The day when there coincided my reviews of three momentous stories…..
SHAKEN by GLEN HIRSHBERG
“…. he thought he could distinguish between ground-shudders and his own: the ground’s were a thousand fists pummeling, pounding upward and outward. His own were downed power lines scything every which way in long, twitching arcs. And they hurt.”
Harry, 73, is a year or so younger than me, and I feel even closer to him or with him, so much in empathy I BECOME him, in or on the ‘hive’ of the eventual gestalt Earth that he felt when back home in Los Angeles with his daughter and granddaughter, and his Survivor Guilt, Namuzu, Noah’s Wave, Jonah, and much else that betokens the eventual Big One that we all face particularly when seasoned as much as Harry, feeling this by dint of my sharing this leasehold story with him, a story as conjured by its freehold author’s enormous story-telling and shudder-poetic skills in describing how Harry survived the Earthquake that hit Japan — the big one that we realise eventually was even bigger, the one that also had Tsunami and Nuclear Power repercussions…
“A pillar to lean on. The feeling didn’t last. But Harry enjoyed it very much. The woman held his hand, almost without respite, for the next six hours.” Panic shudders ground shudders word shudders at Tokyo airport, and the ground moving and the pee-induced platoon of fightback upon shifting platforms, and we feel them vibrating and crunching and cracking during each reading moment. That gestalt or mosaic Earth again: “people emerged and kept emerging, filling the ramp around them, fitting themselves into an impromptu mosaic.” Gradiented with the importance of remaining, like the Japanese, orderly, alongside Zeno’s “slow-grinding geologic clocks”…”To imagine, to dream, right at the end—in a way the whole Earth, it seemed, had ceased to dream—of rejoining. Of ceasing to be separate. We were more hive-creatures than we ever got to know,…” Doll steps, doll-shop smiles, 9/11 dolls jumping, and he thinks of his granddaughter and the perfect text his daughter sent across the Earth, making the Earth one great big Jungian hair-trigger ‘feel it’ factor from Los Angeles to Tokyo; I feel every tectonic plate shift and shudder in emotion and consumed eschatology. Even that scatology of ever-peeing, as men like old men do. Will death have its own aftershocks, I wonder? Its single sheet to cover you in extremis, one little bottle of water supplied and just a crumby paper pillow to sleep on? And that woman, whose hand was held, making even the weakest crotch stiffen or simply make you want to pee? The ones who are waving from wherever they are on this selfsame ark called Earth. ‘Earth to Earth’, Earth to Death, Death to Earth.
“Pushing up on his elbows, Harry took a long breath,…”
EVERY THIRD THOUGHT by HELEN SIMPSON
“It’s like being in a lift and suddenly it plunges down.”
And this story makes Oyeyemi’s lift above truly transparent, the sudden prospect of one’s own death as here tellingly seen by a near middle-aged, middle-class lady who attends a book club, has an older husband who looks like Picasso, and with children, one of them ‘crazed on Narnia’ as the narrator herself used to be “crazed on Topic”, a chocolate bar with hazelnuts not peanuts, yes, seeing that all her friends seem to be beset by “a plague, we all said, an epidemic, a horrible sticky contagion”, a plague of chance cancers, et al. Her own missing heartbeat accompanies a panoply of hypochondria as she watches folk from a bus, all seen by her as dying but still coping. How do old people live with themselves, so close to death? I wonder that, too, in my seventies, even with my own share of that contagion: lucky it didn’t get me earlier.
Ley lines, or Hallowe’en pumpkin soup, or cremation, actuarial work, even shopping at Waitrose, all part of the ‘mosaic’ class she ends up attending and thus clinching my gestalt as such a pattern from her own words as she arguably gets knocked down by a bus instead of being eaten away from within. This story, entertaining with morbid wittiness, did succeed in summoning diseased carcasses within ‘deserts of vast eternity’ as well as a wry smile of being ‘led up a garden path.’ Crazed on death. Crazed on denial of death by a surfeit of it as literary joy. And no mean feat, that missing third beat of a rolling dice.
“Then she started feeding peanuts into her tea again.”
AN INTRODUCTION TO FICTION by ERIC HANSON
“People looked at me as if I’d arrived on a bus from Omaha or someplace like that. Medicine Hat. Tulip Springs. Posey Junction. Elbow Lake.”
A young man as narrator and budding writer arrives in New York, and this is a sophisticatedly charming, wittily literary and poignant classic, yet another classic following the previous one! — and, so, where did this book come from that edits my own death? My chest not broken yet on the curb by a cab, but near enough by dint of a more endless period of accidental dying…
Seemed apt in this book’s sporadic context, at least in part, that I now recall this narrator claiming, in response to someone who claimed he had slept with Greta Garbo, that he once slept with Babe Ruth…
“Ambrose Bierce embraced me. ”
The young writer during a local monsoon enters a restaurant to be faced by the gradual entry — for dinner, somewhat outdoing him for available tables — of a panoply, nay, a cornucopia of writers, most of whom I have heard, many I have read, and all of which our young writer seemingly emulated. He even has a heart to heart with Joyce Carol Oates. Also a liquid autograph from Updike.
Later a journey, following his endlessly lethal accident, as if in Mort, toward, here, a marriage à trois with Gore Vidal and Oates, if not Joyce. Unless I was misled. Or simply mistaken. One author surprisingly not mentioned as attending this story as a fiction truth, a story perhaps emulating him most, is O Henry.
“The floor was a lake.”
FULL CONTEXTS OF THESE REVIEWS: