Tuesday, December 22, 2009

10 uncomfortable moments in prose

This list is random in a confusing, not cute, way. But there you go.

1. Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging one makes you but even with him; forgiving it sets you above him. (Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac)

I'm not so sure about that. Many oft-quoted ideas about forgiveness have a sort of encouraging edge (forgiving is so divine--you should totally do it) that's not really accurate. Forgiving is (just) forgiving. It's a great thing, but it doesn't make you better than good. The line has rather the air of a whited sepulchre, which isn't very Franklinny.

2. With a half-repentant, half-amused expression, Laurie gathered up all Jo's letters, smoothed, folded, and put them neatly into a small drawer of the desk, stood a minute turning the ring thoughtfully on his finger, then slowly drew it off, laid it with the letters, locked the drawer, and went out to hear High Mass at Saint Stefan's, feeling as if there had been a funeral, and though not overwhelmed with affliction, this seemed a more proper way to spend the rest of the day than in writing letters to charming young ladies. (Louisa May Alcott, Little Women)

What a great long sentence that is. I like it. I like very much "went out to hear High Mass at Saint Stefan's," which rings in my head a lot for some reason. But I will never buy the idea that it made more sense for Laurie to end up with Amy, not Jo. At least not for the reasons Alcott would have had us believe. I'm just not buying the idea that there was too much personality on both sides for Laurie and Jo to be happy together. It reminds me of a passage in Busman's Honeymoon: "[she] thinks there is too much intelligence on both sides--but I tell her not to be such a confirmed pessimist. I know heaps of couples who are both stupid as owls and not happy at all--so it doesn't really follow, one way or the other, does it?"

3. age cannot wither her (Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra)

Well, yes it can (boobs). But you get to keep the bags they came in! (Is that a really old joke? I heard it the other day and couldn't stop laughing.)

4. Honey Bunches of Oats (Post Cereals)

The noun adjunct in this product's name drives me batshit. I want to yell at the happy workers in their commercials (in the manner of Mary Haines): It's wrong, shockingly wrong! The fact that it works really well as a brand name and has good rhythm to it just makes the noun adjunct business more irritating, because this cereal isn't going away.

5. If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything. (Mark Twain)

That's crap. The truth is no signpost sunk in bedrock...it's as slippery as lies, the truth. Especially in the crucible of the brain. Remembering the truth is hard, the more so because sometimes you are remembering correctly but it's hard to know which is which. Slithy toves. I'm all for not lying, though.

6. I would be working in my little office and suddenly go as fast as I could out the door and up the road, until I had no breath left. Or my sister Anne would look at me and say, judiciously, as if I were a vase of flowers to be moved here and there, "You must go to Mexico." Then she would buy a ticket for me, and a new hat, and she would take care of visas. (MFK Fisher, The Gastronomical Me)

This passage--while beautiful--highlights a crucial Fisher problem: her funny verb usage which makes things that happened once seem as if they happened a lot; sometimes, it seems, in order to give situations weight. This passage feels like it catches her in the act (her sister bought lots of plane tickets and hats?), because it doesn't really make sense in the plural.

7. What am I gonna do when they invade Benedict Canyon armed with Uzis? Hold up a sign that says: DON'T SHOOT, I WAS EMPATHETIC . . . ? (Julia Phillips, You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again)

The "they" in this are African-Americans, and it's one of the cringier moments in that cringey, sad, but addictive book. It just doesn't quite work, even with her articulated self-awareness. Errrnngh.

8. But there was really no use entering upon an unrequited passion unless you were prepared to keep it up for at least five years. Seven years was best. There was something very noble about loving a person for seven years and getting nothing in return. (Barbara Pym, Gervase and Flora)

I love Barbara Pym, I love Gervase and Flora, I love how jolly Flora is in the face of rejection, I have made my peace with some Pym ideas that itch, I even kind of like the subversiveness of that line viewed in the abstract, but gahhhhhhhhh...no.

9. It is my nature to persist in the positive. I may brood about a past failure but I am an optimist about what's to be. (Doris Day, Her Own Story)

This comes in the passage in which Doris is describing her feelings at her wedding to Marty Melcher, her third husband and manager who had a hand in bilking her of her life's earnings. You kind of want to leap into the book at that point and say, please stop calling this 'optimism'! Take the blinders off! But whatever. Monday morning quarterbacking.

10. The Champagne of Beers (Miller High Life)

I've never quite gotten this. Champagne, in the end, is ultimately just a category of liquor, which beer is also. So it's kind of like saying the Cotton of Silks. The Steak of Cakes. The A of Bs.


Anonymous said...

"This comes in the passage in which Doris is describing her feelings at her wedding to Marty Melcher, her third husband and manager who had a hand in bilking her of her life's earnings."

Not true! This is a myth! It has been proven that Marty Melcher, Doris Day's husband had been duped by an unscrupulous business manager. He and his wife had been duped as had many others in the Hollywood community.

Anonymous said...

as of miller....
champagne is not a type of liquor.
it's the finest of wines...
therefore miller is the finest of beers.

France haz spoken.

Anonymous said...

you are hilarious.