Monday, April 3, 2017

Ottessa Moshfegh & Anne Carson

I'm reading Ottessa Moshfegh's short story collection Homesick for Another World and it's restoring my faith in the goodness of the long short story. Numerous of these stories in the collection are upwards of thirty pages long. I mean, that is insane. The first story I read in the book was great. Then I realized it was almost as long as Wittgenstein's single published book of philosophy (short, I'll grant you, but a short story this size?) and almost returned the book to the library (would have loved to have bought this one but alas). I'm glad I didn't because unlike with other thirty and forty page long stories I never feel bogged down during hers. It's hard to put my finger on but I think it's the way she commands the sentence and then latches the next sentence on in a nice fit. It's something like that. If you've not read Homesick for Another World and you're like me and hate long stories don't let the breakdown of the table of contents put you off. She pulls off some kind of magic trick, I'm telling you. Also, she gives great interview.

While taking a few strides between Moshfegh's stories I'm also reading Anne Carson again. I finished Autobiography of Red last year with full intentions of just plowing right on through the rest of her oeuvre but it wasn't going to happen. Too many other book distractions. Books for me are like a long table of various donuts. I move from one to the other and the other and so on. I've always wanted to read straight through someone's full body of work but it's not going to happen. The same way I'm never going to eat two plain, beautiful, glazed donuts in a row in a roomful of various donuts. I resign myself to this.

But Anne Carson. Yes, Anne Carson is the personification of insight. One paragraph (sometimes one sentence to the next) throbs out from the page and into some place inside my brain that I hope will activate lively enough to store it away for later enjoyment. I have terrifically bad recall. Lately (especially with Carson and Ondaatje) I've started reading with a highlighter tucked between the fingers of my writing hand. In Carson's case I've highlighted more than I've not, really. Now I've just taken to highlighting the titles or headings, entire pages with a sloppy neon green or yellow star in the corner. Plainwater: Essays and Poetry, which is the Carson I'm reading now, is five parts. I've just finished the second part, the exceptional Short Talks section. 

Examples of full on brilliance from Short Talks section:

"Now Ovid is weeping. Each night about this time he puts on sadness like a garment and goes on writing." - from "On Ovid"

"...will Andreas continue to travel the world like the wandering moon with her borrowed light?" - from "On Parmenides"

"Major things are wind, evil, a good fighting horse, prepositions, inexhaustible love, the way people choose their king. Minor things include dirt, the names of schools of philosophy, mood and not having mood, the correct time." - from "On Major and Minor"

And here's the thing: all of these examples are on just two facing pages of the book (32, 33). Ridiculous right? These two ladies have a lot to teach me, and a lot to teach all of us, civilians and writers alike; those with wounds that heal normally and those who are the wound, opened and bright.

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