Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Kid grows up in a trailer park: Wallace does McCarthy

This isn't one of the promised reviews; instead, I thought I'd pass along a little something before I head off to Topeka and thence to Austin for a week or so.

What follows isn't a review or commentary. Just a nod in the direction of a pretty good writer.

I've just started The Pale King, in part because, well, it's David Foster Wallace, and in part to see just how wrong I was about the Hamlet stuff. (Too early to say yet, in case you're wondering.)

To say this thing is multivoiced would be an understatement--I'm only 60 pages in, and already there have been a good half-dozen 3rd-person limited narrators speaking on behalf of people who are either already in Peoria or are headed there but don't yet know it . . . and, a peek ahead to the chapter that follows the one I'm in now shows that the author himself will be joining them. I already knew from Infinite Jest that Wallace's ear for dialogue is such that he can make himself sound like anyone, but in The Pale King it's his narrators who are multivoiced. As best I can recall, this is a new thing for him (though there are flashes of this ability in his short stories), and it's exciting and confusing and, if I dwell on it too long, more than a little sad that he didn't get to finish this thing.

Anyway. Here he is doing a pretty darn good Cormac McCarthy. The setting is one of several anonymous trailer parks (this one somewhere in the desert Southwest), and the central figure has a name--she is a young girl named Toni Ware--but the misery-filled childhood (though, here, with the smallest whiff of hope) is the same. Those familiar with the voice of Blood Meridian's opening chapter will know this voice, too:

The park's boys wore wide rumpled hats and cravats of thong and some displayed turquoise about their person, and of these one helped her empty the trailer's sanitary tank and then pressed her to fellate him in recompense, whereupon she promised that anything emerging from his trousers would not return there. No boy near her size had successfully pressed her since Houston and the two who put something in her pop that made them turn sideways in the air and she could not then fight and lay watching the sky while they did their distant business.

At sunset then the north and west were the same color. On clear nights she could read by the night sky's emberlight seated on the plastic box that served as stoop. The screen door had no screen but was still a screen door, which fact she thought upon. She could fingerpaint in the soot on the kitchenette's rangetop. In incendiary orange to the deepening twilight in the smell of creosote burning in the sharp hills upwind.

Her inner life rich and multivalent. In fantasies of romance it was she who fought and overcame thereon to rescue some object or figure that never in the reverie resolved or took to itself any shape or name.

After Houston her doll had been the mere head of a doll, its hair prolixly done and the head's hole threaded to meet a neck's own thread; she had been eight when the body was lost and it lay now forever supine and unknowing in weeds while its head lived on. (55)

In that final image of the doll, in combination with what precedes it here, it seems, as I sit here thinking about it, that young Toni is the inverse of McCarthy's kid in those opening pages of Blood Meridian. Sneaky and powerful.

But, as I note above, Toni Ware is only one of several characters. Some of the ones I've so far met in this book don't even have the faint whiff of hope about them.

I don't know yet if I'll do any actual book-blogging of this thing. I guess we'll both see, on down the road.

Oh (and I promise this next won't become a habit, because I'm not that kind of reader)--here's an early line that resonates beyond the world of the novel: "Two eventual suicides on this plane, one forever classed as an accident" (18).


ovaut said...

Yes: this is Wallace 'failing under the influence of' McCarthy.

John B. said...

Thanks for dropping by, Ovaut. I do wish, though, that you had elaborated on your comment.