Saturday, November 13, 2004

Not Gormless, Just Formless

Here's a good place to start a story: imagine you're a guy who's having an affair with some other guy's wife. You and she are both on the faculty of a local college, and you're kind of smug about the affair whenever you meet her husband, because you have secrets. You know all about how he disappoints her, and you know when you see him in his "bad plaid car coat" that she hates it, always has, while you, you're wearing a scarf she gave you, and the stupid schmuck doesn't know it. This state of affairs (if you'll pardon the phrase) has been going on a long time. Then she leaves him, and you run into him afterward in the parking lot at the college. You know she's left him because she's told you, but he doesn't know that, and so he tells you his side of it while you stand beside your car, its engine still running.

Thing is, writing fiction is full of pitfalls, as is demonstrated by Bruce Taylor's able and interesting piece, One of the Guys, which you can find in the latest issue of Carve magazine. True, Taylor can't resist some cute irony -- ZZ Top's Sharp Dressed Man is on the radio as the narrator and the cuckold meet in the aforementioned scarf and coat -- but overall, the piece is entertainingly written and smoothly executed. No, Taylor's real issue is that he isn't writing fiction. There's no dialogue, no dramatic situation that is developed over the course of the piece: all that exists is one encounter in the parking lot, followed by explication about how the dramatis personae arrived there, a brief meditation on their roles, and then a very nice image to wrap things up.

I know all about fiction's infinite variety of form and subject, and am a fan of many a departure from the standard, sometimes-hidebound ideas of what constitutes a short story -- so hush your mouth, child. But just because something doesn't display the profluence of a classically-defined short story doesn't necessarily mean it's breaking the rules of fiction; it can mean that the piece has been mis-classified.

"One of the Guys" is actually an intelligent pensée, a mini-essay on the similarity between the Don Juan and the cuckold: the narrator's own wife has left him, just as the cuckold's has; neither will ever know the real self of the woman they both love; and, we learn, Don Juans and cuckolds in general are, despite the women they have in common, apparently doomed to drink alone. Seen from that angle, it's well done. From the angle of fiction, though, it's unconvincing and unsatisfying: it's exactly the sort of self-indulgent introspection a Don Juan would go in for. One suspects that the cuckold wouldn't see the parallel.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: