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Pickle Me This

July 11, 2007

Wholly visible and reliable

What is it when pathetic fallacy functions in reading? Because at the moment I feel like I’m reading Salt Rain in just the right climate: “the raindrops making an endless circuit from earth to clouds, the same water falling again and again for decades.” 80% humidity is probably as close to the Australian rain forest as Toronto ever gets. It’s a funny thing.

So far Salt Rain is a pretty good story, but then you’ve got to feel sorry for any book that has to follow Henry James. Such an unfair pitting, but the narrative voice feels so slight in comparison. Which came to mind last night when I was reading James Wood’s review of Edward P. Jones’ Aunt Hagar’s Children in The London Review of Books. Writes Wood:

These days, God-like authorial omniscience is permitted only if God is a sweet ghost, the kind with whom the residents can peaceably coexist. This is especially true in most contemporary short stories, where the narrator may be wildly unreliable (first person) or reliably invisible (third person), but not wholly visible and reliable. Few younger contemporary writers risk the kind of biblical interference that Muriel Spark hazards, or that V.S. Naipaul practices in A House for Mr. Biswas, in which the narrative eschatologically leaps ahead to inform us of how the characters will end their lives or casually blinks away years at a time: ‘In all, Mr. Biswas lived six years at The Chase, years so squashed by their own boredom and futility that they could be comprehended in one glance.’ Comprehended by whom?

And now, post-James, I am craving omniscience. And have set myself a little challenge: the next story I begin will have a narrator who is not a sweet ghost at all.

(Update: Oh, yes, I looked it up. “eschatology [esk‐ă‐tol‐ŏji], the theological study or artistic representation of the end of the world.”)

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