One of my teachers remarked about this beginning: "For two pages I felt this was all about the author. The problem is simply proportion. The old woman is a device and the author tries to cover that up with 'clever' writing, like holding up flashcards at the reader. . ." There's a bit more, which I'll relate shortly, but I'm still trying to puzzle out this "flashcard" metaphor.
In school, the teachers used flashcards as a device to sharpen the wits, to get the students to think on their feet. In the third grade, I was the flashcard champion. We competed in simple math: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Quickly, nine times five?
Twenty-one minus nineteen? Can you think that fast? See, it isn't easy.
The answer is two. I'm still very good.
I used flashcards in college to study vocabulary for my GRE's. I had the word on the front, the definition on the back. I made several of my girlfriends go through this exercise with me. Some tried to use sex as a reward. With one, I had to use sex as the reward: if you help me, I'll sleep with you.
Flashcards are an abbreviation. This short-cutting doesn't suggest a clever writer -- not to me. What my teacher probably meant was the writer sent up fireworks to dazzle the reader. That makes more sense. Think of the Fourth of July, over the water in Santa Monica.
You've never been?
It's a wide expanse of sand that runs for miles north and south. Hundreds of thousands of people hike in to watch the show. Someone shoots the explosives out over the water, big starbursts that rise up a thousand feet. If my opening encompassed bright lights and smoke, the illusion of form, that revision would make his last sentence make sense: "The net effect is that there is no substance to all this, though."
Do you agree? I suppose it's unfair to ask for your participation in this manner but the reading process requires us to fill in the gaps. According to Iser. A German. I'm always deciding if I like something when I read it. I'm deciding if I like this while I'm writing it. So I've pulled you into the process. Perhaps you thought you were settling down to some kind of escapist fiction. A simple story, and on the surface, Marilyn's story remains simple. Instead, you're wading through a tangle of parts, a physical rendition of hypertext fiction. The computer makes it easier. I am sorry for that. Still, I think my teacher got it wrong. What makes him any more informed than any of you? Than I?
I think the problem lies in discourse. The opening begins well enough with the high literary style of free indirect discourse present in the first sentence. The informed reader understands the idea of shared consciousness, that Marilyn and the narrator speak in a unified voice.
And why not the kind of simile present, the high, rhetorical style? Marilyn is an educated person, a lawyer too. Rhetoric informs all legal argument. Though perhaps the word "syncline" is a bit much.
I'll confide something in you: sometimes I read the dictionary looking for odd words that I can put in my stories. "Syncline" is one of those and I confess as I write this I have no idea what it means. Can't remember. But it has a nice sound. Sexual, don't you think? Like a combination of sin and incline. And if such a suggestion results from the synesthesia, think of the irony involved: an old woman and the principal icon of the predominant western religion conflated, sexually.
A whole new area of scholarly inquiry could open up from this image. The anagogical meets the analogical. Strange that a Jewish writer should turn to Christian allegory. This is not the first time. It occurs repeatedly in my stories and yet I have only been in Church on three occasions, one of them a funeral. I was not required to genuflect.
It turns out -- because I just looked it up -- that a syncline is a kind of "V"-shaped depression that occurs naturally at the conjunction of two angled rock formations. If you observed a pair of breasts by placing your face on the subject's abdomen and looking upward toward the chin, the valley between the breasts bears a startling resemblance to the line-drawn illustration in the dictionary. But this metaphor is worse still: there's nothing sexual about it all; it's geology.
After all this unresolved talk of synclines and breasts, somehow the narrative veers off -- into thoughts. Marilyn's thoughts. The story moves to direct discourse in an amateur's attempt to psychologize the subject's interior, as if telling you what Marilyn thinks -- a quoted narration -- is the same as your experiencing her thoughts. Doesn't work. Rather than bring us in, we are left outside the circle of her mind, mediated by the invisible, but strongly felt presence of a narrative agent. Still -- in my defense, and despite the dead metaphor of the fog -- conflict has been articulated. A chance delay caused by inane office conversation. An old woman with nothing else to do but yak. A once handsome stranger standing in the door, sweating. Tension and Danger heightened through Marilyn's failure to read the memos on office security. Her loss. Her real loss.
Go to Part 10