Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Diaz, Zelazny, Kornbluth

A few days before I learned that Junot Diaz was to receive a MacArthur fellowship I happened to be reading his recent New Yorker story, and because of it was thinking of writing an essay about encounters with the fictional structure called the confessional.

A story will sometimes leave the reader unaware of its confessional nature until the end. That, in part, gives the ending its effectiveness: for it offers unexpected relief from what is now understood to be the downward gyre of the protagonist's life. It offers not resolution to a problem but the beginning of an answer.

I remember in the 1980s watching a Disco movie in a TV rerun, to gain a glimpse into the hoopla that raged through lives far glitzier than mine: Saturday Night Fever, I suspect. I remember being struck, at the end, by its confessional structure -- making a pop-culture movie, nakedly commercial in its intent and design, a matter for lingering contemplation -- at least for my erratic and eclectic organ of retrospection.

While that insight had strange immediacy, it took me longer to see it other places where it existed -- such as in Roger Zelazny's Jack of Shadows, the novel of his to which I have returned most often over the decades. That delay in recognition may have come about because of having read it several times before learning much about fictional structure.

Several aspects of "The Cheater's Guide to Love" ring chimes. Although its women characters seem ciphers, often described by the narrator in stereotypical lingo, they perform the Woman of Insight role. That they do so offstage lessens that role to some degree, perhaps. A certain amount of offstage machinations by the Woman Who Knows, however, may be necessary in such stories.

For now I am opting for a blog entry -- the essay may never come about, after all -- because of a different chime being rung. It occurs to me that Gravy Planet's ending gives a confessional arc to the whole. Cyril Kornbluth had already employed structures similar to the confessional; and his shorter story "The Marching Morons," which seems to contain the germ of the novel, might be read as a modified confessional in which the ending note of nascent hope is, instead, a note of nascent understanding without hope.

These thoughts comes as a surprise because the edited-down version of Gravy Planet, published as The Space Merchants, reads more simply as a romance, ending as it does at a point of romantic happiness. I do need to re-read both novels to confirm these impressions. If true, an irony arises in that the female lead in Gravy Planet endures reduction to a stereotypical cipher in The Space Merchants -- so hardly a worthy figure for romance.

As I have noted elsewhere, I have been unable to determine when or if Cyril learned that Space Merchants was significantly shortened and altered from Gravy Planet.

Cheers ...

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