Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What is so rare as a prime rib roast?

No doubt about it:  the matter is purely subjective.

Most of the writers who inhabit the panoply of your favorites (room for at least a footnote if not a separate essay) are writers whom you consider accessible on an emotional level.  Rereading Aldous Huxley at the moment for the purpose of your next Golden Oldie column, you are aware of the gap between his people and, say, Christopher Isherwood's characters.  (Well you see,"  Isherwood told you, "I love all my characters and Aldous loves the ideas for which his characters stand.")  You are thus more easily transported into the world, however strange and remote, of the characters rather than being impressed by the ideas the characters express.  Thus you can measure yourself from having read and been impressed by Huxley's Antic Hay and, to a lesser degree, Time Must Have a Stop, and now finding those somewhat lacking in comparison to Louise Erdrich and Jim Harrison and Annie Proulx.  True enough, you read all the Huxley you could get your hands on because his way of reaching into the story seemed to delightfully conversational and urbane, things you saw at the time as worthy of investigation.  Who would not like to have his work thought of as witty and urbane.  But then you read Isherwood all the way through, particularly reached by A Meeting by the River, and the movement from exterior gloss to inner reflection had been given an encouraging push forward. Reading the former is still fun, but the latter provide a kind of inspiration that leads to combustion and discovery.  Huxley is an excellent parodist and satirist, both aspects of your current work under way, The Secrets of Casa Jocosa, but it was Erdrich's The Plague of Doves that gave you the message that led you to haul the description of the precipitating event from your files, flesh it a bit more, and call it Chapter One.

While editing Conrad's latest anthology-type venture, you came across a segment from Lady Chatterly's Lover that also helped emphasize the point:  you prefer stories in which you can feel what the characters are feeling rather than merely appreciate what they are feeling.  Let's call it the difference between empathy and understanding.  Nor does it hurt that you are currently reading Frans De Waal's The Age of Empathy, in which a world-class primatologist discusses his observations about such issues as the sense of fair play in chimps, the ability of a chimp to feel embarrassment, and the ranges of jealousy that extend from our primate cousins to us.

Scenario:  Fred and Mary are seated next to one another at a dinner party.  Neither knows the other.  Fred is highly attracted to Mary.  In the course of conversation, they learn things about one another, primarily that each is available in the sense of not being in a committed relationship to another.  As the interchange continues, Fred finds himself not only attracted but interested.  What Fred does not know, and what he has not been able to piece together from his observation of Mary is that she is a vegan.  He is not.  When time for the main course arrives and the host calls from the end of the table, "Who's for rare on the roast?" Fred heartily affirms and thus is passed to him a slab of rare prime rib.  After a few moments, he notices that Mary is not being served the roast.  "'Samatter?" he asks.  "Not hungry?"  We can add some added details to, shall I say beef up the circumstances, but we would not be surprised to discover, down the line, Mary having to excuse herself and retire to the loo or at least stand for a few moments in an unobserved corner, deep breathing until her sense of revulsion at the presence of the blood rare slab of roast.  We are also not surprised when what Fred thought of as a growing chemistry between him and Mary appears to be vitiated.

There are any number of ways in which the scenario can progress.  Different writers would direct it differently, using differing techniques to freight the information and the responses to the information, not the least of which is internal monologue through either point of view, but that would not only be telling, it would be avoiding the nuanced play of feelings that exist between all characters when they appear on stage together.

There are different ways in which a scene may progress, depending on the mindset of the writer and the eye of the writer and the heart of the writer.

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