maybe one of the contradictions/surprises of my life is that i write short stories yet i read so few of them. to be quite honest, i’m impressed by so few of them; there’s a sparseness to short stories that i can’t get into; and i personally enjoy being able to sink into a story and luxuriate in it, spending hours or days or weeks with the characters in their world.
over the weekend, i read alice munro's the beggar maid for book club, and this was my second munro collection. i admit to not having been all that enthused by my first munro collection, hateship friendship courtship loveship marriage, maybe because i didn't "get it" or maybe because her narrative eye is so honed in to a particular, provincial life that i kept feeling myself drifting away -- who knows, but i can understand the argument for munro being boring.
the beggar maid was better, though, and i'd say it was because the stories in this collection are interrelated, following the same characters at different points in their lives without feeling like munro had meant to write a novel but had somehow fallen short of that. these were decidedly short stories, and i enjoyed them for the way that they layered upon each other, though i will say ... god, munro bums me the fuck out. she gets there in the gritty and dark recesses of human behavior, but she does so without sentimentalizing it or glorifying it or making it seem like something out of the norm, and i find that to be more off-putting because it's true -- acts of violence against women aren't a one-off thing, and they've been so inculcated into our culture that we absorb it, and i think that is the most terrifying thing about it.
the tournament of books has been going on, and, because of it, i find i have a lot of thoughts about roxane gay's an untamed state when, to be honest, had the tournament not been going on (and had it not been my march crack), the book would have completely slipped out of my mind.
however, because the ToB is my crack and an untamed state has been advancing, which means i've read all the comments about it and had to mull over it myself, i can say that i didn't like an untamed state. i commend it for its content and the frankness with which gay writes about rape and the violence mireille endures and her PTSD after she's set free, but, unfortunately, content ultimately isn't enough, and an untamed state fell apart in so many ways. for one, the writing was clumsy and clunky, and, for another, mireille never convinced me as a human being, and, for another, the marriage failed to convince me and the dual points-of-view confused me and, while i did love mireille and lorraine, i wasn't convinced of that either.
setting aside the last few points and focusing on the first, though: i understand that gay was trying to do something with the writing, that she was trying to demonstrate that, sometimes, language fails us, to communicate that mireille has been through trauma and this is her story so this is her voice and it's been fractured. i understand that, similarly, mireille's portrayal of herself is also not going to be sweet and sentimental (as well as her portrayal of her marriage), and i didn't find any of that problematic -- it's just that intention is one thing, and execution is another. ultimately, the language in an untamed state does not convey the failure of language or the brokenness of a woman. mireille does not come across as an actual human being, more like a figure upon which these violent acts have been committed but not in a way of mireille having disappeared because of the trauma. and, because mireille reads like a string of character quirks almost (her penchant for throwing things comes to mind), i fail to be convinced of everything else: her marriage, her taking care of lorraine when lorraine is ill, her relationship with her parents, etcetera. in the end, unfortunately, intention is not sufficient, and gay's writing in an untamed state is simply clunky and clumsy and flat instead of being fully-realized and vibrant and alive.
and i don't think that's an unfair thing to pick on because the writing really is the foundation. if the writing rings false or contrived or flat, it inevitably distances readers, and i pick on the clumsy writing of an untamed state because it was the reason i couldn't connect with the book -- i could make myself feel for mireille in an abstract way, but, in the end, she felt riddled with holes, again not in the sense of her having been fractured but simply in the sense that the writing wasn't there to hold her.
i’ve decided to give up on the friday posts, at least in the way they were intentioned to be about writing from a personal POV. maybe i'm not ready to be vulnerable in that way yet. heh. i’d still like to keep posting on fridays, though, but i’m not sure how they’ll proceed yet. i shall continue ruminating upon it!
that said, i am excited for this week. i’m going to hear marilynne robinson tonight, and tomorrow is pub day for selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed, and i have been waiting for this book for months. i cannot wait to have it in my hands to read and to hold, and housing works is hosting a launch event, so i’m super stoked for that, too!
how're y'all doing?