Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Among your favorite type of story, regardless of the genre in which the story is set, is a situation when two or more characters appear to be in agreement but in actuality are talking beyond one another.

There are numerous causes for this, some of which you discover in so-call literature or close-reading classes, where the events of a character's behavior is so often the subject of debate.

You love to sit back, watching the interpretations fly, some of them in close accord to your own interpretations, others at some distance.  You are more engaged when your own work is involved and the interpretations come filtering in.  This is so because you know what you intended.

Readers, critics, editors often do not see your intentions, even in the face of the hints and clues you embedded to achieve a specific conclusion.  For reasons still not clear to you, your literary agent went to some lengths to convince your publisher to begin your about-to-be-published collection with a story other than the one you and the publisher thought to begin with.  Her take on that story was different than yours and your publisher's.

Although a number of reviewers have called out the beginning story for its agreeable qualities, an equal number mentioned the mischievous and lively intent of the story originally slated to start the collection.

That is nothing; your publisher and his editor had comments on others of the stories that left you bewildered to the point of wondering, How could there be any doubt of your intent?

This is by no means to argue the final results or, indeed, the intent of the editorial process, rather to reflect the wide potentials for interpretations among readers.  After all, there is no single profile for a reader; some are quite young.  Others are older, but they may not be as well read as their juniors.  Gender, social backgrounds, and ethnicity also introduce factors of interpretation.

In your first or second year of teaching at USC, you had an experience with a student whose work and potential you'd come to admire.  "Look at me,"  you once told him in exasperation.  "I'm trying to explain something."

"In the culture of my birth,"  he said, "eye contact is meant as a challenge, looking down a sign of respect."

You knew that.  Or thought you did.  When brought into direct contact with it, you learned it in a way you could file away for future reference, for enhanced understanding of a situation you might well have misinterpreted.

Cultural, social, and ethnic chasms abound, presenting the writer with great opportunities to see chances for the drama of the mistake.  In your early days of living in Mexico City, you were in effect a walking anomaly, a Californio who could read Spanish-language newspapers well enough, but who was taught Spanish with an emphasis on Spanish pronunciation rather than Mexican.  The most humorous result of all came when, in search of a barbershop--peluqueria--you wound up in a neighborhood dive bar,a pulqueria, more bewildered by the experience until you were offered a taste of the house special, mescal, along with the information, "We saved the worm for you.  Salud (also known as Drink up)!

This preference for the believed concord when in reality there is a significant dissimilarity of vision has produced for you the agreeable side effect of the closer read, where you take nothing for granted until you have looked closely for the most overlooked aspect of story you find so intriguing.


The mischief in apparent agreement.  The mischief in the revelation of the disconnect.  The mischief in the "engagement" and marriage of Dorothea Brooke to Casubon in George Eliot's marvelous romp, Middlemarch.

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