1 year ago


2) Of course, Lewis

2) Of course, Lewis said, each fish as an individual is not eternal, which is the down side of fish. To give you an example: I was recently living in the Philippines. Got myself all set up with a fancy tank and a fish to match a particularly beautiful and pleasing specimen, a sort of blue-and-yellow-banded disk with a flirty tail. . . . It was a very beautiful being. But one evening I was having a little drink with some buddies, and one thing led to another and so on and so forth, and, what with this and that, by the time I got home, which was not for a couple of days, as it happened, when I walked in the door, there was that fish, lying on the surface, belly up. Maybe you should feed this one now, Caitlin said. The fish looked agitated; it was darting back and forth, bumping against the glass., I think it’s hungry. Or maybe it was suffocating the bowl was filthy, with trailing bits of pale debris floating around in it. For a moment Lewis seemed not to have heard, but then he lifted the ashtray from the night table and flung it against the wall., Fucking fish, Caitlin heard him say through the noise of the impact, which was reverberating around and around her like a lasso about to snap tight. Ten steps to the door, not more than ten. But the door itself was on the other side of the bed. Lewis lay back down, looking at Caitlin past the fish., Hey, he said., What are you doing down there on the floor?’ Although most readers will recognize the first passage from Hemingway s ‘the Snows of Kilimanjaro, they may nonetheless diagnose a fatal case of, female writing. It’s that telltale, kiss-of-death whiff of the, fey, old-hat, Quaintsy Goysy, tiny, . . . crippled, creepish, fashionable, frigid, outer-Baroque, maquilles in mannequin’s whimsy. . . ., And what is Bwana doing, exactly, except, stamping a tiny foot against God’? It’s not Hemingway s best work, so it may be unfair to pick on the stilted Noel-Coward-on-downers dialogue, and perhaps it’s stacking the deck to compare it with the passage from Deborah Eisenberg’s, Under the 82nd Airborne. Dying from gangrene caused by the failure to disinfect a scratch may be inherently less dramatic than facing rape or worse at the hands of a psycho soldier of fortune and tropical-fish hobbyist. But we are not talking about drama of plot so much as drama of writing: the inflated inexactitudes, the, lyrical posturing of the Hemingway sentences compared with the crisp, glittering menace, the winking death’s-head humor of the Eisenberg. Another charge often leveled at women writers is that our work is limited to the rather brief run, between the boudoir and the altar. Men write sweeping, phonebook-size sagas of the big city, of social class, of our national destiny, our technological past and future. They produce boldly experimental visionary fiction that periodically revives the moribund novel. Women write diminutive fictions, which take place mostly in interiors, about little families with little problems. And it’s no wonder, since our obsession with, feelings blinds us to the larger sociopolitical realities outside the tiny rooms in which our theaters of feeling are being enacted. 21 Register Magazine

And yet since literature has its size queens insisting that bigger is better, it should be said that women (in fiction as in life) have moved beyond the playground and onto the battlefield, beyond the supposed safety of the kitchen into the big bad world outside. How odd, then, that the Hemingway story should take place mostly on a cot outside a tent, between a man and a woman in the midst of an upper-class sports-adventure entertainment. Caught up in his feelings, unaware of the colonial fallout around him, Bwana can write home from the safari with zero awareness of how he wound up giving orders to his, personal boy. There is talk of money, but the subtheme of economics doesn’t get much broader than a few insults leveled by the dying writer against the, rich bitch who has supported him, the, destroyer of his talent. At one point he tells her cleverly, Your damned money was my armor. For all his Big Subjects men at war, men and peace, men without women Hemingway wasn’t a Big Picture guy. It’s possible to read For Whom the Bell Tolls and remain clueless as to who was fighting, or why. Meanwhile, a rather large wedge of reality has been neatly slipped into the pages of, Under the 82nd Airborne. The reason that Caitlin the down-on-her-luck actress in Eisenberg’s story finds herself in a room with Lewis and his mixed feelings about fish involves an escalating, undeclared war in Central America, a somewhat larger canvas than a safari tent in the bush. (I’m not suggesting that a great work can’t be written about so small a site Beckett often stays in one room or that there is any reason a writer should address our costly interference in the political affairs of other countries. There’s no reason an artist should do anything at all. I’m merely pointing out that these two arenas inside, private, the heart versus outside, public, the mind are not always divided neatly by gender.) Under the 82nd Airborne is not the only Eisenberg story to deal with the grim realities of Central American politics. She has also written about the Holocaust. And even her most, domestic and interior stories are permeated with the facts and details of social class. So one might expect male critics to encourage this girl-author’s valiant efforts to break away from the altar boudoir axis. But, writing in the Los Angeles Times, Richard Eder recoiled from the, coarse and loud voice of these subtle, understated stories, and he refined his opinion in a patronizing, bizarre review of Eisenberg’s latest collection, All Around Atlantis, calling her, a writer who bumps between what she does beautifully and what she seems to feel she ought to do. Her gift is to chart the 22

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