Can you talk about what the writing process was like? But I mean that more in the modern than the original sense. I guess I want the reading experience to be revelatory. My goal in the novel was to deliver a sort of religious experience for the reader, a build toward some emotional crest, and then a drop, or loss of faith. Who knows if it worked? It started in a dream. Dreams used to be a powerful source for me, less so now, as my dreams are less vibrant. I knew marriage, divorce, the longing for belief, and the loss of faith, and so I wrote those to the best of my knowledge. Incidentally, one of my favorite things about your collection is that question does not come to mind for me, but rather how did you do this?
And yet somehow you do! My whole project in To Assume a Pleasing Shape was to consciously compose a language-driven collection of quasi-experimental short fiction, which is playful with respect to genre and form, and which deliberately complicates the use of grammar and syntax, just as it complicates traditional notions of narrative design and character development. I see the collection being linked by several themes enacted and dramatized by my characters, the most prominent of which being both the notion of visible physical textual shape—design, structure, even syntax the shape of sentences —and invisible psychic interiority the shape of thoughts: I tried to explore and dramatize the struggle on the part of the characters—and their author—to find an aesthetic form—corporeally and textually—that could reveal precisely those things trying to be concealed—again, on the part of the characters and their author.
In my story, the protagonist wants to have some control over her own body by electing to change her body by undergoing breast-reduction surgery, and her male partner wants to support her. But both struggle with conflicting thoughts and feelings whose sentimentality they have been trained to be suspicious of. The conflict is thus driven internally. In the story, a gay Gulf War veteran is in denial of his sexuality, and he turns to self-destructive behavior as a way to cope. The story is a dramatic monologue that digresses vertiginously as the character tries not to admit his sexuality while sitting across from a man he desires.
Language or better put: I even lived for a year with a guy who was in the first Gulf War, and who talked about a lot when we drank, which, alas, was often in those days. I heard those details and used them. But the dramatic incidents are all my own creation. Can you talk about the opening. How long did it take? Did it come early or late?
Did you try to distance yourself from it as the novel went on? Did you feel you had to? And, of course, there are segments of actual sermons in the opening section and in the closing section, which provided an interesting challenge. At what point does it turn from a literary representation of sermon to an actual sermon? At what point am I merely giving a preacher a stage?
When does it become church and not art? My editor was of great help here. We tried to take it as far as we could—which was a fascinating task, but also sort of frightening. I wanted to bring this particular subculture to life, as I had never seen it done before—not to my satisfaction anyway. Did I believe in anything at all? I was facing these very questions while writing a character facing them, too.
It seems to me, in some way, they do. I should also say, I read aloud everything I write.
The ingot is so small, the manipulation so incessant. Butler adopted the very opposite method. Think your own thoughts, he seems to say, and speak them as plainly as you can. These turtles in the shop window which appear to leak out of their shells through heads and feet suggest a fatal faithfulness to a fixed idea.
And yet obviously Butler is at least as careful of our pleasure as Stevenson; and to write like oneself and call it not writing is a much harder exercise in style than to write like Addison and call it writing well. But, however much they differ individually, the Victorian essayists yet had something in common. They wrote at greater length than is now usual, and they wrote for a public which had not only time to sit down to its magazine seriously, but a high, if peculiarly Victorian, standard of culture by which to judge it.
It was worth while to speak out upon serious matters in an essay; and there was nothing absurd in writing as well as one possibly could when, in a month or two, the same public which had welcomed the essay in a magazine would carefully read it once more in a book. But a change came from a small audience of cultivated people to a larger audience of people who were not quite so cultivated. The change was not altogether for the worse. It might even be said that there was a reversion to the classic type, and that the essay by losing its size and something of its sonority was approaching more nearly the essay of Addison and Lamb.
At any rate, there is a great gulf between Mr. Birrell on Carlyle and the essay which one may suppose that Carlyle would have written upon Mr. But the essay is alive; there is no reason to despair. As the conditions change so the essayist, most sensitive of all plants to public opinion, adapts himself, and if he is good makes the best of the change, and if he is bad the worst. Birrell is certainly good; and so we find that, though he has dropped a considerable amount of weight, his attack is much more direct and his movement more supple.
But what did Mr. Beerbohm give to the essay and what did he take from it? That is a much more complicated question, for here we have an essayist who has concentrated on the work and is without doubt the prince of his profession. Beerbohm gave was, of course, himself. This presence, which has haunted the essay fitfully from the time of Montaigne, had been in exile since the death of Charles Lamb. Matthew Arnold was never to his readers Matt, nor Walter Pater affectionately abbreviated in a thousand homes to Wat.
They gave us much, but that they did not give. Thus, some time in the nineties, it must have surprised readers accustomed to exhortation, information, and denunciation to find themselves familiarly addressed by a voice which seemed to belong to a man no larger than themselves. He was affected by private joys and sorrows, and had no gospel to preach and no learning to impart.
He was himself, simply and directly, and himself he has remained. He has brought personality into literature, not unconsciously and impurely, but so consciously and purely that we do not know whether there is any relation between Max the essayist and Mr. We only know that the spirit of personality permeates every word that he writes.
The triumph is the triumph of style. For it is only by knowing how to write that you can make use in literature of your self; that self which, while it is essential to literature, is also its most dangerous antagonist. Never to be yourself and yet always — that is the problem.
Some of the essayists in Mr. We are nauseated by the sight of trivial personalities decomposing in the eternity of print. As talk, no doubt, it was charming, and certainly the writer is a good fellow to meet over a bottle of beer. But literature is stern; it is no use being charming, virtuous, or even learned and brilliant into the bargain, unless, she seems to reiterate, you fulfil her first condition — to know how to write. This art is possessed to perfection by Mr. But he has not searched the dictionary for polysyllables. He has not moulded firm periods or seduced our ears with intricate cadences and strange melodies.
Some of his companions — Henley and Stevenson, for example — are momentarily more impressive. But A Cloud of Pinafores has in it that indescribable inequality, stir, and final expressiveness which belong to life and to life alone. You have not finished with it because you have read it, any more than friendship is ended because it is time to part.
Life wells up and alters and adds. Even things in a book-case change if they are alive; we find ourselves wanting to meet them again; we find them altered. So we look back upon essay after essay by Mr. Beerbohm, knowing that, come September or May, we shall sit down with them and talk. Yet it is true that the essayist is the most sensitive of all writers to public opinion. The drawing-room is the place where a great deal of reading is done nowadays, and the essays of Mr. Beerbohm lie, with an exquisite appreciation of all that the position exacts, upon the drawing-room table. The day of her last exam, the daughter smashed the mirror in her room.
The mother disappeared from the daughter's sight, but her words and loathsome tone kept ringing. The daughter did well at school, yet neither mother nor father praised her. Nothing was dearer to the daughter by now that neither self-mortification nor distinction would bring love. During the holidays, the daughter invaded her mother's kitchen. She read cooking books from cover to cover, choosing elaborate recipes of rich dishes for every single day of the week, and more elaborate recipes of richer dishes for Sundays and birthdays.
She cut out exotic recipes from magazines to paste in an exercise book. She borrowed gardening books and grew herbs in pots. She bought new measuring cups and spoons, a new set of kitchen scales and new preparation utensils. She also bought all sorts of little jars and filled them with spices and seeds.
As the daughter cooked in her mother's kitchen, she lost sight of herself. She cooked for the whole family and for friends of the family. She cooked for the pleasure of watching others eat. She made iced sorrel soup, minestrone and bouillabaisse with rouille sauce, game pate with Juniper berries and brandy; she deep-fried courgette flowers dipped into a light batter and poached nasturtium leaves stuffed with cheese and herbs in oily white wine; she pounded olives and anchovy fillets and tuna fish soaked in freshly squeezed lemon juice to make tapenade , she made gnocchi flecked with fresh coriander and also hot curries; she stewed squids, steamed mussels, and flamed grilled sea-bass over beds of dried fennel.
On her mother's birthday she roasted a whole kid on the spit. And she baked jalousies , rolls and tarts, all with impeccable crusts. She knew it foodstuffs well over the top, but the names of foodstuffs were her livelihood. She gorged herself on words. When came the evening, the mother would sit at the kitchen table, working out the balance in her bank account, with the daughter washing up in the other room, adding up and subtracting calories in her head. Towards the end of the holidays, the mother complained about her weight. She blamed her daughter's cooking for the extra kilos hugging her waist.
She also blamed water retention. The daughter stopped using salt in her cooking, but she kept cooking. With the university year about to start, came new resolutions. The mother knew nothing about the university, She had not been lucky enough to study past Leaving. Yet she knew that it was going to be hard work, so she promised the father to watch the daughter closely. The daughter set herself high goals for the year. She would jump through all the hoops and even distinguish herself but she would have to toughen up. She would therefore study hard and banish all form of recreation, except for half an hour of solid exercise every night followed by a cold shower to wake herself up before further study.
She would wear as little clothing as possible, and skip, or run, whenever possible, in order to boost her own energy. She would train herself never to feel hungry, cold, or tired. She would also do her best not to displease her mother. But some time into the year, as things seemed to be getting tougher and tougher, it had become clear to the daughter that she had underestimated the watchful eye of her mother.
One rainy afternoon, the daughter met her old boyfriend on the train. He rubbed it in, as it were, saying that she looked terrific. When the daughter got home later that evening, the mother asked if she'd met anyone she knew. The daughter acted innocent. From then on, the deceptions became more frequent and the lies more diverse. The daughter, who could no longer control what she ate in the evening without upsetting her mother, started to drink chamomile oil to make herself vomit.
She would in fact spend hours in the toilet either to get rid of what she didn't want to hold down, or to devour books, while just sitting there. Then came the rows. The mother hit the daughter and the daughter dreamed of hitting the mother. Everyone in the family got involved in some way then, yet mother and daughter remained centre stage. The mother took her daughter who was sick in' the head because she hadn't bled in two years to her own doctor, a specialist of high renown in women's troubles.
The doctor prescribed pills and injections with a Greek name. He told the mother not to worry as all teenage girls were like that. The mother told her daughter that she was mad and evil. Things got worse, for now the daughter was expected to act like mad!
She tried to hide from the nurse at first, but the price was too high. So she tried to resist the needle by contracting her buttocks or squeezing her flesh until it bruised. And though she pretended to take her medication, she'd slip the pills under her tongue and spit them out later. Small amounts of food would also be found rotted up in her napkin, stuck under her seat, or inside her pockets. Madness brought about the suspiciousness and the monitoring, the checking and double-checking. And the weekly weighing on Sunday before breakfast, in full view of the whole family with stones in the pockets and a tummy full of water.
All of this before the rules changed. And so the daughter is now back in the old living room, all curled up in an ugly heap of clothes with her head on her knees and her arms around her shins. With no hope in her eyes, she looks like the stray cat the mother once picked up out of a rubbish bin. From underneath the clothes grown baggy, you can see the daughter's bones sticking out. God let me die. She takes a look around the room, up at the chandelier, and back at her daughter. She takes off her apron and throws it on the floor-boards. She raises her fists above her head, then swings them down.
An Essay on True Blood Jacob Clifton. THIS PUBLICATION IS UNOFFICIAL AND UNAUTHORIZED. IT HAS NOT BEEN PREPARED, APPROVED. Afew Blown fuses Before The nIghT IS OVER Alan Ball and the Circuit ofabandon as simple as just putting the plot onscreen (just read Ginjer Buchanan's essay). Think of it as some sort of magical circuit board, a motherboard, filled with.
She turns around and marches up to the dining table. There is nothing on the table except for an empty fruit bowl and a tray with useless vessels on it: Gone is all taste. And so the mother raises her voice like a trumpet and screams: And the mother takes hold of the Wedgewood salt shaker and smashes it to pieces on the boards. The daughter has stopped moaning. She now slowly, very slowly, turns her head towards her mother. She lifts a spider from her lap. Two spiders for hands. You do not want to see the arms, but they follow the gesture, the awkward movement, so that you could see it all, if you tried hard, see it all as two arms stretching out.
The mother looks at her daughter. She takes a few steps, kneels and sits down. She spreads her wide woolen skirt and takes the heap of bones in their bag of clothes in her arms. She cradles and rocks her daughter to rest. It is noon and the shadows of the shadows of mother and daughter shimmer on the sackcloth in the pool of winter sunshine. Discuss the daughter's predicament and her relation to her mother.
Consider the structure of the story, the shifts in perspective, the different uses of the word "salt" and the relevance of other images. It's funny being back. I'm too much again. My footsteps are too loud, my breathing too heavy, my smell too pungent and my fingers are shrinking on doorknobs even though no one is home. They knew I was coming back today though. When I walked in the door I saw my own letter pressed on the fridge with a frog magnet. Why didn't they leave a note then? I could see none. The only clue was a large yellow envelope from The Royal Melbourne Hospital with X-rays of mother's guts next to it.
All spread out on the table. They cut us off and then they expect us to feel guilty. It looks as though mother's back on the billiard table. Remember the first time? Remember how we tried to cheer each other up, saying things like 'no wonder with all the rubbish she eats' and how we were caught at our own game when it all got too much and we both had to go and be sick? Well, looks like it's happening all over again, except that we weren't told this time.
I keep trying to remember how we were told back then, and how we coped. It would help if only one could learn from one's mistakes. And who told us? But, did we cope? It felt like coping at the time, but in retrospect I think you were right: Last night I woke up and saw my bed covered in rubbish. I'm scared shitless of old nightmares. Scared of what they might bring.
I sit up late, dreading the moment I'll have to switch the light off because I know that there are knives lurking in the dark recesses of my mind, waiting to appear in my field of vision and cut me all over. Mother wasn't herself when she came back either.
The introduction could be better. The daughter looked at her mother's painted bps. I still enjoy monsters and monster theory. Like us on Facebook. Take care, Lots of love.
Remember how he told everybody that father'd punch her in the stomach if he got half a chance? And how she said it was all too much for her and took sleeping pills and hid boxes of white powder in her underwear drawer for the day she'd decide to cut it all off. Father on the other hand never seemed to lose any control.
He didn't even take one day off. He went on locking up the house every morning before going to church and locking up rooms and cupboards every time he had to go out of the house. If anything he sounded more sarcastic than ever. I'm sorry now I didn't mention any of this on the phone when you rang me in France. It might've helped exorcise the old demons.
And now I come back to an empty house and have to use the telephone to find out where the hell the family's gone. The irony is that I can't actually speak to you, get my message across. I rang the hospital when I got my act together. Visitors are allowed only in the evening at this stage between 6 and 8 pm. There is no concession for relatives. Do you intend to come back for a visit? What's Launceston like, by the way? It must be getting a bit warmer at this time of year.