May 16, 2012

Write on

The well of writing has been a bit low over the past few moths. Absence of ideas that excite me enough to want to write something has been the issue. I can always make myself write something but I prefer to be driven by an idea that lights up my mind. I have no idea in advance what will do this, it just happens from time to time.

However a couple of things have bubbled up. One of them, which will be a short story I think, is to do with Gertrude Stein and a “what if ….” Such as “what if a Gertrude was born in the forties on a diary farm in the Waikato?” A crazy notion, maybe, but I’m going with it for a bit. It involves a fair bit of re-reading what she wrote and what has been written about her as well as doing some writing "in the style of."

The other idea is, well, too embryonic to say anything about. I need to so some background reading, which is a fun idea in itself. This could turn out to be a short story or something longer, depending on how complicated it gets. Or nothing at all. More some time later.

Keeping on reading

In the meantime, there’s been a lot of reading going on. Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts, is not my usual reading, but as fantasy—or realism with fantasy elements or something—goes, it’s very grown-up and compelling. Terrific writing, a highly original story, even if it is based on mythology, achingly good characterisation and a satisfying ending that is neither too bleak nor too clappy-happy. I read it because Margot Lanagan came here for an earlier Writers’ and Readers’ week and I liked Tender Morsels. I think Sea Hearts is even better.

Terry Castle’s The Professor was recommended by a good friend. It’s seven essay/memoir pieces, the longest about her profoundly disturbing relationship as a grad student with a professor. Castle spares neither herself nor the professor. She (Castle) is neurotic, needy, and desperate, the professor cruel, dissociated and manipulative. Tears before bedtime is not the half of it. Something about the very clever telling of this sad tale was disturbing. Nonetheless I was fascinated, compelled along to the end. There’s an element of snarkiness in Castle’s writing which I didn’t like myself for enjoying. Her piece on Susan Sontag, “Desperately Seeking Susan,”is a particularly strong example; I’m not sure it’s enough of an excuse for what at times seems like mean-spiritedness, to acknowledge it in oneself. My friend, the one who recommended the book to me, would not agree at all I think, with what I have said about The Professor. She said it was “brilliant.”

In Anne Enright’s The Gathering one of the siblings in a large Irish family has committed suicide. The protagonist and voice of the novel, Veronica, was particularly close to Liam when they were children. She is married to Tom, who she either hates or loves, it’s hard to tell, and they have two daughters.  Veronica is uncertain. “I need to bear witness to uncertain events,” she says. The book evolves into her trying to know why Liam killed himself, and portrays the family as messy and dysfunctional. It’s wonderful writing, kind of bleak, kind of funny.

I read Joan Didion’s Blue Nights in a couple of hours one evening. It purports to be about the death of her daughter, but really it’s about her own aging. These are both topics of close interest to me, so I didn’t mind. The observations are sharp, the emotion raw. It’s a book I am glad to have read.

Other books I have read recently that are worth the attention are: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett; Look At Me, an earlier novel by Jennifer Egan of A Visit From the Goon Squad fame; The Bear Boy by Cynthia Ozick; and Granta 118: Exit Strategies. The story by Alice Munro in Exit Strategies disappointed me, but I guess not even AM can be brilliant every time.

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