Close to the bone

SnakArt is Life

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Close to the bone

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Redigeret: aug 3, 2007, 9:32 am

I'd like to know what stories or artwork came so close to the bone for you that it was almost "too much." I told this story at another group in a slightly different context. The point of the story here is that I think the best art makes us squirm a little. I'd like it if some of you told your own stories about works that cut close to the bone. My story:

From a young age I liked melancholy, sad, or really dark stories. My brother found a collection of stories by Guy de Maupassant on the highschool bus that he drove. The book was never claimed, and he gave it to me. Maupassant's "The Necklace" is a much-anthologized piece, and some of you may know him from that story. However, "The Necklace" is mild compared to much of his writing. Maupassant wrote some very strange stuff, such as the story about a man who was so overcome by grief at the death of his wife that he dug her up three days later. Another story is about a funeral pyre. Still another is called "Mother of Monsters." It is about a woman who purposely bound her womb with corsets and sold her misshapen babies to sideshows. All this from the man who is considered by some to be the father of the modern short story! Admittedly, it was all a bit much for me; I was just 13, but I was really fascinated. I actually thought the book might be obscene so I hid it under my bed for fear that my parents would find it. It was a big secret and I never told anyone about it, not even my best friend at school because I knew she would just think I was strange. I think it's interesting that in my 13 year old mind, truth and obscenity seemed like the same thing. Maupassant's world was so different from the one I knew, yet it seemed more true, somehow. Bizarre but true.

aug 4, 2007, 11:23 am

When I read books about addiction, about individuals given over to despair because of faulty brain chemistry or abuse or a stubborn desire not to be like all the other sardines in the can, I feel a twinge of empathy (and sometimes shame). Books like Seth Morgan's HOMEBOY and Abraham Rodriguez's SPIDERTOWN and Irvine Welsh's violent, junk-sick characters show me what might have happened to me had I not had the good fortune (and blessing) to have writing as an outlet and a supportive wife, two terrific sons, as a sturdy foundation. People fall into addictive behaviors and patterns because there is an emptiness at their core and I've been fortunate to find something to fill in that emptiness, to close the void...although sometimes things shift, a hole forms that threatens to swallow me up in despair. Work and love are the only saving graces, restoring the certainty that there is a plan for me, that my calling (writing) is relevant, that my life has purpose. Without that belief, that certainty, I begin to founder...

aug 4, 2007, 12:45 pm

My addiction has always been reading. Reading instead of studying, reading instead of work, reading instead of any type of social interaction, sometimes reading instead of eating (although I did learn to those two simultaneously). My wife says sometimes that she is now amazed that I stopped reading to talk to her the first time we met. It just proved that I had rudimentary survival skills and that sex is a very deep drive indeed.

In fact, I think my reading addiction kept me from addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. For me there was only room for one addiction.

aug 5, 2007, 8:31 pm

It's always characters on the fringes who draw me. I'm not interested in the tribulations of upper middle class executives or the dreams of the mad housewife or the perils of suburbia. I want to see how humans respond when they're placed in extremis, their lives and souls forfeit. I love the notion of someone plucked out of their safe, comfortable milieu and dropped in an unfamiliar and hostile environment. The equivalent of a Polanski film, the evil hiding beneath the banality. The neighbors who belong to a coven, the man with the rapist's eyes, the conscierge who always seems to be watching...

Redigeret: aug 5, 2007, 9:20 pm

This is a great statement, Cliff. It's what I meant when I wrote in my profile that I like to be set on fire by what I read.

I like to picture a story like a cross. It could be literally "crossroads," but I like to think of a religious cross. The character is in the middle of that cross. I think Tim O'Brien conveyed this brilliantly in THE THINGS THEY CARRIED with his character named "Cross" who represented the paradoxical situation his men were in. In fact, I think his name was Jimmy Cross, or J.C. ("Jesus Christ"). Some may find this heavy handed, but like I said, I think it's brilliant and enfuses the characters with elements of the sacred. I like stories about the sacred and the profane.

Where good and evil become blurred. That's what being in the middle of the cross conveys to me. It is neither heaven nor earth, it is that moment between when a choice can be made or when a character finds herself at the whims of chance.

I know what you mean about the "fringes." I have to feel something big is at stake. I think (maybe) I see this in more subtle terms than you do, because I can enjoy stories about executives and housewives (like in Moody's ICE STORM, which I'm reading now). Those people are almost literally spiritually dead. Their souls have already been forfeited.

The "fringe" can be conveyed through the writing. Moody's writing is so wild, smart, and surprising that I feel like I'm on quite a ride.

Your experiences with addiction took you to the fringe, I am sure, and I bet you know for real what it is like for the soul to be in forfeit.

aug 6, 2007, 4:11 am

One book that proved to be almost too much is David Ray's memoir, The Endless Search. His descriptions of sexual abuse are graphic and disturbing. Those topics I discourage my students from addressing in my writing classes, particularly the first-semester writing course, are incest and rape because I find those subjects distressing. I continued reading David Ray's book because I like his poems and because I wanted to see how he eventually became the person that he is. As a reader, I had to ask myself why he let himself be molested repeatedly by an older man.

aug 6, 2007, 10:33 am

BAck in my ancient reading history, Rosemary's Baby hit too close to the bone. Not because the writing was so exemplary, but because the premise of the ending was so absolutely true. It literally gave me the willies to think that mother love would prevent the majority of women from disposing of the devil's spawn, that she would believe that her nurturing would overcome his inherent nature.

I spent the night pacing over that thought, trying to find a loophole that would let me sleep.


Redigeret: aug 6, 2007, 11:07 am


I'm a fan of Tim O'Brien's too and Rick Moody has been a recent discovery for me. I have his novel THE DIVINERS and read a brilliant piece he did on W.G. Sebald in BELIEVER magazine that blew me away.

When I mentioned addiction in one of my posts I was alluding to the addictive personality I have and what would have happened had I not discovered writing and wasn't fortunate enough to be blessed with a life partner and kids who are my great support system. I have no personal experience with addiction though I have lost friends who have gone that route.

As for my own life, it's boring--writing every day (sometimes even Christmas), small social circle, all of whom are aware of my obsession with writing and very tolerant of my prolonged absences. Reading and watching old films constitutes my "hobbies". Addictions? Salt. Coffee. The printed word. That's about all my metabolism will bear...

aug 6, 2007, 1:43 pm

Cliff, I understand about the addictions. I think nearly all of us have them. Any kind of addiction can certainly be damaging. When did that piece of Moody's in BELIEVER magazine come out? I wish I'd seen that.

Joyce, you hit on a really chilling aspect of love. In my profile I say I think the most important aspect of experience is love. I should have made the comment that I also meant the darker aspects of love. The Medea myth is almost too much for me to fathom, to contain. So I get where you are coming from.

firstcity, I haven't read THE ENDLESS SEARCH. I did recently win the prize-winning memoir BECAUSE I REMEMBER TERROR, FATHER, I REMEMBER YOU, which, as you can tell, is about incest. The descriptions were very graphic. A couple of problems for beginning students dealing with those topics would be that they were either too close to the material or that they had no real or imaginative knowledge of it at all. In either case, it would result in bad writing.

aug 7, 2007, 12:41 am

Ooh, I never read Rosemary's Baby. I might have to add it to my reading list. What a scary, creepy premise, that what is best in us could unleash evil into the world. It's especially scary because so often we can't be totally, completely sure that what we believe to be our most compassionate impulses aren't actually self-serving delusions that will end up causing untold amounts of suffering. Look how many wars were started with the best of intentions, or at least with what people claimed and probably believed were the best of intentions.

aug 7, 2007, 12:52 am

Yes, that is exactly what I mean when I say the "beauty and terror of life." Yes, you described it perfectly.

aug 7, 2007, 12:52 am

Denne meddelelse er blevet slettet af dens forfatter.

aug 9, 2007, 2:06 pm

I find Guy de Maupassant absolutely haunting, and I believe it is in that same story of the necklace where I perceived the genius of his horror: the atavistic and elemental terror the husband in the story realizes when he finds out how his wife obtained the authentic jewelry (I hope we are talking about the same story).

aug 9, 2007, 4:31 pm

So true. Maupassant had that ability, like Poe, to express psychological horror. His stories never leave the mind.

feb 25, 2009, 5:34 pm

On a recent trip to Chicago, I saw the Edvard Munch exhibit. For me, he has always been an artist whose work cut close to the bone. I've been trying to write about him and his work on my blog. I am so inept, though, at writing about art. I feel it more than I think it. Here is my first attempt, recently posted on my blog:

The Munch exhibit in Chicago was haunting and unforgettable and took me into the maelstrom of some difficult emotions. I've always felt this is a trip worth taking because the end result is exhilarating. I just can't shake the feeling of having seen Munch's work, the real canvases and papers of Munch.

I've always loved Munch's art. I think it is his preoccupation with sex and death that has drawn me to him. Sex and death has always been a preoccupation of mine and has shown itself in my fiction. When I was a young art student at East Carolina University, Munch's painting Puberty (1894-5) was always beside me. At the Chicago exhibit, I learned there is an etching (I think it is called Le Plus Bel Amour de Don Juan, created in 1886) that probably served as inspiration for Munch's work. The description of Le Plus Bel Amour suggested that the girl is afraid she has been impregnated because she has sat on a chair recently vacated by Don Juan.

Munch definitely made the subject his own; his girl is much more uncomfortable than the girl in Le Plus Bel Amour; I'd say she's morbidly shy. The shadow behind her is a Munch touch. It is menacing. It has been described as phallic.

The painting always spoke to me of my own shyness as a girl and my fear and fascination of sex from an early age.

Adolescence can be a scary time for girls.

mar 4, 2009, 1:14 am

i saw the munch exhibit last week. it was a bit crowded, need to go back again. looked awesome though. and the museum is finally taking shape again!