Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Some General Reflections on Good Stuff

Arriving in my mailbox yesterday was The Last Game We Played by Jo Neace Krause, who won Black Lawrence Press' Hudson Prize for the collection in 2008. I greedily unwrapped it, since I've been looking forward to its arrival, although it got here very quickly.

I saw that Joyce Carol Oates blurbed the book, calling the stories "strange and compelling." Since, as you may know, I am a fairly rabid Joyce Carol Oates fan, I was eager to see the work of an author whose writing Oates' endorses, especially since the words Oates uses to describe Krause's short stories are exactly those I would employ to characterize Oates'. After class last night, I was able to start one of the book's 12 stories. "Disgust," a title that intrigued me, has the delightfully salty flavor of Flannery O'Connor and certainly touches some of O'Connor's subject matter, since it involves a young Jesuit priest and his eternally sherry-dampened mother, a benefactress who takes in wayward girls so they might escape the detention center. And although there were clues at the outset that the rescued girl is not on the path to redemption, you want to believe she is good, that she is trying. You find fault with her employer, who is easily affronted, fond of her position, condescending to the last. And the girl, so very aware of this, is rotten to her very core. Still, this is not what inspires disgust...not at all....we shall discuss this all later, in another post. So good! I'm excited to get to the next one...

In the meantime, it's interesting to note that Krause is also a painter, whose work is featured in the Kentucky Folk Art Museum. The work at right, "The Death of Stonewall Jackson", previously appeared at storySouth . The cover of her collection, too, contains a nude she herself painted. If you will kindly permit me to get my art history geek on, I'll be happy to inform you that, in the painting above, I see echoes of Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Rousseau. (You get a gold star, Savannah. )

Yes, that was nice, but I'll put my geek away now. Still, it might come out again. The velcro on my geek keeper is loose.

Speaking of the fallen young woman in Krause's story "Disgust", I'm also reading Nana and enjoying it much more than I did when I started it in grad school, a time during which I was oriented more towards the louder, fully mechanized Futurism of the 1920s, towards Weimar, towards Otto Dix's lecherous walking cadavers, and Max Beckman's sadistic , symbol-studded triptychs. The apparently innocent, dimpled flesh of Renoir's women or Manet's provocative, Salon-splitting nudes of Victorine Meurant seemed less enticing to me somehow, and so too the era's literature. But I'm getting older. I don't know what that means, really. But I fulminate less, and prefer my artwork to do the same. As an aside, I think the gentle graces of Renoir are more fitting for the young courtesans than any of the other Impressionists, whereas I associate the more hardened street strollers with Toulouse-Lautrec.

For example: below, T-L apparently captured this lovely lass just after a particularly difficult transaction...or maybe as she anticipates one.

Sure, she'll drink to that. You buying? If not, it's okay. She already has the bottle.

Of course, I always knew there was a hierarchy among the mid-19th century good-time girls, but I just didn't know the particulars, or I have simply forgotten them over time...although I have always known who could occasionally be welcomed (grudgingly, of course) into salon society and who would be eternally barred. That one's a no-brainer.

I use Thomas Hardy's "The Ruined Maid" in my literature classes, so I'll now be able to provide specific examples (Well, thanks, Mr. Zola) that demonstrate the difference between the 'kept' courtesan and the lowly street walker, whose dry spells left them dipping their fingers into sugar bowls for sustenance or eating the remnants of meals left by others...but this happened only if the owner kindly turned a blind eye.

Back to Hardy and 'Melia: her bleak reality is most evident in Nana. On her way to becoming a true courtesan, Nana, who apparently started on the street, must make home visits to interested parties, who make their inquiries through a kind of 'work broker' (in reality, she's a dowager doubling as a pimp). Passages from Nana will certainly help to illustrate how dim the future is for such women, who may never have the wit to climb to higher levels and place themselves in positions affording them self empowerment and long-term security. Without these, they eventually become social discards as soon as they burn through the single commodity they have: their youthful body.

I was struck, even as I continue to read, how many intersections there are between Nana's life and Anna Nicole's...a baby boy kept by family, an tendency towards extreme petulance, beauty (according to the standards of the day), and intermittantly brilliant flashes of luck....even the names, if the letters were rearranged, are eerily similar. Things to ponder....things to ponder....

Anyway...those, kids, are today's thoughts....more to come tomorrow, especially since I plan to get back to the fractured/micro fiction discussion! Lots of great conversation on HTML Giant last night.

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