows, and seems to skate over the surface of things.

But in the second half, when the lawyers take a trip to Italy, the summarising ends and moments are left to speak for themselves. Leaves piled against table legs tell us it is autumn; the dissolution of Frank, who is sleeping with a schoolgirl, is indelibly portrayed when he descends from his hotel room looking “like a rich patient in some hospital”; Alan, enviously spectating on his immoral acts, watches a young man from a window: “He crossed the driveway and jumped onto a motorbike. The engine started, a faint blur.” This is the Salter the New York Times critic Anatole Broyard was talking about when he marvelled, in an otherwise negative review of Light Years: “It is almost unbelievable what he can do with a few pigeons.”
The conventional choice for a writer as sophisticated as Salter, who died in 2015, would be to embed the first half of American Express as one or more flashbacks within the second half, as a counterpoint to their disturbing collapse in Italy; at one point Frank’s father divides the world into “those going up and those coming down”, which could also be the story’s title. But the unusual structure of Salter’s version is no accident or fumble: it is how he tells stories.
In the first few pages of his 1997 memoir Burning the Days, he forewarns the reader: “I am writing offhandedly of a great span of time.” He proceeds to move compulsively back and forth through his life: a detail of a love affair in the late 40s reminds him of another from the 60s; packing his things at West Point pulls his thoughts to a time “long afterwards”, when he got his car stuck in a snowdrift. This will frustrate anyone wanting a traditional autobiography, but it captures the ramifying nature of remembrance brilliantly, and returns us to his contention that life is not something you can study as you choose, but is instead a heap of fragments to sort through.

One of the most extreme examples of Salter’s restless narration is a story called Arlington, which begins straightforwardly enough: “Newell had married a Czech girl and they were having trouble, they were drinking and fighting”. Newell is a soldier and his superior, Westerveldt, visits to try to broker peace. Westerveldt feels like the main character, although for a line or two Newell’s thoughts swim into the narrative.
When Westerveldt’s visit ends, Salter briefly describes an evening when Newell is away on duty and his wife goes out alone. An officer takes her home, and she later reports that she had been raped. This is followed by a thumbnail portrait of Westerveldt: the mortar scar he picked up in Pleiku, his love affair with a woman in Naples, and marriage to a divorcee from San Antonio, and his death from leukaemia at 58. Then we are back with Newell, a passenger in a car driving from the memorial service to Arlington cemetery. The rest of the story follows his perspective.
For all its erratic movement in time, Arlington works. Al Alvarez once wrote that Salter is “simply not interested in telling stories”. I don’t think that’s true at all; he just isn’t interested in telling them the way they are “supposed” to be told. Arlington absolutely is a story; it seems much longer than its seven pages, and it contains one of the best descriptions of a graveyard since Kipling’s The Gardener:
The gravestones in dense, unbroken lines curved alongside the hillsides and down toward the river, as far as he could see, all the same height with here and there a larger, grey stone like an officer, mounted, amid the ranks. In the fading light they seemed to be waiting, fateful, massed as if for some great assault.
Like Kipling, Salter wants to impart knowledge in his stories. Reading the former, you might learn how to build bridges, or what it feels like to be shot; Salter’s early novels contain many technical particulars of flight and air combat (he flew jets in Korea), and his short stories show he is the Kipling of sex. In Eyes of the Stars, he describes a woman who is “18 and more or less innocent, everything still ahead of her. If she took off her clothes you would never forget it”; in Give, the narrator tells us his wife is “31, the age when women are past foolishness though not unfeeling”. Charisma begins: “Men don’t have to have looks. It’s not that.”
These pronouncements, which are not meant to be ironic – his autobiography is full of this kind of thing – appeal in their certitude (“I believe there is such a thing as objective truth insofar as we are given to know it”, Salter told the Paris Reviewin 1993), but can also sound ridiculous, particularly the pronouncements on women’s bodies. In The Destruction of the Goetheanum, a young woman is described as having “a serving girl’s mouth, a girl from small towns”. The main character in Eyes of the Stars, who is in her 60s, has arms “like a cook’s”. An argument can be made that these judgments belong to characters, not Salter, but it is difficult to be certain. He isn’t above the cruelty or the snobbishness of either remark.
Yet Salter can temper the harshness to be found in his work with notable sensitivity. Dusk is a story – like so many in his work – about the end of love, or at least a love affair. It begins with Mrs Chandler, a middle-aged woman who has been left by her husband and is about to be spurned again, standing beside a neon sign that says “prime meats”. She is a woman who “lived a certain life”, Salter tells us, before gathering its fragments:
She knew how to give dinner parties, take care of dogs, enter restaurants. She had her way of answering invitations, of dressing, of being herself. Incomparable habits, you might call them. She was a woman who had read books, played golf, gone to weddings, whose legs were good, who had weathered storms, a fine woman whom no one now wanted.
That last clause feels more like an expression of Mrs Chandler’s own self-pity than external opinion. Returning home, her lover is waiting in the driveway. It is cosy inside, but the way Salter describes the gathering dusk – “Outside, the fields were disappearing” – suggests a kind of oblivion. Bill tells her he is back with his wife, then leaves. She imagines following him home and driving past his house: “The lights would be on. She would see someone through the windows.” As the story ends, she can hear geese outside and imagines one, shot and thrashing in the long grass, “bloody sounds coming from the holes in its beak. She went around and turned on lights. The rain was coming down, the sea was crashing, a comrade lay dead in the whirling darkness”.
Those extraordinary last lines read like a tribute to Salter’s favourite short story writer, Isaac Babel. Babel, Salter said, had “the three essentials of greatness: style, structure, and authority”, and in certain stories – Dusk, Twenty Minutes, Last Night, Foreign Shores – Salter has them too. The latter story, about a Dutch nanny who is dismissed by her employer after the discovery of sexually explicit letters, contains a passage that expresses Salter’s unique blend: striking and beautiful description, the sorrow of things ending, and the great sensuality and cruelty of life:
The fall was coming. Everything seemed to deny it. The days were still warm, the great, terminal sun poured down. The leaves, more luxuriant than ever, covered the trees. Behind the hedges, lawn mowers made a final racket. On the warm slate of the terrace, left behind, a grasshopper, a veteran in dark green and yellow, limped along. The birds had torn off one of his legs.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Horacio Quiroga / Adrift

The man stepped on something faintly soft and white, and immediately he felt the bite on his foot. He jumped forward cursing and turned around to see the yaracacusú coiled around itself, ready for another attack.
The man cast a quick glance at his foot, where two droplets of blood were swelling arduously, and drew his machete from his belt. The viper saw the threat and hid his head in the middle of his coiled spiral but the machete fell with the dull spine of the blade, separating the snake’s vertebrae.
The man knelt down to examine the bite, rubbed off the drops of blood and thought for a moment. A dull pain spread from the two violet punctures and began to invade his whole foot. Hurriedly, he tied his bandana around his ankle and hobbled along the trail towards his ranch.
The pain in his foot spread with a sensation of flesh bulging out from his taunt skin, and suddenly—like thunder—pain irradiated out from the wound to the middle of his calf. He had difficulty moving his foot; a metallic dryness seized his throat, followed by a burning thirst, he let out another curse.
He finally arrived at his ranch and threw himself atop the wheel of his trepiche. The two violet dots now vanished in the monstrous swelling of his entire foot. His skin appeared to grow thin and tense to the point of bursting.  He wanted to call to his woman but his voice broke in a coarse cry and was pulled back into his dry throat. The thirst devoured his voice
“Dorotea!” He managed to throw out in a powerful cry. “Give me brandy!”
She ran over with a full glass that the man slurped up in three gulps. But he tasted nothing.
“I asked for brandy, not water.” He bellowed again.  “Give me brandy.”
“But that is brandy, Paulino.” She protested, frightened.
“No, you gave me water!  I want brandy!”
The woman ran back, returning with the demijohn bottle. The man drank glass after glass but felt nothing in his throat.
“Well, this is bad.” He murmured to himself looking at his foot, already bruised in a gangrenous luster. Over the bandana-knotted limb, flesh flowed like a monstrous blood sausage.
The blinding pain continued expanding in flashes of pain that reached his groin.  The atrocious thirst in his throat seemed to grow warm as he breathed.  When he attempted to sit up, he was seized by a fulminant urge to vomit; for half a minute he vomited with his head rested against the wooden wheel.
But the man did not want to die, and made his way down to the coast where he climbed into his canoe. He sat in the stern and began to paddle towards the center of the Paraná.  There, the current of the river, which runs six miles an hour in the vicinity of the Iguazu, would take him to Tacurú-Pucú in less than five hours.
The man, with somber energy, managed to arrive exactly in the middle of the river; but once there his sleeping hands dropped the paddle back into the canoe, and after vomiting again—with blood this time—he crooked his head to look at the sun that had already began to set behind the high hills.
His whole leg, until the middle of his thigh, had already become a deformed and hard block bursting the stitching of his pants. The man cut the bandage and opened his pants with his knife; the underside of his leg overflowed in large swollen lurid blotches that throbbed in pain. The man thought that he could no longer reach Tacurú-Pucú by himself, and decided to ask for help from his friend Alves, even though it had been a long while since they could be called friends.
The current of the river now rushed over to the Brazilian coast, and the man easily docked his canoe. He dragged himself up the trail that ran up the slope; but after twenty meters, exhausted, he stayed there flat on his stomach.
“Alves!”  He yelled with as much force as he could, and he listened in vain. “Compadre Alves!  Don’t deny me this favor.” He exclaimed again, lifting his head from the ground. In the silence of the jungle not even a whisper was heard. The man found the courage and strength to climb back into his canoe, and the current, scooping him up again, took him rapidly adrift.
The Paraná ran down into the depths of an immense canyon whose walls, more than a hundred meters high, mournfully boxed in the river. From the river banks, lined with black spires of basalt, rose the forest, black as well. In front of him, behind the banks of the river, the eternal melancholy wall of the forest went on forever; in those depths the swirling river rushed in violent, incessant waves of muddy water. The landscape is unforgiving, yet in him reigned the silence of death.  As dusk approached, without fail, the calm and somber beauty of the forest formed a unique majesty.
The sun had already gone down when the man, laying half conscious in the back of his canoe, came down with a violent chill. Suddenly, and with astonishment, he slowly raised his heavy head—he felt better. His leg barely hurt, his thirst diminished, and his chest, feeling freed, opened in a slow breath.
The venom began to leave him; he had no doubt. He felt fairly well and even though he did not have the energy to move his hand, he counted on the dewfall to recuperate him completely. He calculated that in less than three hours he would be in Tacurú-Pucú.
His condition improved, and with it came a somnolence full of memories. He felt nothing in his thigh nor in his belly. Does his compadre Goana still live in Tacurú-Pucú? Perhaps he might also see his ex-employer, and the buyer of all the men’s production, Mr. Dougald.
Would he arrive soon? The western sky opened into a golden screen, and the river took on the same color. Onto the darkened Paraguayan coast, the mountain dropped over the river a faint freshness in penetrating aura of orange blossoms and wild honey. A pair of guacamayos flew high over head, gliding silently towards Paraguay.
Down there, on the golden river, the canoe drifted rapidly, twisting itself around at times caught in the bubbling swirling water. The man that went with the river felt better with each passing moment and thought in the meanwhile about how long it had been since he last saw his old partner Dougald. Three years? No, not that long. Two years and nine months? Close. Eight and a half months? That was it, surely.
Suddenly the man felt frozen up to his chest. What could it be?
And his breathing as well…
He had met the man who bought Dougald’s lumber, Lorenzo Cubilla, on a holy Friday. Was it a Friday? Yes. Or maybe a Thursday.
The man slowly stretched his fingers.
“A Thursday…”
And he stopped breathing.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jane Eyre by Mick Jackson

On the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth

Jane Eyre

by Mick Jackson

Mick Jackson

Mick Jackson
Saturday 16 April 2016 08.00 BST

I grew up not far from Haworth so we would spend the occasional day over there, trooping up and down the high street and creeping round the parsonage. When I was about 10 my parents took me to see an adaptation of Jane Eyre at the local cinema. I remember watching Jane breaking the ice on the water to wash in the morning and being made to stand on a stool with a sign around her neck, thinking, “What on earth are we doing watching this poor girl suffer? There’s a Bond movie on next door.” We had a Penguin edition of Jane Eyre around the house and by the time I finally picked it up, both the story and the author seemed quite familiar – along with the landscape, which was pretty much the one I saw when I stepped out of my front door.
It must have planted a seed of some sort. About 15 years ago I read an article about Haworth being such a popular destination for Japanese tourists that the signposts around the moors are in English and Japanese. On talking to some Japanese visitors I found out that Jane Eyre had been a set text at school and that the Joan Fontaine/Orson Welles adaptation had been on TV when they were growing up. Something about the gothic, romantic elements of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights seemed to appeal to them and had come to represent a certain idea of England/Englishness.

My novel, Yuki Chan in Brontë Country, grew out of those initial conversations: the idea of Haworth as a shrine town; of Charlotte’s shoes and locks of hair as sacred relics; and how the Brontës themselves have become characters in a mythology that is quite beyond their realm.

Jane Eyre by Samantha Ellis

On the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth

Jane Eyre

by Samantha Ellis

Samantha Ellis

Samantha Ellis

Saturday 16 April 2016 08.00 BST

The trouble is that I read Wuthering Heights first. I lost my heart to Cathy Earnshaw (and, to be truthful, to Heathcliff), and next to her passion, her wildness, her rage, Jane seemed dull. Why would I read about her stoically suffering at school, plodding through her teaching jobs and marrying her boss when I could rock out with my hairbrush microphone, pretending I was Kate Bush? I was banging on about this when we made the pilgrimage to the moors for my book How to Be a Heroine, and my best friend Emma made me reconsider. She argued that Jane was independent and principled, a woman who stayed true to herself, didn’t suffer fools and fought her way to a hard-won happy ending.
Reading Jane Eyre again as an adult was a revelation. I loved how Jane addressed me boldly from the first page, how she challenged the injustices of her aunt’s household (a place where books were used as weapons), how she raged at Rochester that “women feel just as men feel” and how she rejected her cousin’s passionless proposal, because she wanted love and she didn’t see why she shouldn’t get it. Plus, with Jane Eyre, you get two heroines in one: angry, misunderstood Bertha is much, much more than just a madwoman in the attic, and nothing in the novel is as powerful as her final moment, standing on the battlements of the house she has set fire to, “black hair … streaming against the flames”.

I am still grateful to Wuthering Heights for encouraging a shy and awkward teenager to be a little wild. I still find Rochester bullying and creepy. And I have started to see how much Charlotte owes to her little sister Anne, who got there first with her portrayal of a plain, poor governess, in Agnes Grey. I think I’ll be reading (and arguing about) Jane Eyre for the rest of my life.

Jane Eyre by Polly Teale

On the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth

Jane Eyre

by Polly Teale

Polly Teale

Polly Teale

Saturday 16 April 2016 08.00 BST

When I reread Jane Eyre as an adult it was not the horror story I remembered, but a psychological drama of the most potent kind. Everyone and everything seemed larger than life, as if seen through the magnifying glass of Jane’s psyche, a reflection of her inner world. Like many others I was curious as to why Brontë had invented a madwoman locked in an attic to torment her heroine? I was intrigued by the mythic power of Bertha Mason, by Brontë’s repulsion and attraction to her own creation. Her danger and eroticism. Her terrifying rage. Why was Jane, a seemingly rational young woman, haunted by a vengeful she devil? (I was inspired to write my play After Mrs Rochester, about Jean Rhys, while adapting Jane Eyre for the theatre.)
Of course, the novel begins with another image of incarceration: another female locked up for breaking the rules. Jane Eyre is shut in the red room when, for the first time in her life, she allows her temper to erupt. Jane is told “God will strike you dead in the midst of one of your tantrums”. She is so terrified she loses consciousness. The message is clear: for a girl to express her passionate nature is to invite the severest of punishments. Jane must keep her fiery spirit locked away if she is to survive. Like Jane (and Brontë herself), I understood this fear of one’s own nature. A large part of the novel’s power lies in our knowledge of the passionate forbidden self that lurks beneath the controlled exterior of our heroine.
Although Brontë spent most of her life in a remote Yorkshire village, she longed to travel beyond the horizon of her restricted existence. She and her siblings read the travelogues at the back of their father’s newspaper, recycling them into fantastical stories. It is significant that Bertha is a foreigner. She comes from the world of Brontë’s imagination, from a land of tropical storms and hurricanes. She is both dangerous and exciting. She is passionate and sexual. She is angry and violent. The embodiment of everything that Jane, a Victorian woman, could never be. Is she, I wonder, everything that Brontë feared in herself and longed to express?