Sunday, October 28, 2012

O'Connor Style Imitation

“Remember when we met?” questioned Jack. There was silence. “I remember when we met,” he continued, “and how we both fell in love.”
            At this statement, Jack sat up, his frail frame swaying like a tall palm tree in the breeze. His pale skin and gaunt cheeks created a ghostly appearance that was only accented by his coal-black hair. The wind outside the shack moaned, eager to slip inside and dishevel everything like a rude houseguest. Jack brought his frame closer to the fireplace and rubbed his arms. A pinkish hue began to color his cheeks as he tossed various newspaper articles onto the burning mass. Again, he swayed like a tall palm tree, and fell back on a stained, mildew-laden mat.
            “We met at the dance. Gee, that was a month, to the day! How time flies!” Jack let out a soft chuckle that turned into more of a rasping cough. His lung contemplated leaving the body, but decided on staying for a little while longer. Silence filled the shack.
            “I was leaning against the wall, staring at the lights. They were not that bright, but for some reason they annoyed me. They kept on spilling out white blankness. What’s up with that? And- and then a song came on. It was a real good song, too, the kind you listen to when you’re alone and think ‘Gee, this is a nice song.’ But, it was a slow song, and I didn’t have anyone to dance with, so I just kept on leaning and stared at the lights, crying a little. When I looked down, I saw you.”
            Jack smiled, showing his toothy wolf-smile, the kind of teeth you see on a nature show, covered with blood and satisfaction. Jack’s smile was not bloody, nor was it satisfied. Snowy drifts continued to pound the weak pane on the shack, and Jack sniffed a little.
            “I sort of just stared,” Jack reflected, “and gaped a bit. You were beautiful. That way your hair was tied up in a knot, with your bangs still covering your eyes, stole my soul. You took a little step towards me, and your blouse danced about even though there wasn’t any breeze. When you held out your hand, I- well, well I- I was speechless. But I took it, and we danced. The song played, and your body moved with mine, and your feet glided across the floor, and I thought to myself, ‘Gee, this is happening.’ Then the song was over. And you left, and then I left.”
            Jack shot up off his mat, resembling an awakened corpse springing from the grave. A tear sat on his cheek, a perfect droplet of sadness. “We talked a bit in the halls, you know? A simple ‘Hello’ and ‘Hi, there’ to start. Then we ate lunch together a few times. That was fun, right?” Jack tried to laugh, but this time he just coughed and another tear fell out of his eye. “That’s when people started whispering. And you stopped talking to me for a bit. I didn’t know what I did. I thought we were friends. I tried writing letters, leaving notes. You didn’t-” Jack stifled a sob, and continued. “You didn’t reply. Then that girl, your best friend, told me ‘Get lost’, like she knew what was good for us.”
            The shack was shaking all about now, its rusty nails holding the planks the same way gum stops a leak. Icy winds howled, battering the glass. Jack threw some clothing, a hair-tie and a blouse, onto the fire, and felt the expanding heat on his frozen hands.
            “I listed to our song every day. Our song. I thought to myself, ‘Hell, we were together before. We can be together now!’ So I followed you home from school that Friday afternoon, with a rose. You didn’t notice me when you walked in, or when you ate dinner, or when you stripped and started to shower. I waited till late, and then I broke in. I knew you’d have to accept me when you saw the rose. How could you not? How could you NOT?!” Jack let out a painful wail, tears streaming from his cheeks like twin rivers in flood season. Outside, nature herself let out her sorrow and grief, chilling everything to its core.
            Another stifled sob was uttered, and Jack tried to compose himself. “It was- it was real hard to explain everything to your father. He had the baseball bat and I had the rose and I thought it might have been funny if it wasn’t so serious. Well, it got more serious, and you walked downstairs, and saw me with the bloody knife.” Jack cried once more, but it sounded as if he were screaming, the sharp sound piercing through the noise of the wind like a blade. “You- you screamed! And I screamed! As soon as I saw the phone in your hand, I knew what you were trying to do. I- I didn’t know how else to act! Everything sped up, and life just slipped by, like I fainted. I remember the light on the ceiling, how it just poured out whiteness. And I looked down, real fast, like waking from a nightmare. Then- then…”
Words failed, and Jack broke down. Utterances of deep, destructive passion sounded beyond the shack, into the forest. Nature had ceased her inclemency, forfeiting to the storm within Jack’s heart.  Tears pooled about the ragged mat. The fire faded and died.
Jack gazed across the shack through his blood-shot eyes, struggling in vain to breath, to speak, to recall.
            The corpse of a young girl gazed back.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The O'Connor Reaction

Occasionally, when experiencing a certain kind of story, readers grow anxious. The medium is irrelevant: film, literature, and videogames can all have it. Gradually, the atmosphere of a work becomes disconcerting and tense. Something about a situation does not sit well with the mind, or the heart, or the soul. One’s feeling of comfort progressively shifts and wanes, finally combusting in an interjection. “Oh, God!” or “It couldn't be!” or even “Why?!” might slip the tongue after a particularly poignant case of this phenomena. Flannery O’Connor’s stories are particularly steeped in this recurring usage of shocking, thought-stifling events.
            For sake of brevity, the occurrence heretofore described will now be referred to as the O’Connor Effect. Throughout the three stories offered in Norton (A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Good Country People, and Everything That Rises Must Converge), the O’Connor Effect is very evident. Flannery O’Connor seemed to delight in weaving a plot of slow realization, of irony, and foolishness, and the dark harshness of human existence. She accomplished this through the usage of settings which are common and seemingly innocent. Her fiction is not composed of obscure situations intangible to the average person. As such, the O’Connor Effect becomes all the more affecting, and all the more unsettling.
            A Good Man Is Hard to Find begins with the innocence of a road trip (Innocence, by the way, is a rather major role throughout the three short stories). A family decides to take a trip south, expecting a nice and enjoyable vacation. Of course, as their trip wears on the flaws of the character’s dispositions become evident, but they are barely different from any other family. The grandmother, whom the story mostly focuses around, fills the trip with (as a personal opinion) the inane chatter of a person longing for faded youth and thoughtless save for nostalgic reflections (Her wearing a nice outfit should she die in an accident is testament to her rather foolish mind).
            Irony rears its head in two instances during this story. The first, which is stated during the introduction to O’Connor’s work in Norton, is that of the grandmother’s proper attire. In order to demonstrate to the world that she is a lady, even in death, she travels in floral and elegant attire. In the end of A Good Man Is Hard to Find, the grandmother lies dead in a pool of her own blood. But, hey, at least passer-by will stop and say, “Gee, what a fine lady she must have been.” The second instance of irony, which I find too perfect, is in the appearance of the Misfit, a killer whom the grandmother rants about prior to the family’s trip. Of course, placing yourself in the family’s place yields a fairly terrifying feeling, horrible and lamentable. Yet, on the outside, the darkness seems to dim a little with examination of how O’Connor set the story up.
            Good Country People continues with the O’Connor Effect, though certainly not as dark as the preceding piece. Irony within this plot arrives in the nature of Hulga and her situation at the end. Throughout the story, Hulga stomps about with an air of conceit, feeling intellectually superior to the people with which she resides. Her philosophical pursuits, however, have left her with a loose grasp on reality and a weakened understanding of people. With the bible salesman, Hulga feels controlling, feeling as if it’s a game, that she is seducing him. Lo and behold when the salesman unveils his true nature, has her helpless in a barn, and absconds with her prosthetic leg to satisfy some obscure fetish. Hulga, for all supposed intellect and comprehension of life, receives a rather hard knock back down to Earth.
            Everything That Rises Must Converge features a more depressing ending than the other two (well, alright, it ties with A Good Man Is Hard to Find). The son within this story is jaded with life and the society around him. Again, as in Good Country People, the character’s history with education leads to a more disappointed view of the world. A mentality of “I am above this” courses throughout the son’s disposition and expressions, and extends even to his treatment of his mother. With racial tension as a backdrop, the son pictures himself as enlightened, seeking assimilation with colored people, in opposition to his mother’s sentiments. The character longs to see his mother put in her place, to have her experience an ideological shift into the new age, even by arguably harsh means. What could be more perfect, then, to have the mother endure just such an experience, only to become jeopardized in health and to have the son pouring out emotion for his dear, sweet mamma?
            Indeed, the O’Connor Effect relies heavily on situational irony, and it works. Flannery O’Connor certainly found an effective means of relating statements and emotions. The fates and experiences of her characters are frightening, sorrowful, and unfortunate. However, a feeling of justice is occasionally at work, as well, if one were to look with an open enough mind. Nothing can beat those moments of realization, those epiphanies exhibited with the O’Connor Effect, which really drive a chill down the reader’s spine.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Pyre of Books

Rejected novel drafts serve as the best kindling. Passionate flames of authorial disappointment quickly consume a page, leaving barely a trace to scoff at. Yet compound that single page into chapters upon chapters of dismissed text, and a veritable explosion is primed to ignite. Character arcs; plot twists; spelling errors; all yelp and holler with the crackling combustion of cherished labor. Literature degrades into neglected ash, allowing a homicidal phoenix to rise and take flight. Though well aware of this fatal trait, Herman Mildew, most infamous of editors, was recklessly preparing a funeral pyre of extinguished hopes beneath his feet.
I knew Mildew well. He was my editor for close to ten years, ever since I dropped out of college to pursue my youthful dreams of writing.
Taking a year to complete my first novel, I struggled to scrape together enough money for rent and Ramen. Luckily, I had also managed to pick up a gig as a restroom attendant at a night club. With a life of text by day and abuse by night, I gradually transformed myself into a fledgling writer. Then the heart-pounding day arrived in which I planned to place my draft before the world. Thanks to fate, the world just happened to be Herman Mildew.
After sending the draft off to Puffin Publications, I waited. With each passing dawn, I would lie awake, stomach churning with anticipation of how my work would be received. Weeks crept by, then a month. A feeling of resignation began to seize my mind, and I started preparing to move in with my uncle in Boston. No sooner had I surrendered my goals to life’s cruel hand, however, than I received a rank, garlic-scented manila folder in the mail.
Stealing away to my apartment like a roach caught in light, my mind began to sway. Questions of my own self-worth began weaving in one ear, out the other. My hands shook; the seal ripped open; my eyes hungrily attacked the material contained inside.
I was underwhelmed.
Smeared offensively across the front of my (now stained) novel draft was a Post-it note reading: “The protagonist is too whiny. Man him up.” Attached beneath the note was an address and hours of business, as well as a most unforgettable name: Herman Mildew.
To satiate your curiosity, my novel was a bildungsroman of life in Japanese-occupied Manchuria during the twentieth-century. That “whiny” protagonist Mildew referred to was an eight-year old orphan boy living in a bombed-out ghetto.
With flushed cheeks, red like cherries, and with a stomach and wallet both on empty, I stormed in to see this “Herman Mildew”. At the publishing house, I was let into a hazy, smoke-filled office. At the back of the office reclined the most offensive, grease-haired, red-nosed, double-chinned human I could ever care to meet. In a large ash tray sat the working draft of a novel, burning with sorrow, flicks of paper rising on its heat currents. Mildew took out a fat cigar, lit it over the combusting composition, and stuck it between his yellow teeth. My eyes met his, and I felt like I could see into the pits of Hell, deep and black. He kicked out a chair, and said, “Congratulations. Your novel I kept.”
Five years later, I was finishing my second book and ate three square meals a day. Five years after that, I was traveling to seminars and fan meet-ups around the world, living a life of fulfillment. Now I am judged before you, accused of murdering the only editor I have ever known. Suffice it to say I am not surprised Herman was murdered. Yet by no means did I take his life.
Though my writing and work became successful under Mildew’s eye, not all potential novelists shared the same fate. Too often had I seen bright-eyed people, whose pupils echoed the rays of the sun, enter the red-brick publishing house on Fifth Street, only to leave with tear-stained cheeks and broken spirits.
During my time at conventions and seminars, I would overhear whispers of “that gross sack of perspiring hatred.” Mildew had established himself as some sort of legend, or rather a curse. Of all editors, alive or dead, he had been fixed as a villain, a sinister force in the world of literary careers. I, an acclaimed best-seller due to Mildew’s guidance, observed from afar as sentiments began to bubble and broil.
I knew Mildew for ten years. Within those ten years I had seen him make a living out of burning novels before they could live, before they could inspire, or teach, or comfort. I had seen aspiring writers leave the publishing house swearing oaths of hatred, even vengeance. The thing is, though, Herman Mildew saw it, too. He saw the waves recede, and could smell the tidal fury of disgruntled writers fast approaching. Mildew just laughed. Sometimes I wondered if he had a heart. I would drift off over my coffee, contemplating all the repulsive habits and acts of that reckless man.
After a while, I came to a conclusion of sorts. Herman Mildew was a self-righteous individual, who believed he had to purify the literary stream by fire. As an editor, he felt a divine calling to view works and their creators with a terribly judgmental eye, seeking to ascend only the greatest to authorship. Do not mistake me: I object to any notion that I am some form of master-race writer. But, in Herman Mildew’s mind, I might have been.
I do not know how Herman Mildew perished. Perhaps he died of a stab-wound, right through the clogged artery. Maybe someone shot him in the shower, penetrating his thick, bull-headed skull. Or, maybe he was burned on a pyre of books; a most ironic and befitting end for an editor of his reputation.
Whatever his fate, I did not play a role. Herman Mildew paved the way for my success, my happiness, and my life: I would never repay him with bloodshed.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Initiation Reaction

            The “Initiation Stories” are a familiar literary concept. The bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story, is an often-read style of text. In fact, the bildungsroman and the initiation story are both incredibly similar in their themes of growing up. Both include pursuits of growth and learning, as well as development of character. Most importantly, they both involve the trials and tribulations of youth as they progress through varied circumstances. Where an initiation story seems to differ, however, is in its short length and focus on one major plot point.
            In defining initiation stories as such, they may be receiving an oversimplification. However, there definitely seems to be some sort of contrasting trait which sets the style apart from a bildungsroman. To support the claim, there are several examples in the section of The Norton Introduction to Literature.
            In Stepdaughters, the plot focuses on a timespan of around two to three years (No, I am not going to go back and check). Yet this passage of time is summarized succinctly within seven pages of text. The author accomplishes this by focusing on one key element throughout the story; that is, the daughter’s involvement with shot-put. Emotion and thoughts are conveyed, but the lengthy extrapolation and development of a bildungsroman are left out.
            In Gorilla, My Love, the main character presents a set of circumstances which all tie into the theme of youth against establishment, and the underestimation of children and their aptitude. Again, as in Stepdaughters, the plot covers a span of time yet is covered in a few pages. The key focuses, the words and descriptions which leave the most impact and meaning, are the ones that stay. In fact, an initiation story may very well be a trimmed-down (heavily trimmed-down) bildungsroman. They are the results of condensing a novel into a short story.
            Now, this may have been obvious to many readers of the “Initiation Stories” section. However, one of the included works does not fit this “condensed” category: A & P. Instead of featuring a lengthy timeline of events, A & P transpires over a few minutes, half an hour at maximum. Nary has a bildungsroman boasted a novel-length plot which covers just thirty minutes. What, then, can be concluded on the matter? Well, A & P, though it covers a brief instant of time, features a relatively altering life experience for the main character. The author does not divulge on the events. Rather, a critical moment in youth is chronicled over a brief set of pages.
            The safest route to follow in this reaction is to determine that bildungsroman and initiation stories are, in essence, the same. Bildungsroman may possess a more attractive name, and may be longer in length, but the two styles focus on the same material. So, then what has been accomplished with this writing? Very little, but a fairly certain conclusion has been reached on the nature of initiation stories. Though lesser in size, they contain the same emotionally provoking topics and ideas as their novel counterparts.