10 months ago


intimacy of the first

intimacy of the first person, the emotionality, the hyped-up intensity of the adjectives, most of which describe feelings (sympathetic, choked, fearful, half crazy with fear), the self-conscious, self-correcting (‘tell her in my way I loved’) solipsism of the unspoken confession, the sentimentality with which the narrator surrenders to the Dickensian, eternal mother, the breathlessness of the syntax, the hazy vagueness of detail, the merciless focus on the self. The second selection is, as obviously, the work of a man’ though we must imagine what manly writing is, since no one has explained how, precisely, a writer deploys ‘the remnant of his balls at the word processor. These cool, hard-boiled, distanced, third-person sentences turn their unblinking eye on a man dying horribly. His incoherent confession is punctuated by his confessor’s (and murderer’s) bullying demands that he shut up. There are almost no adjectives (‘hard is the most notable modifier), nor much emotion, any sentimentality (sentiment is undercuts sliced through by the implacability of those, shut up’s), the whole grisly scene culminating in the hard slap, the, male’s supposition that a human life is worth less than the specter of damage to one’s vehicle, the giddiness of that made-up word splurt, and the fastidious attention to the smears of blood on the bumper. In fact, the gender of these authors is the opposite of what I’ve suggested. The first passage comes from Frederick Exley s A Fan’s Notes, a memoir-novel that, in the three decades since its publication, has assumed an iconic status thanks to its painfully honest portrait of a certain sort of male writer and career alcoholic. The second is from Wise Blood, by Flannery O Connor, the writer who shocked Ozick’s students by turning out to be female. And if we move beyond these passages to consider the whole books, everything keeps subverting our stereotypical expectations. O Connor takes the aerial view, gazing down from above, charting the mysterious wriggling of her tiny, comical humans as they scurry about, looking for salvation in all the wrong places. Unlike a humorless girl writer, O Connor is hilarious, structuring long scenes so that their jokes keep building. She’s not terribly engaged

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