22 May 2006

this is one of the reasons why i wanted an mp3 weblog. "down river" was one of the first song i posted, but i realize many of you weren't here then. as i said then, if you download one song from this site, this should be it. it's probably the song i've written most about, so tonight i'll try to write about it by writing about something else instead.

david ackles - "down river" (from the david ackles lp, available for purchase here.)

i had a friend, and she & i loved talking about books. we would read our favorite stories to one another or attempt to recite our favorite poems. (reading donald barthelme's "the balloon" to her, i finally understood the story entirely.) i did much of the reading; she did much of the appreciating.

i don't think i ever recommended katherine mansfield to her, which was one of my errors, if not a great one. for all i know, she was a fan--she had an endless capacity to surprise me, after all.

katherine mansfield is a bit like david ackles, outshined by contemporaries, a bit of a cult taste, memory kept alive by a devoted few. virginia woolf said that mansfield's was the only prose style of which she was jealous; she also was convinced that the more people praised mansfield's work, the more woolf was sure that work was terrible. (the "hate the fans" mentality, in the early 20th century, no less!) malcolm cowley was no fan :
one situation recurs constantly in her work. there is a woman : neurotic, arty, hateful, and a good, stupid man whom she constantly torments. ... another situation, which she repeats rather less frequently, is that of the destruction of a woman's individuality by some stronger member of her family.
if you haven't already, you can make up your own mind here and here, two of her story collections having been reprinted on the net.

i wonder what cowley would have made of raymond carver (whom cowley, born in 1898, actually outlived!) carver is a good reference, both b/c of his cachet w/ a certain set and b/c the two of them work a similar groove and have their own pet stylistic devices. for mansfield, this means starting stories w/ a conjunction and favoring ellipses. and like carver, mansfield is best read in small doses as it can get a bit unintendedly self-parodic after awhile. oh, and not to be overlooked, both carver & mansfield died at early ages (50 and 34, respectively, the latter of consumption!), an unhappy end to their lives but only the beginning to their myths.

she was born a decade before hemingway and nearly a decade after joyce, an appropriate positioning as i think she bridges the gap between the two. like joyce, her stories deal in the epiphany, a character discovering truths about others, the world & themselves; like hemingway, she deals w/ scenes, brief encounters, and leaves out a number of details, calling the reader's imagination into play. i was reading her story "a dill pickle" last night--which you can read here--and, when the woman says, "how had she dare to throw away her happiness like this!" i thought of joyce's "a painful case" ... before the ending altered my view. (i had brunch w/ a former professor / good friend in new york last week. he believes "every bond is a bond to sorrow" to be one of the great lines, from a collection he could read endlessly.) i then thought of "down river."

more than any song i know, "down river" reminds me of a short story, a pitch-perfect literary adaptation--not a poem or a novel, mind, but a short story, a brilliant five-page sketch. there is epiphany; there is much missing, particularly rosie's end of the conversation. it's also like a short story in that i don't wish to ruin the ending. w/o doing that, i'll say that both story & song deal w/ the things that happen--or don't happen--to former lovers after time apart (six & three years, respectively); how time can stand still for one individual and move w/ the rush & fury of a deluge for the other. both stories are immensely sad, but to paraphrase tolstoy, unhappy lovers are unhappy in their own way. and, of course, both stories are worth hearing, esp. if you've someone who'll read the short story to you.

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