I'm three-fourths of the way through I Capture the Castle. It really isn't that much like Cold Comfort Farm, in my view, except for the charm of the narrative voice; it's not at all a farce, mainly. It's a romance, a good one, and right now it's awfully sad, though I trust it doesn't remain so.
(. . .)
Just finished I Capture the Castle. It's heartbreaking. I didn't expect that. It's a marvelous book, but I'm not sure I'm ever going to want to reread it.
(Note: It's eleven years. I remember it as a marvelous book, but indeed I haven't reread it. Maybe I will; I'm very forgetful now.)
A Wrinkle in Time is explicitly religious all over the place, but it doesn't have the veneer of priggishness and cold self-righteousness that ruins parts of the Narnia books. L'Engle's mood is more pitying than judgmental. On the other hand, she treats evil as a force more than a choice, and while Lewis's opposite treatment is more judgmental, it also has more to do with the way evil actually works, in my opinion. I'd rather re-read L'Engle's books, but a lot of the reason the religious message slides right by, in my opinion, is that it's not grounded in the actions of the characters. In the Narnia books, Edmund falls into evil by choice, and is redeemed by choice (as is Eustace, while Susan is cold-heartedly damned). In A Wrinkle in Time, Charles falls into evil because he is possessed by the evil force while trying to save his father. That's scary, but it's also unreal in a way that Edmund's choices are not.
The Genocides is an underrated book. It was a paperback original, his first novel before he had acquired much reputation (it was published in 1965), and his next two novels were undistinguished (I think Camp Concentration is the fourth, not counting work-for-hire stuff). The Genocides was also vilified by a couple of reviewers, including Algis Budrys, who dismissed it as a J.G. Ballard imitation (and we were all supposed to know how we felt about that back then; the war between the traditionalists and the radicals was already beginning to heat up). But it's a compact and neat story of collapse, and the character delineation is superb. Disch has said that to his mind, the appeal of the disaster novel was the implacability, and his disaster wasn't going to be diluted by any kind of rescue or redemption. Even so, it isn't bleak, exactly; the narrative follows the characters and their emotions and tribulations like a camera, but there is something about it that feels disengaged, so the story isn't sad or tragic or even bracing; it's just there. In that sense it is like Ballard, except Ballard's disaster novels tended to suck all human emotion out of everything except one character's interaction with his disaster.
I realized yesterday that my damaged reading strengths now are right down Samuel Beckett's path. I tested it with some Beckett at home, and I was right. He tends to be short, and mordantly funny, and his voice -- especially -- is vivid, like a voice speaking to me, and -- especially especially -- his voice frequently falls into the incantatory. My damaged language reading falls naturally into the incantatory, only most of the time the material is not: a false incantation, and I have to start (the sentence, the paragraph, the section) over. Beckett's writing is a true incantation; he's therefore easy (relatively) to read now.
I'll always wanted to embark on a Beckett bender. I think it's time. I'm excited. Really!
I picked up Generation of Vipers by Philip Wylie yesterday at a flea market. It was published in 1942, and it is bracing. It starts, "It is time for man to make a new appraisal of himself. His failure is abject. His plans for the future are infantile." Etc. It also presents an attack on destructive mothers -- "momism" -- which gained the most attention at the time; a glance at the relevant chapter is deeply sexist. But the book is an attack on nearly everything. I think I'm going to enjoy this.
"Virgin Violeta" by Katherine Anne Porter.
Violeta is fifteen, infatuated with cousin Carlos who writes poetry. But Carlos is taken by Blanca, Violeta's older sister. Carlos is casual with Violeta. But when the two of them are alone, Carlos holds her arm kisses her: "Violeta opened her eyes wide also and peered up at him. She expected to sink into a look warm and gentle, like the touch of his palm. Instead, she felt suddenly, sharply hurt, as if she had collided with a chair in the dark. His eyes bright and shallow, almost like the eyes of Pepe, the macaw. His pale, fluffy eyebrows were arched; his mouth smiled tightly."
Violeta is terrified; Carlos then does denial: He kissed her like a cousin. "'Ah, you're so young, like a little newborn calf," said Carlos. His voice trembled in a strange way. 'You smell like a nice baby, freshly washed with white soap! Imagine such a baby being angry at a kiss from her cousin! Shame on you, Violeta!'"
The story is a violation, and Violeta, while clear that something is wrong, doesn't know what it is. And she keeps it inside. But her infatuation with Carlos, and his poetry, has turned bitter.
[Katherine Anne Porter, "Pale Horse, Pale Rider"]
Oblivion, thought Miranda, her mind feeling among her memories of words she had been taught to describe the unseen, the unknowable, is a whirlpool of gray water turning upon itself for all eternity . . . eternity is perhaps more than the distance to the farthest star. She lay on a narrow ledge over a pit that she knew to be bottomless, though she could not comprehend it; the ledge was her childhood dream of danger, and she strained back against a reassuring wall of granite at her shoulders, staring into a pit, thinking, There it is, there it is at last, it is very simple; and soft carefully shaped words like oblivion and eternity are curtains hung before nothing at all. I shall not know when it happens, I shall not feel or remember, why can't I consent now, I am lost, there is no hope for me. Look, she told herself, there it is, that is death and there is nothing to fear. But she could not consent, still shrinking stiffly against the granite wall that was her childhood dream of safety, breathing slowly for fear of squandering breath, saying desperately, Look, don't be afraid, it is nothing, it is only eternity.
Granite walls, whirlpools, star are things. None of them is death, nor the image of it. Death is death, said Miranda, and for the dead it has no attributes. Silenced she sank easily through deeps under deeps of darkness until she lay like a stone at the farthest bottom of life, knowing herself to be blind, deaf, speechless, no longer aware of the members of her own body, entirely withdrawn from all human concerns, yet alive with a peculiar lucidity and coherence; all notions of the mind, the reasonable inquiries of doubt, all ties of blood and the desires of the heart, dissolved and fell away from her, and there remained of her only a minute fiercely burning particle of being that knew itself alone, that relied upon nothing beyond itself for its strength; not susceptible to any appeal or inducement, being itself composed entirely of one single motive, the stubborn will to live. This fiery motionless particle set itself unaided to resist destruction, to survive and to be in its own madness of being, motiveless and planless beyond that one essential end. Trust me, the hard unwinking angry point of light said, Trust me. I stay.
"Hello," said Dr. Hildesheim, "at least you take it out in shouting. You don't try to get out of bed and go running around." Miranda held her eyes open with a terrible effort, saw his rather heavy, patient face clearly even as her mind tottered and slithered again, broke from its foundation and spun like a cast wheel in a ditch. "I didn't mean it, I never believed it, Dr. Hildesheim, you mustn't remember it--" and was gone again, not being able to wait for an answer.
The wrong she had done followed her and haunted her dream: this wrong took vague shapes of horror she could not recognize or name, though her heart cringed at sight of them. Her mind, split in two, acknowledged and denied what she saw in the one instant, for across an abyss of complaining darkness her reasoning coherent self watched the strange frenzy of the other coldly, reluctant to admit the truth of its visions, its tenacious remorses and despairs.
"I know those are your hands," she told Miss Tanner, "I know it, but to me they are white tarantulas, don't touch me."
"Shut your eyes," said Miss Tanner.
"Oh, no," said Miranda, "for then I see worse things," but her eyes closed in spite of her will, and the midnight of her internal torment closed about her.
[Katherine Anne Porter, "Pale Horse, Pale Rider"]
Friday I finished Porter's "María Concepción", the first story in Porter's oeuvre, and my first story since my stroke.
"María Concepción" is the story of a young murderess in Mexico. She was left by her husband and his lover, fifteen-year-old María Rosa, to go to war. The two come back as deserters; Concepción kills Rosa. The town bands together behind Concepción; she was liked, and Rosa was not.
María Concepción is impressively numb. At the end, she is happy, but her husband is now numb.
Today we began with pain. My physical therapist was switched; Douglas was now my PT. And boy, he caused hurt for a half an hour. And I mean, I wept. My arm was bad -- the tone was steadily worsening, and finally it was time to do something about it. It will be bad every day for at least a while. But what can I say? This is the road to being better. I hope.
So I rewarded myself. I sat down, coffee in hand, and I read a story from The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter. This was my first story, for pleasure, since my stroke. It's ten times harder than before. But I can do it. I chose Porter because, A) she's adult; B) she's awesome; and C) she's pellucid; she's not difficult, but she's very very good.
Now it's been half an hour writing this post. It's tiring. But still: I am improving, every day. And now I can read fiction. It's good. It's funny; for the past ten years, my fiction reading dropped to nearly nothing (except for pay). But now, post-stroke, I'm itching for fiction. And now, I can. Slowly; but I can.