Friday, July 2, 2010

Short story reading; Verne's journey

From Thomas Lynch's Apparitions and Late Fictions, I read three short stories. They're something of a blur to me, and I've returned the book to the library, so I can't summon the titles. The blurriness is due to a commonality of tone and a similarity of subject. Lots of deaths and funerals. The author has written a book about the job of running a funeral home, so this materials has infiltrated his subsequent fictions, it seems. The writing was good, and one story, which had won a mystery award, had a nice way of delaying its surprises.

From James Lasdun's collection It's Beginning to Hurt, I read his prize-winning "An Anxious Man." A few moments and descriptions struck me as common, and some observations seemed obvious, but the story grew on me, the protagonist, a weak soul, shaped the events and outcome nicely, and the narrative became troubling, then harrowing. I wanted something more from the ending. Lasdun suggested some of that "more" with a late line meant to echo and earlier moment, but I didn't find the resonance convincing. Lasdun is English, but now lives here.

I finished Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. I've seen the old movie version (James Mason and Pat Boone? Is that right?) and recall: the large, quiet Icelander who assists the professor and his nephew; them being trapped in a large chamber; their expulsion from the volcano. I was surprised to find the book actually ended that way. Verne spends a great deal of time being very precise and scientific (though of course the scientific theories were shifting even as he wrote, and he added a goofy scene to the book to accomodate new information), which is why the utterly preposterous moments seem even less believable. And there are plenty of preposterous moments, usually involving tremendous falls, racing at great speeds, or being propelled upward. Had he been writing in the present day, he'd have had his characters outrun a fireball. They all should have been killed many times over (or at least lost their provisions a lot sooner). What Verne does get right is a kind of feverish tone for his narrator, who is either terrified or excited much of the time. His fears, and his experiences of vertigo, are captured well, and are the best moments in the tale.

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