Saturday, February 04, 2006

Saturday succotash:

In (approximate) order of significance (certainly, item #1 belongs in that position). . .
1) Mrs. Meridian is, as of yesterday, batting 1.000 in acceptances to the law schools she applied to: first school we hear from, first acceptance. It's not the best school she applied to, but neither is it the lowest-ranked. So, we Meridians quite literally did a happy dance, much to the consternation, I'm sure, of our downstairs neighbors. So: all of that weeping and gnashing of teeth some of you may remember from posts past is past . . . to be replaced at some point in the future with anxiety about how to pay for her good fortune. But we will borrow a page from Scarlett O'Hara's philosophy and worry about that tomorrow . . . and watch The Paper Chase a few times between now and August.

Below the fold: a) some book talk about Michael Finkel's True Story and a very quick survey of writer-as-character novels, segueing into b) a discussion of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, which I've just finished reading.

2) Yesterday was Paul Auster's birthday, and in something of a moment of serendipity, on Thursday one of my colleagues lent me True Story by Michael Finkel. Though Finkel's book is indeed non-fiction, this blurb on the cover--
Just as I was fired from a job I had coveted almost all my life, I learned about the murders. A man named Christian Longo, who was wanted for killing his wife and three young children, had fled to Mexico. He'd been hiding out there, pretending to be a writer for the New York Times--pretending, in fact, to be me.

--reminded me a little of a central component of Auster's fine novelCity of Glass, which opens with the main character being awakened by a caller who wants to speak with Paul Auster, whom he believes to be a detective. The main character later meets Paul Auster, who has never been a detective but is a writer; still later, the main character poses as the "detective" Paul Auster in order to protect a family from presumed danger.

(I know that's more than a little tangential in its resemblance to Finkel's work, but the goal here is really to give mad props to Auster before his birthday got too far away.)

But in fact, Finkel's book is more reminiscent of Philip Roth's 1993 novel, Operation Shylock:
In this fiendishly imaginative book (which may or may not be fiction), Philip Roth meets a man who may or may not be Philip Roth. Because someone with that name has been touring Israel, promoting a bizarre reverse exodus of the Jews. Roth is intent on stopping him, even if that means impersonating his own impersonator. (from the Vintage edition blurb)1

I note that resemblance not to call into question the veracity of Finkel's book but just to add it to that growing list of examples of Life Imitating Art. It should be noted, though, that Finkel, given the reason for his being fired, is at some pains in his book's opening pages to insist on its veracity, that, unlike James Frey, he hasn't been busy expunging official records of things.

I'm just 40 pages into Finkel's book, but those pages have already broadened the thematic territory that its title will cover via their quick account of how he had come to be fired from the Times--and even within THAT account is his discovery that the story he had been assigned to report on had ITSELF been mostly fabricated. In other words: though "true," True Story has already supplied a fair amount of narrative hijinks.

And, indeed, it now occurs to me that a big theme in this postmodern age of ours, whether fictional or non-, is the truth claims individuals make about themselves. Those claims are our grand narratives for our lives and, as Lyotard argues in The Postmodern Condition, we should be suspicious of grand narratives. But it's equally fascinating that in the past decade or so there's been an explosion in the publishing of memoirs by people we would have most likely never heard of otherwise. And, of course, blogs would fit into this area as well, as would, more tangentially, devices like iPods and Tivo that give us the power and capacity to shape and shut out other media to suit the desires of polises of 1.

At the very point in our history as a civilization that what we say about ourselves is most in doubt, most subject to scrutiny, more and more of us are most eager to make make just such claims.

3) In probably the second-most famous book set in Kansas (you have to ask what the first would be?) Truman Capote barely registers as even a presence in his 1965 "non-fiction novel" In Cold Blood: a couple of times toward the end, the killers he interviews will say "you" and the narrator helpfully notes that the person indicated is "the journalist." And that goal of making the writer as peripheral as possible is entirely appropriate, of course. For the story Capote tells is that of a family brutally murdered, the two men who committed that act, and a town's various responses to, and their gradual forgetting of, all that. It's NOT about following Capote around as he gathers information for that story. The result is a history that has the emotional weight of a novel. We feel no outrage at the execution of the "killers"--both men were executed, but only one killed all four family members, the other being guilty, we get the feeling, of silent complicity in their deaths--but we DO feel a sadness at the waste that their lives had become even prior to the murders. You won't learn much about Kansas per se, aside from a little geography, but you will learn much about some of your fellow human beings, both the best and the worst of us, not to mention some of that vast majority mucking about between those two extremes.

1Also fitting into this category is Richard Powers' 1995 novel Galatea 2.2: in his typical contrapuntal narrative style, tells a) the story of "Richard Powers'" participation in a program to create a model of the human brain using a computer network and b) "Powers'" life as a writer and involvement with a Dutch woman in the years prior to that project.

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s said...

Congrats to Mrs. Meridian and to both of you for making it through the "why I want to be an Attorney" papers, the myriad of paperwork involved in applying to an upper education program, snd the endless waiting thereafter! Happy feet dancing shall commense.

PS- I have over 40K in student loans to look forward to myself...but, its worth it.

René López Villamar said...

Congratulations to Mrs. Meridian!

In Cold Blood was for me an enjoyable book to read. I did felt some outrage at the execution of the killers, but then again it is hard to understand the death penalty in a country that never had it. Perhaps in that same line, I felt the novel too American and less Universal, but a good read, nonetheless.

D-Day said...

Congratulations to Mrs. Meridian!!!