Friday, September 19, 2008

Two Short Novels

by sarah marine

I've revisited some of my older posts today and was taken aback by serious grammatical and typing errors. I just get so excited and ahead of myself and "publish post" just looks so nice, and many of you know how well I deal with what one would refer to as "red buttons".

Anyhow, I read a book yesterday. It was a great book. I've been waiting for it to come in and finally, well, it did. Before getting to the meat of this 106-page monster, let me preface by attributing my 2008 obsession with very short novels to a subconscious longing to temper Godsave's own attraction to things like Omega Minor and 2666 and Celestial Harmonies and currently, The Recognitions. We need a balanced library, a harmonious middling of texts. So, there. I will now talk to you about two of the best short novels from my 2008 file.

Forrest Gander's 'As a Friend' begins with a birth. It's no brief foray and does not spare the reader much for details.
The daughter pushes, exhausted, her body like an animal on top of her, devouring her. Not coming, she begs. Not coming out! Can't breathe!
The mother in this scene, stands at the door, witnessing her obstinate teenage daughter ignoring the pleas of the midwife to breathe. The resentment here is of great scale and Gander communicates this and the eventual win of maternal instinct, through superbly succinct and effective storytelling. The second act of this novella tells of this child born, Les, in adulthood. The man is magnetic, an actor everyday, plucking at the obsessive, envious parts of people.
There is drama here, but the setting, the rural south is the dynamic cradle holding these relationships, dizzying things further. The surveyors, in the bush, the heat, the gnats- and Clay driven quietly to mimic, become Les. The third act chronicles Sarah, Les's mistress in the aftermath of tragedy. Gander, a poet first, finely channels the craft in this part.


As a day student at a boarding school, I had opportunity to exist in this unusual educational environment. It was quite peculiar, children being on their own, teachers burdened with the responsibility of parenting unruly teenagers, most of them brilliant but also homesick and proud. Now, I rarely pass up any fiction chronicling experiences at these types of institutions. Discovering Fleur Jaeggy this year has been a highlight of my literary wanderings.
At fourteen I was a boarder in a school in the Apenzell. This was the area where Robert Walser used to take his many walks when he was in the mental hospital in Herisau, not far from our college. He died in the snow. , begins the novel.
'Sweet Days of Discipline', mirrors 'As a Friend' in story, mostly for its satellite tellings of intense friendship and the insight into the obsessive, almost erotic feelings of one character toward the other. Eve, in this instance, possesses a natural independence. However, her interest in and attraction to the new girl, Frederique begins to rule her. At the greatest height of her anxiety over remaining in Frederique's sphere, she wonders what she might not obsess over. Jaeggy's prose is highly concentrated. There is nothing floral about it. The reader can feel the control of language and very deliberate construction of character.

Also remarkable is Jenny Erpenbeck's 'The Book of Words' which is written from the perspective of a young girl during an unnamed war in an unnamed Latin American country. It is outstanding...and also really difficult to handsell. Also very difficult to handsell- 'Inglorious'. My god, if I could just convince one person to read that book. Jeez.

2 comments:

jordan said...

i too have been drawn to short novels and stories this year. perhaps it is something in the air.

sarah marine said...

we all know its because youre lazy jordan. sooooo lazy.

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