Monday, February 1, 2010

Lydia's Davis's book of short fiction, Varieties of Disturbance, makes for a unique reading experience. I picked this up because a friend of my eldest daughter's had given her the book and I'd read James Wood's piece in the New Yorker about Davis's collected stories (which he considers as important a collection as Flannery O'Connor's collected fiction; quite a judgment). Some pieces are as short as a sentence, which makes the transition to her ordinary-length stories akin to a forced march after a stroll across a room. The pieces are all funny and often possess a detachedly ironic tone, a kind of weariness with language even as language makes profound demands.

I finished Ekaterina Sedia's The Alchemy of Stone a while ago. I liked the main character, or at least was intrigued by her; a "female" automaton, she's tasked with finding a way to transform her home city's living gargoyles into flesh. The book is shy with its details, so the world Sedia has created doesn't feel (no pun intended) fleshed out; rather, her focus is on the way in which one thing becomes another—the servant robot becomes free, metal learns to feel, stone becomes flesh, the living enter death, a city's government is transformed. The writing needed to open up some, I felt; the simple style fit our automaton's perspective, but the gargoyles' interior narrative sounded identical, and as the story increased in drama, the prose should have been reshaped, but instead felt flat. And through it all, I never had a strong sense of how exactly the automaton looked; the narrator held back, and I felt something more tactile would have helped. Some very nice moments in the piece and some surprising scenes that took the story and main character into unexpected narrative crannies.

Just started John the Revelator, by Peter Murphy. More on that another time.

I've been reading poetry, mostly, since that's what I'm focused on now in the early weeks of the creative writing class I'm teaching.

My story at Asimov's is getting positive responses from people. If only I had time to do more writing.


Anonymous said...

Thought I'd write to say how much I enjoyed "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down." Great blend of topicality and nostalgia--a tough mix for any writer. Well done. I'm looking forward to the prequel.

Nathaniel Williams
Lawrence, KS

William Preston said...

Thanks very much for taking time to say something, Nathaniel. That's much appreciated. I'm glad the story pleased you.

Best wishes,


Carl V. said...

Thanks for your comments on my site, I appreciate the visit. I'm excited to see that you are revisiting the Old Man Down universe, for lack of a better way of putting it.

I read Alchemy of Stone last year and really enjoyed it. It had the kind of melancholy I appreciate once in awhile in a good story. It wasn't perfect, but is a story that I recommend highly to friends.

Here's to hoping that you do find time to do more writing. I can only imagine how time consuming teaching is.

William Preston said...

Hey, Carl. I agree that Alchemy of Stone really nailed a certain tone of melancholy and hung onto it. That strong element is probably the main thing that pulled me back to the book each evening.

"Old Man Down." I like that. Oddly (well, to someone other than me, the writer), he's not referred to as "the old man" in the other stories, but by other names. Clearly, I'm trying to confuse any audience I might unwittingly attract.

Carl V. said...

Oh I don't know. I think you did a good job of pointing out that he had other names which should be apparent to anyone reading the stories. To me that kind of thing is intriguing. Makes me more interested in checking out more of the author's work, which I clearly need to do with you.

William Preston said...

Thank you, brother.