Tuesday, January 29, 2008

SynecdoChick's Review of "Solid Wood"

Fiction Anemic, that’s an interesting observation about the ages of the characters in the first three stories. I didn’t catch it—what I did notice was 1) rich white people in New York, 2) rich white people on the mid-Atlantic coast, and 3) rich white people in Florida. I don’t want to give anything away, but I read ahead. Next week, we get to read about rich white people on the West Coast, so that will be a real change of pace …

I agree that in the past, BASS has seemed more diverse subject matter, style, authors, etc. However, the editor typically chooses the order for the stories. This year, Stephen King has the stories arranged in alphabetical order. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that these stories are grouped together at the beginning of the book.

As for “Solid Wood”: when did it become okay to have a boring first line?

This is not just directed at Beattie’s story; I see this all the time lately. Maybe it’s because the importance of great first lines has been drilled into writing students for so long that it’s become a cliché. Maybe starting with a dull first line is a kind of statement—a way of forcing the reader to plow through a couple sentences … often a couple of pages … before getting to any kind of payoff.

And, are stories about nothing still in vogue?

I much prefer a story like Barth’s. In “The Toga Party,” the plot (one attempted and two presumably successful suicides in the last third of the story) is a little over-the-top, a little unreal, but at least something actually happens.

In Beattie’s story, there are some vivid descriptions and there’s interesting history between the characters, but nothing much comes of it. And I guess that’s the point, that these characters lived in an era when things weren’t said. In real life, secrets remain buried, people skate across the surface and would drown if they fell through the thin ice of polite appearances and social convention (at least, I think that’s what the falling-through-the-ice incident was doing in the story).

I also guessed that Maurice was the kid Doris gave up. It would make sense that Jacob (and maybe Clemmie?) would be involved in the adoption arrangements and would want the child to be raised by a family they knew. But there’s nothing in the story to confirm this. Maybe it’s just a “magic trick” of narrative convention—as a reader you can’t help looking for significance, meaning, and closure, but these are narrative illusions (just so much doves and fire). Life isn’t like that, and neither is slice-of-life fiction.

1 comment:

Fiction Anemic said...

I wouldn't exactly say nothing, although this story does bring to mind those Existential films where John Lennon's face turns into a smile or Andy Warhol's Sleep, where you watch characters sleeping for 15 minutes and when finally someone rolls over, it's a huge thing.

I think this is a realization moment for the narrator. What does his admiration for his prestigious colleague add up to? Accolades for Greer, but two sick lovers and lost children for Jake.

And maybe, like you indicate, this is a slice of life. Tomorrow will go on. No one lives or dies because of this realization. The narrator can't even change it. It's just a revelation of what your life has all been about and I would argue that the revelation is as big as a knife fight or a birth in this story.