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