Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Little More on the George Saunders Front

Last week I wrote of my visit to a George Saunders' reading at Northwestern University, during which he related some of his thoughts apropos of the writer's craft. I, in turn, attempted to relate those thoughts here more or less from memory, and it's possible that something was lost in translation. But the good news is we no longer need leave it to chance that I represented his thoughts accurately, because as guest editor to the writings of Adam Levin and two other young authors in an October 2006 edition of Guernica fiction (viewable in its entirety here) he clearly and explicitly states what he basically said during the NU reading.

The essence of which is as follows, to wit:

The young writer is called upon, in other words, through work and craft and persistence, to take the raw talent he or she has, and force it into some deep, dark corners. . . to try to wrest from "mere" talent a kind of iconic confront the parts of himself or herself that, in the early days of a career, one thinks can be ignored, or overcome, or hidden under a mattress somewhere. [emphasis mine]
This is, to me, especially with respect to the latter portion I italicized, what the task of the writer is. Whereas Nietzsche once wrote, "Poets are shameless with their experiences: they exploit them," I think Saunders' analysis is much more on the mark, perhaps in part because it is less cynical, certainly, but I think it needs to be said there is a reconciliation the writer faces, which requires that he or she be willing to put him or herself on display, at least in a certain sense. It is not as simple as mining one's experiences for the gems, in other words. It is not a process of picking and choosing what to exploit by its designated value; you need the sum total. The grit between the gems is vitally important, too, if not more so. Because who wants to admit to all the crap that's gone wrong? The failures fill the voids, though; the hardships teach us more about living than happiness ever could. Schopenhauer 101. There is in effect a price to be paid by all of us, the writer just uses the grit under the mattress, exposes what's under the rug, too. The writer is in the "open wounds" business, which takes its toll.

These things about oneself that Saunders refers to are not a priori true necessarily, then. I think that ought to be made clear. Certainly I'd say I fall into the camp of people who believe in both nature and nurture, that the two terms are most definitely not mutually exclusive. So while experience might not determine every consideration relevant to what Saunders describes, e.g. you may have deeply felt insecurities borne of the humors apportioned unequally at birth and with which you need to come to terms, experience more often than not dictates one's emotional maturity, and the deeper impression those experiences added up have left, which examples include an abusive home life in youth, a profoundly felt death, or severe illness of one form or another, sometimes a little of both, and much more, too, because the gamut extends quite far.

It's these aspects of our character that we, if we are to be writers, must reconcile and present to the world, for rejection or acceptance, which is another of the challenges posed by not holding anything back, as it raises the stakes, stakes whose outcome is never entirely determinable by our own actions. Offering up your work to others and their judgment is a risky proposition, for as Nietzsche also says (in one of my favorite of his aphorisms), "Having a talent is not enough: we also need your permission to have it -- don't you think so? my good friends?" (Note: this is also a good example of the humor of Nietzsche, which he had a sense of, which is kind of surprising, although it's as dry and mordant as you might rightly expect.) All that we can control is as Saunders says, "The essential thing is having a talent for having talent." Waitaminute, that's pretty much beyond anyone's ability to manipulate through hard work or "control" too, "talent for having talent"? -- well, good luck.

Also, concerning what Saunders wrote in Guernica regarding the writer's craft, there is much more in the complete article than just what I quoted, and which I think is definitely worth your while, so please follow the link embedded above if you feel inclined.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Grey Area" Everywhere!

I've often thought to myself, quietly, "What would Chuck Palahniuk be like if Chuck Palahniuk were a lucid, interesting and capable writer?" The answer is, he would be Will Self. The collection "Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys" was the first of Self's works I've had the pleasure to read. Now most recently it was "Grey Area," which I might say overall I preferred to "Tough, Tough" -- no knock on the latter.

Will Self does not mess around. He's not a "gritty realist" or some such term. Self's conjured worlds are dour reminders -- not dystopic so much as blurring the line & reflective of now and whatever after. They are representative of that eerie and ominous penumbra providing shade to modern life. In their most plausible thematic settings his stories are often marked by the strange, sometimes tragically coincidental circumstances of the doomed protagonist(s) (this idea comes through especially in "Grey Area" with the short stories, "A Short History of the English Novel" and "The End of the Relationship").

He also, innately I would imagine, possesses that David Mitchell-ly contemporary Britishness in his writerly idiom, which is probably a weird thing to point to as bearing weight, but I do like it, nonetheless. Don't ask me to explain what that's all about, though; I can say only that I feel a strange fondness for British culture and nothing better encapsulates this fond feeling than the voice in novels of writers like Self and Mitchell. No, not even an episode of "Mr. Bean" comes close.

"InclusionTM" was probably my favorite of this collection. The story is told in second-person narration, describing "you" as the individual who has come into the possession of a folder filled with various memoranda and notebooks put out by Cryborg Pharmaceutical Industries and a couple notable individuals, all of which more or less details a shady experimental run of a strange new anti-depressant discovered by Cryborg via a presumably imaginary tribe of aborigines called the Maeterlincki, who reside in a rainforest of unspecified location. The drug is formed from the crushed bodies and sub-hives of a kind of bee mite, which causes its users to find psychotropic zeal for all aspects of life, whatever it be that grabs one's attention, even things one might usually consider totally mundane. The drug's tentative name is, as you might guess, "Inclusion."

I would say much of what's best about the story, what's most effective, comes with the passages written by the lead doctor in charge of the experiment, Dr. Zack Busner, and the artist-patient Simon Dykes, who unravels, ostensibly, Cryborg's whole effort with his decidedly unusual reaction to Inclusion. I could comment on this, probably should, but the journal entries of the two aforenamed do as I say provide much of the locus of the story, of what it all might be meant to mean, if you're asking me. So I'll omit their crucial episode, and encourage you read it for yourself. It's really quite good. I don't think you'll be disappointed, that is.

Smallish aside: A friend of mine recently commented on a notable trend in fiction, located not specifically in the United States but definitely entrenched here, which probably has its roots in the work of Donald Barthelme and after him, George Saunders / David Foster Wallace. I wonder what sort of mark Self has left on the imagination of various up-and-coming American authors like Christian TeBordo, mentioned in the preceding post, or Ben Loory (featured in The New Yorker April 12 ed.) and elsewhere, as with the Israeli surrealist Etgar Keret. Those of you with any familiarity on this subject, I encourage your thoughts.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Doings and Happenings Around Town: Book Release Parties Edition

So I had the fun and coincidental opportunity to go to a Book Release Party for an author I had only just heard of for the first time earlier that same day. That day was today, also, as fact would have it, and today is April 26, 2010. I know my dates, see? The author was Christian TeBordo, celebrating the release of his latest collection of short stories, "The Awful Possibilities."

I wish I could elaborate more, but the sickening truth is I was agonizingly unfamiliar with the work of the entire lineup, from TeBordo on down. Adam Levin caught my attention, though, in part because he's a Chicago-area writer who teaches in the MFA program at Columbia College. I think I enjoyed his reading best, too, even though I arrived late and halfway through his story, and felt like a jackass as I waded through the ample crowd already in attendance. It was hard to find information about Levin because every time I googled his name, even with the variance of "writer" attached, the result was a litany of stories about or related to Maroon-5 lead singer, Adam Levine, which is a different name, Google, and people who link to Adam Levine articles and so forth who don't seem to know his name has an "e" at the end; it's a different name! Call yourself fans? (UPDATE: I've happily unearthed the title of the story that Levin read, "Important Men," and what's more it's viewable in full here at Guernica. Yay, everybody! Yay, right?)

Jeff Parker and Lindsay Hunter (not the former Chicago Bull, unfortunately, nor is there any relation as far as I'm aware) were also in attendance. Jeff Parker is a apparently a fairly up-and-coming writer of note, so suggests his Wiki (which the other authors listed do not have, that I could find). Parker's story was very amusing, although I continue being unhelpful at providing titles to the works read this evening. TeBordo's was about, to quote whoever described it in publisher press release, "a teen in Brooklyn, Iowa, deals with the fallout of his brother's rise to hip hop fame." Still, I can't recall the title of that one, either. My head was securely lodged far up my ass, though, so maybe that had something to do with it, hmm?

My apologies to Lindsay Hunter, whose reading I missed completely and therefore obviously can't comment on, but I'm always interested in reading new writers, especially females (as if my previous post were not evidence enough of that). And if she's a local, then all the better!

That's all I've got for now, but more to come about this and that and so forth.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Meats of the Year

I want to read more female authors. I suggest you recommend to me some of your favorites. Here are ones I don't need recommended (because I've already read them / like them): Annie Proulx, Marilynne Robinson, Jane Smiley, Lorrie Moore and Shirley Jackson. I'm finally gonna read some Flannery O'Connor and Barbara Kingsolver. I remain a fan of Sarah Vowell. And as for female philosophers, I find Simone de Beauvoir stimulating and look forward to reading Hannah Arendt. I didn't love Carson McCullers so very much, as writers go. Oh, and has anyone heard about "The Irresistible Henry House" by Lisa Grunwald? It sounds like it has a very "The World According to Garp" quality, which I consider a good thing. Pat Barker's "Regeneration" (I haven't read the others in the series) was good historical fiction. The point is, I'm not a stranger to female authors, and of course I've more or less read the classics (Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf, Mary Shelley, Edna O'Brien, Jane Austen, Lorraine Hansberry, Harper Lee). But I need more ideas, because I'm greedy.

And to get to the main purpose of this post, finally, I read the novel "My Year of Meats" by Ruth L. Ozeki (See? She's a female author, so it ties to the preceding). Despite some flaws, it really succeeded at drawing me in, and the main character, Jane Takagi-Little, might as well actually exist she felt so real and true. So too did most of the remaining ensemble of characters: her camera crew; "John Wayno" or Joichi Ueno, the advertising rep; Sloan, Jane's love interest; Jane's Japanese mother; Akiko, Ueno's wife and in effect tormented slave; and the remaining individuals who are filmed for the Japanese "documentary" television series My American Wife!, which Jane eventually lands the job of directing.

My favorite parts of the novel are the ones that deal with Jane and her documentary subjects, and the interplay via memorandum with the production company and Joichi Ueno, who represents the concerns of the American meat conglomerate BEEF-EX, which is using the television series specifically as a conveyance to inspire Japanese housewives to serve more meat. The television documentary then is meant to display American values such as "wholesomeness" while simultaneously selling the idea of "Deliciousness of Meat." Ueno and BEEF-EX exhort Jane with the dictum, "Beef is Best," which concerns the meat they would most like to see prepared by the documentary subjects, who are thus filmed living their American lives and cooking "wholesome" meat-centered American meals.

All sorts of bad things obscure the focus of this seemingly innocuous idea of "wholesomeness," questions of what is "wholesome" and who best reflects that ideal are paramount and well-executed (if a little bit predictably hyper-pluralistic (not saying that's a bad thing!)). As I see it, where the story begins to lose its footing is when it begins to tilt to the preachy side of storytelling. For the most part Ozeki achieves this effect tastefully, but as the novel builds to its climax, involving the unscrupulous underbelly and practices of the American meat farming industry, one is sort of uneasily taken from the narrative, and the story rings a bit false, all of a sudden. I guess what I'm saying is I feel the issue could have been inserted into the narrative less bluntly, and therefore less awkwardly. The story becomes a heavy dose of, "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS / IS HAPPENING!" And while I understand and for the most part agree people need to be made aware of the issues at stake, it could have been more tactfully achieved, is all. That's what I'm saying. I mean no offense to Ozeki, who on the whole wrote a stellar novel.

"My Year of Meats" also does have a kind of deus ex machina finish, but I think one that is ultimately plausible. So I'll just shut up now.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Talking to George Saunders is Fun and Awesome

Probably my most ambitious objective with regard to this blog is: putting myself out there not just in blog format but in non-cyber-medium life as well -- away from the relative safety of a computer and said rumination. For example, George Saunders -- I believe I've mentioned my great fondness of his work before -- did a reading last week at Northwestern University. I giddily attended.

Saunders read one of his more recently published short stories, "Victory Lap." I remember it was difficult for me to follow the story's narrative at times when I first encountered it in The New Yorker last October. Happily, Saunders' animated and engaging reading cleared up any uncertainty I wrestled with, hitherto. So yes, in my view the story was vastly improved upon hearing it read aloud, which I gather public readings will have this effect (make written things better). I came away from the reading far more impressed by what Saunders was trying to do. I did come away thinking it might for that reason, then, work even better as a one-act play. In other words, it seems to work so much better as a piece acted out / performed. After seeing an adaptation of Saunders' story "Jon" at The Building Stage in Chicago, late 2008, I can avow that his work is far more adaptable than it might seem at first blush.

I also had a chance to talk to Saunders, beginning with a question I asked during Q&A. I've always been impressed with his quirky, idiomatic style that he pulls off with seeming ease (I intuit from my own experience that it might not be quite so easy as that, but nevertheless), so I wondered, especially after hearing his speaking the various voices he used, if he had an idea of how his characters should speak while he went through the process of writing them.

Kurt Vonnegut used to say he'd talk to himself on the beach, trying new lines out. Edward Albee, if I recall correctly, described in a New Yorker article once that he would formulate his characters' nuances well in advance of putting them on paper, going so far as to seat himself in various locales and imagining their interactions with the real-life people he watched, all ostensibly in an effort to make them more tactile and realized. Saunders, meanwhile, in his typically affable and modest way said that he does not practice his characters voices while he's writing them, which I found surprising because he reads them with such seamlessness. In any event, it was sort of a relief for me, because I've always been someone who writes at best with only the most rudimentary inner-monologue going. I'm usually worried my characters sound stupid, and often they do, but at least I know that it isn't necessarily because I don't practice what they say as I write them.

Anyway, I ended up purchasing a copy of "The Braindead Megaphone" and had Mr. Saunders sign it, and used that as a segue into chatting -- which is fairly surreal, let me tell you. And I mean it was surreal from the standpoint that: "OMG, this is a guy, ya know, that I've admired from afar for as long as reading has mattered to me and here he is, talking, like we humans do!" So that's how it was surreal, but in every other way it was just awesome. As I've said, Saunders is every bit as affable and modest and engaging as people give him credit.

He said some more interesting things, for instance he reiterated a point he made earlier during his introduction, which I thought was poignant and yet in a certain way epitomized his ethical purpose in writing. He said, to paraphrase him (and apologies if I don't get it quite right), that in the process of writing he discovered that he's had to admit to things he never really knew about himself, never really wanted to discover / admit to upon their unearthing. I think he supposed this is true of writing in general, of writers who try to write in general. If he did suppose that, then I can certainly say I agree wholeheartedly. It's a tough, good thing, and maybe that's why Vonnegut was such a miserable old cuss -- he realized from being a writer that he was one.

It was a great day!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nabokov's Beheading Invite; Kafka Guest of Honor

Cordially invited to witness something like a beheading. It's fair to say Vladimir Nabokov's "Invitation to a Beheading" is not your usual story involving the issuance of keenly violent corporal punishment. Nabokov wouldn't be Nabokov if he had a habit of doing that, or moreover suggested the possibility that his writing was derivative of whatever it is I'm describing.

Stylistic similarities are notable, though, and a name does come to mind: Kafka. This work is not lock, stock & barrel reminiscent but reminiscent nonetheless of everyone's favorite modernist, Franz Kafka. The (possibly kneejerk or wanton) comparisons I've heard were made are, for good or ill, both reasonable and apt. Actually, if I had any issue with the novel it was that I could not find a way to shed this obvious comparison from what is a typically enjoyable read by Nabokov.

I know those who are familiar are familiar with The Term, but I refuse to use it, REFUSE! Nevertheless, I can think of no more appropriate novel to apply it, The Term, than "Invitation to a Beheading." That now said, there are differences, distinct and notable differences, of course, concerning the styles of Kafka and Nabokov. (I also won't delve further into the fact that Nabokov claims not to have read anything by the famed Prague writer at the time of his penning "Invitation" -- which may certainly be true, but changes not a bit of its kindredness, in any case.)

The descriptions of sexuality, in euphemism and in more overt exhortation, is definitely apparent in "Beheading" where if extant in Kafka, it was far more on the latent (or cryptic) side of regard. Here for example is a reflection of the main character, Cinncinatus C., who is entreating in a letter his estranged wife, Marthe, to visit him anon, after their first visit together went poorly. He understands she has betrayed him; she has always been fairly cavalier about it. But he writes to her the following lurid if metaphorical description of his witnessed understanding:

Your and his kisses, which most resembled some sort of feeding, intent, untidy, and noisy. Or when you, with eyes closed tight, devoured a spurting peach and then, having finished but still swallowing, with your mouth still full, you cannibal, your glazed eyes wandered, your fingers were spread, your inflamed lips were all glossy, your chin trembled, all covered with drops of the cloudy juice, which trickled down onto your bared bosom, while the Priapus who had nourished you suddenly, with a convulsive oath, turned his bent back to me, who had entered the room at the wrong moment.
Huh? Well it was just a peach -- except that, wait a minute (NSFW) a peach kind of looks like the head of a penis, if you want to start invoking Fraudian theory and why I like peaches so much (which I'd prefer we cease with the digging into my own psyche and focus on Nabokov's really excellent and let's face it well known perversion). I don't think there's much reading between the lines here that's necessary -- Nabokov is describing in arguably the most eloquent terms I've heard it described the aftermath of a really effusive fellating. Lucky Priapus.

Can I speak to the ambiguity of each great writer for a moment? Yes? It's my blog? Oh, well right. Anyway, both Kafka (whom I plan to discuss in closer detail soon, having recently read and enjoyed his short story "The Village Schoolmaster") and Nabokov use the ambiguity of power, of its exercise, of the notion that there's a real lack of institutional oversight from an institution we might ought not to invest very much trust in, to express a kind of deficit in the variances of human relation, that there is a grievous lack of understanding and empathy threatening to widen an already-too-wide gap extant between us. Moreover, through humor (satirical elements but also plain old oddball irony) they illustrate the great lack of a brain, of a consciously evil presence that seeks to destroy the members of its society that are deemed anathematical. Instead, what you get is bureaucracy for bureaucracy's sake, and whatever some abstraction of tradition and its oft inexplicable purpose has set forth as The Way of conduct in any society that at its core seeks either to normalize or expel.

I won't presume to know what the thought process of these two famously great writers was in writing their stories, nor in specific "Invitation to a Beheading." What I will say is that while I see both share a brooding manner in their work (nonplussed but detachedly so, angry in a sense but with the futility of a wildlife documentarian allowing nature to take its course, and thus showcasing this course taken, doing so wryly, too, as if it were not a documentary with animal subjects all of a sudden but switched to a human subject), the difference to me is that where Kafka will explicate the subtleties of the human relational experience, the distrust to be found between compatriots who mince words and regard each other with skepticism of a contemptuous but unspoken degree, which is deflected nicely to the issues that exist beside the case and are used to ably justify the contempt and contention that is ultimately unrelated and unspoken, smoke and mirrors to unconsciously muddle relational progress. This is of course only one way to dissect relational patterns in Kafka, but I think it is one he showcased with frequency. Some of his short stories stand out in my mind as evidence of this narrative streak, "The Penal Colony," "The Village Schoolmaster," and "The Judgment."

Nabokov reflects a greater solipsism or emptiness of relational gratification. His character Cinncinatus C. is unable to ever express his point to anyone, and his life has been riddled with nothing but abject failure and betrayal at the moments he lets his guard down. Every person with whom he associates in "An Invitation to a Beheading" is quick to list his flaws and quick to prescribe solutions to them. One chapter that was especially good at demonstrating this nature of Cinncinatus' circumstances was chapter thirteen in which the above cited quote is to be found, and which concludes with a game of chess played between Cinncinatus and his fellow prisoner Pierre, whose motives are for much of the story ambiguous but always questionable. The game is narrated by Pierre who humorously and constantly amends his moves and questions the logic of Cinncinatus' -- whose moves are definitely effective and thus constantly necessitate Pierre's unfair move retractions and so forth. And while a humorous episode, it also describes a fundament, I think, of the novel's ethos, of whatever higher motivation there was to describing Cinncinatus' plight. The owner of all the moves, whoever he is, is not Cinncinatus, and he is not a benign and loving god, either.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Catching "Catch as Catch Can" Catchingly

Joseph Heller might over the long haul of time be remembered -- if he is indeed to be remembered at all by posterity, and I think he will -- as the man who coined the term "catch-22." A lot of people in our present know that he also wrote the novel begetting the term, the eponymous "Catch-22" -- which is to my mind one of America's best loved, best novels ever written. Although, as Heller was completely aware, paltry little circumstances had their role, too, and the novel's ultimate widespread notoriety benefited greatly from its well-timed release in the early '60s, just prior to the outbreak of full-blown quagmire in Vietnam.

Forgetting the fact that it was regrettably timely, it has nevertheless become representative of the new American propensity, on the side of the political left and middle in particular (I hesitate to give right-wingers the same credit, because so much of their consortium tends to follow the rigid, standard-bearing views of ideologues (leftist do too, but not with the same abandon and zest, as I see it)), to raise a skeptical eyebrow at the (not always good) history-changing decisions and decision-making in general of American (and global) administrations, institutions, and power structures of every weave.

(The '60s are remembered for this iconoclastic propensity very well, and as an aside, if you ever read William E. Connolly's stellar essay "American Fundamentalism" you'll get a nice picture of how exactly that period spurred the tangential effect of inspiring the patriarchal conservative's counter-movement, that has to this day played an important role in binding white males of all social classes together in the belief that progressivism (and all its constituent parts) is an affront to their manhood. I will digress no further.)

If "Naked Lunch" was the first in a new wave of postmodern fictional works and its pioneering author William S. Burroughs was subsequently put on trial for obscenity, "Catch-22" served nicely as follow up, questioning the very need of such a trial concerned with "obscenity," and pointedly displaying the farce of institutional censorship in all its ugly, illogical (if often humorous) forms. And the novel continues to make a strong case against the same sorts of unfounded authoritative exercises. An imagined Sarah Palin administration springs immediately to mind, divorced of intellectual curiosity and logic.

Heller never achieved anything so memorable or notable again as "Catch-22," which was his first novel ("Something Happened" is to me a great rival, but still only second). It must be said this is in part due to the fact that "Catch-22" would be difficult for anyone to top. It's always a challenge for me to name any novel as my "favorite" but when pressed "Catch-22" is almost always my default pick. It's just so entirely chock full of everything I want in a novel. Which is why finally getting around to reading Heller's posthumously assembled short story (and more) collection "Catch as Catch Can" was a real treat. It's filled with his early short stories, many of which were not published hitherto "Catch Can"'s release. They describe a young Heller as writer, who himself admitted his tendency to ape the narratives of popular writers of the '30s - '40s era (Hemingway and s'orth), which the narrative certainly conveys a sense of. Still, there is something uniquely Hellerian there, and his idiosyncratic sense of humor that coined a term still finds daylight -- in an unvarnished, nascent way, of course.

Better still are his excerpts from both "Closing Time" (the not-quite-well-received sequel to "Catch-22") and a deleted section from "Catch-22" itself, dealing with a hapless calisthenics instructor and his army training regimen, in the familiarly riotous "Catch-22" way. "Closing Time," meanwhile (which I admit I have not read), must have its moments, because the excerpts, at least in vignette form, retain much of the spirit of the original. The characters seem plausibly to be the aged vestiges of their wartime selves, especially Yossarian. There's a one-act play included as well; it deals with Nately's trial. The essays of Heller nearing the conclusion are also worth your time. All in all, the collection is a good way for anyone familiar with "Catch-22" to further acquaint themselves with the man behind the fiction. I am so happy when books do that!

Monday, April 5, 2010

And My New Favorite Female Author is: Lorrie Moore

Is it sexist to say that I never thought I'd read a female author who resonated with me, or certainly not to the extent male authors have? Yes? It is? (very limp dick, vaginal sexism, but still) Well, I'm glad to say that this sexist opinion has also proved to be a false opinion after reading the short stories of Lorrie Moore, who is funny as hell and whom I highly recommend to you who read, whether you're like me (i.e. a manly man of men) or not (girly, foppish, wimpy, et al).

In seriousness though Lorrie Moore might be one of the best short story writers at work today. I read "Birds of America" and was sucked right in, like instead of it being a book with words presented in some logical picture of storytelling she had a mechanism that compelled you to stare at pages in a paged and rectangular object, a mixture of incomprehensible words the only thing filling pages. But this (the reading experience as engendered by Moore) was so much better than that!

One smallish aspect of her writing that I especially enjoyed is her way of introducing humorous turns of phrase and bringing them back into the text at a later point for both dramatic effect and usually heightened comedic effect, a great emotional paradox is the outgrowth of this and, even though it seems a staple of her fiction, it never really gives way to feeling like a gimmick. It's usually done in a manner that's tasteful and fitting, or "natural" might be the term. In that regard, I can best liken it to my attitude about George Saunders' often idiomatic narrative voice.

An example of what I'm describing is put together very nicely in "Beautiful Grade" in which the main character, a college professor, has brought with him his much younger ex-student-cum-lover named Debbie to a party with friends, intellectual friends, and the story proceeds to unveil the dynamics of a meal with said prescribed assemblage of intellectuals. One of whom is a Serb named Lina, teaching Slavic studies, and who has befriended the main character, Bill, the college professor. At one point Lina remarks to Bill, after a heated discussion of WWII turns to a heated discussion of the Bosnian War:

"I was the one standing there with the crowd, clapping and chanting beneath Milosevic's window: 'Don't count on us.'" Here Lina's voice fell into a deep Slavic singsong. "Don't count on us. Don't count on us." She paused dramatically. "We had T-shirts and posters. That was no small thing."

"'Don't count on us?'" said Bill. "I don't mean to sound skeptical, but as a political slogan, it seems, I know know, a little . . ." Lame. It lacked even the pouty energy and determination of "Hell no, we won't go." Perhaps some obscenity would have helped. "Don't fucking count on us, motherfucker." That would have been better. Certainly a better T-shirt.

The story moves forward, obviously, but Moore doesn't abandon the "Don't fucking count on us, motherfucker" sentiment. It makes its triumphant return nicely, subtly (as subtly as a sentence including a word like "motherfucker" can). Debbie has noticed things about Bill, things whose revelation he may have been trying to slow and stymie because of the power they possess to expose and embarrass him. He is exposed, though, Debbie exposes him in her hurt for the fact that he has remained detached, more interested in the idea of having an affair with Lina (which he has not in reality managed to have), [SPOILER (of sorts)] who it also is revealed is having an affair with his friend Albert. He knew this in some sense already, but there is a sluice gate's opening of reality to their affair when Debbie bluntly states it as fact. Still, he feels like it's too "hamhanded" and "literal" to be true, but then through the narrator it's said, "And yet wasn't reality always cheesy and unreliable just like that; wasn't fate literal in exactly that way?"

Their argument reaches what I consider it's shrillest pitch when finally Debbie says, "You're just not happy with your life." To which Bill responds, "I suppose I'm not." And with implied attribution to Bill the italicized words, Don't count on us. Don't count on us, motherfucker, tag after his confession, reintroducing the phrase with much potential meaning and a wholly new context. I liked that. I liked it a lot.

So read Lorrie Moore or be a sexist, is what I say.