Thursday, July 15, 2010

Short-a-Day: Rivka Galchen's "The Entire Northern Side Was Covered With Fire"

[One of The New Yorker's 20 Under 40]

Originally published in The New Yorker, June 14 & 21, 2010. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 87.

"All those things which I so studiously knew nothing about." I admire characters like Trish, writers who use the humor of everyday things to cope with what they cannot control or explain. I think this happens fairly often with writers, especially young writers, because it's in fiction that they're able to control their world, and at least so far as I go, I know that's part of why I turn to writing prose: because it helps me to understand myself, to communicate that self with others, but also to control and cope with what is otherwise so ordinarily frightening. So Trish, rather than be an overeducated protagonist who is too intellectual to be mentally hurt, can only throw jokes at the "Kantian sublime" which is maybe related to Key lime in her world. Or who refuses to read the blog her husband--who has scammed her and suddenly left her--has been writing: ICan' ("I wasn't going to read the blog. So much writing out there in the world and who wants to read it? Not me.")

I particularly like these two excerpts, since they illustrate the order of priorities in which Trish lives her life, or at least the telling way in which she has fooled herself, temporarily, into coping with it. There's a lot of delayed information, information itself which is then carefully clarified, working up to it step-by-step. It's a consistent tone, too, which means the narrative informs the story, which doesn't always happen.

  • "He had taken quite a lot with him. For example, we had a particularly nice Parmesan grater and he had taken that. But he had left behind his winter coat. Also a child. We had a child together, sort of. I was carrying it--girl or boy, I hadn't wanted to find out--inside me."
  • "Why was I already low on money? Partially because money just flies, as they say, or I guess it's time they say that about, the flying, but money, too--very winged. Still, one of the main reasons I didn't have much money was that I had been paying my husband's way through business school. At least, I'd thought I was doing that, but it turned out he wasn't enrolled in school...."

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