THAT GLIMPSE OF TRUTH Part 5
PART FIVE, as continued from here: https://nemonymousnight.wordpress.com/986-2/
100 OF THE FINEST SHORT STORIES EVER WRITTEN chosen by David Miller
My previous reviews of older or classic fictions: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/
When I review this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
19 responses to “*”
THE EXECUTOR: Muriel Spark
A story about a famous writer of wild fiction in wild Scotland, as narrated by his forty something niece, who replaces his ‘common law wife’ to look after him and be his literary executor, and he eventually dies ‘mildly’ of a so-called mild heart attack while fishing. Brueghel’s Icarus sort of went fishing, I guess, with his whole body, a speck in the distance while the rest of the strong (ironically unmild) fiction went on around such a speck. Meanwhile, she keeps back for herself an unfinished novel manuscript (about a Scottish witch) from the archive that paid good money for the whole of his work, a Biblical reference to which deviousness on her part being later given to her by the ghost of her uncle’s continued writing in the blank pages at the back of the manuscript! She herself is obviously a great writer, having written this story! — and I suspect this wonderful ghost story was written by her imagination as part of her half-veiled sexual affair with a young man who worked on the estate. I saw that glimpsed speck or spark (!) of truth for what it was! A wild half-veiled insanity she inherited from her mild uncle.
My previous review of Muriel Spark: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/1207-2/
I reviewed, as below, the next story in 2015 as part of a review of all Clarice Lispector stories, here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/clarice-lispector-complete-stories/
THE SMALLEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD by Clarice Lispector
“‘Mama, look at her little picture, poor little thing! just look how sad she is!’
‘But,’ said the mother, firm and defeated and proud, ‘but it’s the sadness of an animal, not human sadness..’”
A gender- and size-inverted King Kong discovered by an explorer in the depths of Africa, setting off all manner of intangibly deadpan emotions that only this writer, I guess, can summon through a sort of unique writerly otherness that I sense is underlying the texts so far in this book. Under-lying as a form of exaggeration that tries to make you believe that what was caught was tinier and less human than it actually was, while, in fact, by suspecting a double bluff in a sort of fisherman’s mime, you believe that it was bigger and more human than it actually was.
THE WEDDING RING: Mavis Gallant
“The earth soaks up the sun. Or, the sky is higher than it ever will seem again, and the sun far away and small.”
An open-ended tranche of time with ‘seedpods’ as seen through s daughter’s eyes, visited by a boy cousin, and there is her mother who perhaps once had disowned one of her own parents (“I was divorced from the landscape, as they were from each other.“) and who is with a male “guest” and later throwing her indelible wedding ring away when the father returns. Natural love and youthful impulses and a withdrawn sun upon open plains.
“‘Never look straight at the sun’ […] Through eyelashes I peep at the milky-blue sky.”
I reviewed, as below, the next story in 2016 as part of a review of all Flannery O’Connor stories, here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/flannery-oconnor-complete-stories/
A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND by Flannery O’Connor
“In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.”
The nameless grandmother of this family, made up of Bailey her son, his nameless wife, their two children John Wesley and June Star, is the jinx that tries to prevent the jinx by bringing them closer to the jinx. A fated car journey weekend break, if such a thing as a break existed in those far-off United Sates days where one could say, as she did: “Little niggers in the country don’t have things like we do. If I could paint, I’d paint that picture,” she said, Flannery said, a United States where one could write for different reasons: “…Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now.” Where one could play pareidolia with clouds to while away a car journey. Where this story’s Misfit has the access to guns to do what other misfits in the United States do today. A sharply characterful journey through those States as long as you keep clear which state is which! A journey to a clearing out of souls that accidents can’t do. Including that grandmother left like a lady who had once been courted by Mr. Edgar Atkins Teagarden, with the initials EAT. Just turn off onto a dirt road, doesn’t matter which one, the result would have been the same. “The Misfit pointed the toe of his shoe into the ground and made a little hole and then covered it up again.” Just what these stories manage to do, but you know where to find those holes again, or think you do before you forget they even existed. Each review of mine a misfit for the foot it shods. You just need reminding every day, shot through with memory of what you’ve done, good or bad. A story that made me think. Entertaining, page-turning, too.
“‘I call myself The Misfit,’ he said, ‘because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.”
Cross-referenced the whole THAT GLIMPSE OF TRUTH book in my review here:
THE BRIDE COMES TO YELLOW SKY: Stephen Crane
“He was like a creature allowed a glimpse of another world.”
Or a simple glimpse of a simple truth. A scratchy truth, too. Truth is never that simple. Glimpsed by a man’s man with a man’s gun. A gunfighter called Scratchy who scares the town. Meanwhile, Jack Potter, with brick-red hands, town marshal of Yellow Sky, along the 4-stop 1000 mile line across Texas, returns unannounced with his simple bride, under the condescending glances of ‘negro’ waiters on the train as he affords a wedding dinner in the dining car for his bride. He should’ve told the town what he’d been about, as they would have had a welcoming party at the station for the simple, simple-minded stranger who’d become Jack’s new bride…
Meanwhile, the town is under the tension a new high noon, its recurrent scratchy, scary gunfight instigated by the scratchy man, who normally faces out or is faced out by Jack Potter, but when the latter arrives ‘married’, this gunless, guileless fact takes the Yellow Sky’s wind out of Scratchy’s certain sails. The foreign state of being married is one that fazes even a lethal gunfighter. Fazes the bride, too. Another simple glimpse of a scratchy, uncertain truth.
“…her face had gone as yellow as old cloth.”
LIVE BAIT: Frank Tuohy
“BOVRIL – PREVENTS THAT SINKING FEELING.”
A major memorable story, a traditional story’s story of Andrew, a boy at twelve and three-quarters, on the shaveable brink of puberty, taking place when Bovril adverts like that appeared in the streets of my class-ridden country of yore. Full of seeping or battling tactile fishing in a lake eventually with a live bait that makes a pig-tailed posh girl call him sadist. He is ‘brat’ according to her uncle, a lake where the large house with stuffed seabirds is. Andrew is on ‘special terms’ at private school, and his mother has a strange man friend hanging about with a dottle in his pipe to ‘hook out’, while his Dad is abroad in Egypt, with her having to make ends meet by giving piano lessons, and there is much about Andrew and his gutting of fish, his friendship with posher Jeremy allowing him to fish on the posh lake for the giant pike of this story, this pike an objective correlative we all struggle with in different ways as a boy in those days. And the feelings of Andrew are with his own perceived ‘ugliness’, a perception encouraged by his own mother, but with his inner wisdom about what he is going through in reality and in his pervading dream life. Till we reach the ‘elbow’ moment, before his final facing of the pike and the repercussions from the posh family and the girl and her Uncle out to punish him for his upstartness. I want to ensure this story is as memorable as I assume it to be, by appending below aide-memoires as quotes from it below till the final elbow… not forgetting the green bloom of mould on the chocolate he was given by the uncle who was a pederast and said to be ‘bats’ (“Now, too, he [Andrew] noticed a droop of sadness and frustration about the old man which made him obscurely sorry.”)
“Viewed from the side, the old man’s head was like a bird’s: an ostrich, an emu, or a cassowary. In a magazine his mother took, Andrew had seen an advertisement with a sketch of a bird’s grinning head, which asked ‘Can you change my expression?’ If you could, using the smallest number of lines, you were offered free tuition by world-famous, but unnamed, artists.”
“He put his hand on the reel and it was like having the whole lake moving.”
“…he knew he was frightened of her and that he enjoyed his fear. But now she was a captive, guarded by the nurse, the peculiar uncle, and the hard old lady. Who was the man at nightfall at the edge of the lake? […] Everything about her, even the ugly plaits and the fawn stockings which wrinkled over her round knees, struck him with a guilty and pleasurable melancholy,…”
“You haven’t got any friends because you are an oik. You live in a house in a row.”
“His two floats lay far out on the pale water, the smaller one motionless, the larger one trembling, agitated by the desperately swimming frog.”
“…still thinking about her last statement and not looking where he went, he tripped headlong over an elbow of tree-root sticking out of the path.”
THE PAGAN RABBI: Cynthia Ozick
“Scripture does not forbid sodomy with the plants,…”
This is one whole astounding work that is nothing you could possibly expect when first encountering it in a general anthology, as I just did. It is the apotheosis of Oliver Onions, Arthur Machen, John Cowper Powys and much more, all couched uniquely as the story of two would-be or actual Rabbis (their fathers having been Rabbi rivals); one of these two men commits suicide by hanging upon a tree and the other, the disbelieving narrator, visits his widow in the hope of eventually wedding her, but she makes him read aloud her dead husband’s written reasons for his actions. The now dead man who had seven young daughters, is here mingling them with a ‘Hylas and the Nymphs’ scenario, plus a strangely glimpsed eighth girl with blue sleeves, and the Pagan or Panic sex within Nature and much else, plus literally Rabbis and ‘rabbits and squirrels’. And Jewish lore you will need to research to understand. The tree is one of my own well-seasoned Yieldingtrees, beautifully adumbrated in this work.
O Creature, O Loveliness, I can only give you a flavour of this work below towards the finalising elbow moments, by means of a small sample of quotes among a teeming array of such matters of Dryad and Naiad, of Lilith and ‘pre-pubescent boys‘ that remain unquotable…
“I have never since heard sounds like those – almost mouselike in density for fear of waking her sleeping daughters, but so rational in intent that it was like listening to astonished sanity rendered into a cackling fugue. She kept it up for a minute and then calmed herself.”
“The soul of the plant does not reside in the chlorophyll, it may roam if it wishes, it may choose whatever form or shape it pleases.”
“I have heard of drawings surpassing Rembrandt daubed by madmen who when released from the fit couldn’t hold the chalk.”
“How many hours through how many years I walked over the cilia-forests of our enormous aspirating vegetable-star, this light rootless seed that crawls in its single furrow, this shaggy mazy unimplanted cabbage-head of our earth! – never, all that time, all those days of unfulfilment, a white space like a desert thirst, never, never to grasp. I thought myself abandoned to the intrigue of my folly.”
“Superfluity, excess of custom, and superstition would climb like a choking vine on the Fence of the Law if scepticism did not continually hack them away to make freedom for purity.”
“It came to me that while my poor bones went on decaying at their ease, my soul would have to linger inside them, waiting, despairing, longing to join the free ones.”
“…poignant miscegenation represented by centaurs, satyrs, mermaids, fauns, and so forth, not to speak of that even more famous mingling in Genesis, whereby the sons of God took the daughters of men for brides, producing giants and possibly also those abortions, leviathan and behemoth, of which we read in Job, along with unicorns and other chimeras and monsters abundant in Scripture, hence far from fanciful.”
“She was, in fact, the reverse of our hackneyed euphuism, as when we say a young girl blooms like a flower – she, on the contrary, seemed a flower transfigured into the shape of the most stupendously lovely child I had ever seen.”
“So Coryľyľyb my cousin received it in a season not long ago coupling in a harbour with one of your kind, one called Spinoza, one that had catarrh of the lung.”
“Loveliness, Loveliness, none like thee. No brow so sleek, no elbow-crook so fine,… […] Iripomoňoéià, come! None like thee, no brow so sleek, no elbow-crook so fine,…”
My past review of the next story was one of my reviews of all William Trevor stories, some of which were shown here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/02/10/additional-stories-by-william-trevor/#comment-18230, as taken from its 2020 context below…
(It now seems that some of my old review was wrong!)
BROKEN HOMES by William Trevor
“She’d had a dream a week ago, a particularly vivid dream in which the Prime Minister had stated on television that the Germans had been invited to invade England since England couldn’t manage to look after herself any more.”
And there was a ‘polish factory’ down the road from where the old woman lived. Judging by the references in this story, this takes place and was probably written in the 1960s, and the awful children in it grew up to vote for Brexit in the second decade of the 21st century. This is the story of a then 87 year old woman who has her kitchen invaded by a ‘hideous yellow’, as she is persuaded to allow children, two of whom have sex in her bed, to redecorate her house as a community work therapy for them. You need to help those from broken homes, she is persuaded. And she is so scared of being considered as senile, she sells out to what is needed of her. With probably death following on fast. A sad and shocking story. One that should have stuck in the communal mind but has now probably vanished, bar this review of it today pointing to its existence. (William Trevor died in November 2016.)
And what a quote from the story in that past review, re today!
DREAM CARGOES: J.G. Ballard
“If I look at a falling leaf in a certain way it seems to stand still.”
This is the ultimate Zeno’s Paradox stasis of time story as created in a lagoon and “this once barren island, a left-over of nature seven miles from the north-east coast of Puerto Rico.” And Johnson – once an errand boy for shoesmiths in Nassau – beaches the (abandoned by Captain and the rest of the crew) ‘Prospero’ with a cargo of illicit chemicals nearby and the resultant chance cocktail (like the cocktail of literature and its final gestalt?) with the fulsome island life-thrust creating this world beyond any grasp of future climate change or dystopia, presaging sky people or those happy to stare at a stone their whole lives, and giant butterflies and gigantic grapes…and much else that fill these gorgeous pages to which I can do no justice, as Johnson couples with his visiting co-conspirator Dr Christine Chambers, a biologist, and impregnates with a child to be born as part of an experiment that continues till today, at least in someone’s mind, ever somewhere, I guess.
“The life of the individual becomes the entire life of the species.”
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/?s=ballard&submit=Search
THE CHILDREN STAY: Alice Munro
“…she had already read the play. Eurydice by Jean Anouilh. But then, Pauline has read all sorts of things.”
A compelling, texturally written story of a family on holiday, a young couple Brian and Pauline, their near-toddling baby Mara and 5 year old Caitlin, and Brian’s somewhat boring parents, a tradition of connections towards Brian’s wishful gestalt of extended family playing Monopoly near the beach. Yet, Pauline is committing secret adultery with the director, Jeffrey, of that play by Anouilh as an amateur production in which Pauline is playing Eurydice, till we have to factor in this play with the story’s outcome, personally and ongoingly tragic but formidably happy in perpetuo, null immortalis, without her children. The cannonball of the story’s title.
“Jeffrey Toom was his name. ‘Without the B,’ he said, as if the staleness of the joke wounded him.”
Some telling aspects quoted below from this story, events which may have worked out differently in our era, even if not specifically because telephones are now personal instead of this story’s communal phones being ones that you have to arrange to find when not available nearby, phones where others can readily answer your calls, if you are not around when they ring.
“The windows were rounded at the top as in some plain and dignified church, and propped open in the heat with whatever objects could be found – ledger books from the 1920s belonging to the hat shop that had once operated downstairs, or pieces of wood left over from the picture frames made by the artist whose canvases were now stacked against one wall and apparently abandoned.”
“From her he appeared to want an immobility or awkwardness that he didn’t want from the rest of them. Perhaps it was because, in the latter part of the play, she was supposed to be a person who had already died.”
“…he [Brian] foraged among your words to catch a pun or the start of a rhyme – anything that could take the conversation away, into absurdity.”
“Longing buckled her up and drove her to the discipline of counting days. Sometimes she even cut the days into fractions to figure out more exactly how much time had gone.”
“She’s hard-used between the legs, swollen and stinking. Urinating takes an effort, and it seems she’s constipated.”
…in contrast to the more numinous pangs of Orphée and Eurydice?
UNDER THE ROSE: Julia O’Faolain
“An adulterous wife was exciting – and he had often wondered whether it could have been that extra zest that had led to his begetting the two girls.”
The story of Dan Lydon a sort of jobbing poet who builds that career more and more worldwide over the years, initially in Catholic and neutral Ireland, Dan who, with his brother, raped their sister when she was 15, and the ‘anarchy’ thus ‘let in’, formed a growing gestalt with his lifetime, second world war, Paris, London, Spanish Civil War, sixties, California, years after impregnating Connors’ wife in Ireland, the latter’s son Declan was Dan’s blood son, but triggered a bigger Connors family as quoted above, and the two men become a sort of involuntary synergy…. amid ‘Changing Ireland’, and other ‘Changelings’, a gestalt admitting more of Dan’s sexual self-promotions via the odd gay liaison as well as multihetero ones, all perhaps vicarious to Connors… “Dan was a part of himself. Luminous alter ego? Partner in father- and grandfatherhood?“ All happening under the title ‘Under the Rose”, a rose neutralising as neutral as Ireland once was? Pregnancies as synergies from painting…
“…Piero della Francesca’s Madonna del Parto, with the pale slash where the Virgin, easing her gown off her round belly, shows underlinen more intimate than skin. His finger on Phyllis’s stomach sketched an identical white curve.”
“…the painter, kept a rose on his easel when painting his mad, marvellous pictures of horse dealers, fiddlers, and fairs? Art in progress was safest under the rose.”
THE WINE BREATH: John McGahern
“The solid world, though, was everywhere around him. There was the lake, the road, the evening, and he was going to call on Gillespie. Gillespie was sawing. Gillespie was always sawing.”
“It was all timeless, and seemed at least a promise of the eternal.”
A very clever title bearing in mind the main protagonist is an old priest, blood of Christ as “a disembodied voice on the air” of a wireless? — reviewing, as Proust or de La Mare would, this Priestly or Priestian past of time’s or light’s or body’s triggers, “…to see time present as a flimsy accumulating tissue over all the time that was lost.”
The first trigger is that sawing and the white light on beech chips triggering the funeral through a path cut into snow of a major figure in the old priest’s life, a farming man whom we also get to know, his coffin being thus precariously carried, a sense of writer William Trevor depicting priests, too. And love’s white light elbow-trigger of: “Her arms were white to the elbows with a fine dusting of flour.” And his mother’s death through senility and torn dresses after a life of “the needle flashing in her strong hands, that single needle-flash composed of thousands of hours” — towards his own death where death itself is another ghost for this story. And the “crushed mint” and “sweetest grisceens.” And the common or Latin names of flowers. The Latin, the Vulgate the down to earth…
“The most difficult things always seem to lie closest to us, to lie around our feet.”
“He would be glad of a ghost tonight, be glad of any visitation from beyond the walls of sense.”
TOYFOLK: Edith Pearlman
“The minute hand of its clock twitched every sixty seconds. Would you go mad, hearing that forever?”
…a story of people and their toys or children, and their automaton tableaux of a firing squads, Anti-Natalism and Natalism combined, as we follow Fergus to a Czech town where his next ten years stint (“…to keep time with the church clock; ten unsteady steps … click; ten steps … click; ten steps …”) eventually with his wife, Barbara coming to join him away from their own children and grandchildren, the next ten year’s stint, indeed, to be spent founding a new branch of TOYFOLK INC. in a foreign town and the whole new cycle of getting to know the locals, including, here, a seemingly childless couple who have been running a toy shop, repairing toys, too, and there is much evocative of old-fashioned toys, and the march of time, ten footsteps at a time, without fingers, or even unspoken elbows, I guess. and whose child is whose, and one question — is not having children tantamount to bereavement?
“What doesn’t pass the time?”
Spending or wasting time, I wonder?
“Teddies … His eyes didn’t sting, really; they remembered stinging. They remembered his children asleep, favorites crooked in their elbows.”
“‘He’s made other people’s children his,’ Barbara said. Fergus, considering, put his elbow on the highboy.”
PRIVATE TUITION BY MR BOSE: Anita Desai
This is the eventually resolved (against the odds) story of Mr Bose, in evocative but often frustrating counterpoint with the genius loci scene and with the cyclic noise, dough or not, of his wife and baby, while he is doing tuition to afford things, first pupil being a (Mr Bose felt) malicious boy, son of a Brahmin priest, and then a girl who was hopeless at her work but whose rhythmic revealed foot entranced him, I infer. Unlike this story itself, my review of it has here become work that he would frown at, and cross through crossly in red as he read it. But I am reconciled to that, just as he is. Or as Desai is?
ENTROPY by Thomas Pynchon
“The cosmologists had predicted an eventual heat-death for the universe (something like Limbo: form and motion abolished, heat-energy identical at every point in it);…”
This takes place in Feb ‘57 in Washington DC, and I wondered whether it was 1957 or 2057, but when I saw Ricky Nelson mentioned, I somehow knew. A seemingly lease-breaking party held by Meatball Mulligan, with lots of European expatriates, even though they are called American, a sort of party where a girl needs to be taken out of a sink. A place where it seems more like today, and Callisto ever nurses a little bird in his hand as if it is the earth on which we now live. And ironically they listen to the Great Gate of Kiev from Mussorgsky as well as the music ‘noise’ of the young to middle-aged and there are thoughts on Stravinsky and the computer people, and the inevitable submission to the law of physics, all couched in a Pynchonesque prose that is breath-taking…. search these very few samples, among ‘many more’ better ones left unquoted, from this story quoted below so as to start forming your own gestalt or gaia… the necessity of the ‘More Probable’, despite those of us who live in some dream limbo paradise like Aubade did in this story … a limbo as created, for me at least, by the preternatural force of literature….
“…a mnemonic device for remembering the Laws of Thermodynamics: you can’t win, things are going to get worse before they get better, who says they’re going to get better.”
“…this idea of computers acting like people.”
“There are Europeans wandering around North Africa these days with their tongues torn out of their heads because those tongues have spoken the wrong words.”
“ Ambiguity. Redundance. Irrelevance, even. Leakage. All this is noise.”
“…when 37 degrees Fahrenheit should prevail both outside and inside, and forever,…”
ERRAND by Raymond Carver
“Despite his low opinion of Chekhov’s abilities as a playwright (Tolstoy felt the plays were static and lacking in any moral vision. “Where do your characters take you?” he once demanded of Chekhov. “From the sofa to the junk room and back”), Tolstoy liked Chekhov’s short stories.”
Having just read it for the first time, this is surely a ‘must’ as one of the best ever stories written in English. Top 10, rather than the top 100 that ‘That Glimpse of Truth’ purports to contain. The story of Chekhov’s death by TB or lung cancer. Tolstoy’s (what I often call) ‘null immortalis’ versus Chekhov’s disbelief in an afterlife and lacking “a political, religious, and philosophical world view. I change it every month, so I’ll have to limit myself to the description of how my heroes love, marry, give birth, die, and how they speak.” Call that the Chekhovian process.
A story that somehow feels to be blood-graphic and deadpan in its historical accounts as well as unspeakably rarified in its preternatural projections of literary immortality. As Chekhov ends up, perhaps as in The Magic Mountain, in a spa sanatorium in order to die during a heat wave, instead of Thomas Mann’s snow, along with his wife Olga, evolving into a Chekhovian choreography, along with the serving man to act out the final errand of this story’s message, with the theatrical props of champagne cork and bottle, the flowers, the vase… Call that the Chekhovian process, too. Along with his reading of railway timetables, before he died.
“The second hand on the watch moved slowly, very slowly. He let it move around the face of the watch three times while he waited for signs of a pulse.”
“‘There were no human voices, no everyday sounds,’ she wrote. ‘There was only beauty, peace, and the grandeur of death.’”
“She crossed her arms and held her elbows.”
That glimpse of truth.
This review continues here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/11/06/that-glimpse-of-truth-6/