Sarah Wrote That

Wires dip along the road home from summers in which I traveled more. (Syntax—the code to the soul, or a code to a soul in a September mood. The paragraph ends with the time machine diagrammed, good for a few uses before it seems a formula: noun + verb + adverbial phrase(s) + adverbial phrase with temporally slipped modifier.)

I have been letting revision take all the attention I can shift to it. The command line program top (run, where else, in the Mac terminal setting named ‘novel’) would show one process spawning multiple threads, other processes stuck or sleeping, network down, little time idle.

This past weekend I moved the last of the chapters drawn from my MFA thesis out of my ‘current’ folder. Not done. But settled for now. I’m happy with them, happy to think mostly about chapters with fewer drafts behind them. Along with relief and the unfamiliar pleasure of reading them without wanting to noodle (much), I have a strangely solid, entirely erroneous sense of the ‘finished’ sections as finally approaching what I wanted all along. Maybe they do, in the roughest outline of an arc. The first draft was a mess, the second tidier about its false starts and thin relationships and leaden scenes, the third a muddle of logistics. How I believed in those mistakes.

I have become much more patient with, interested in events not only as engines or catalysts for fictional motion but as solids texturing the pages they’re on, and reverberating, no day only itself.

In Burger’s Daughter Nadine Gordimer signals the novel’s final direction not with Rosa Burger’s decision (that comes later, reasoned in retrospect), but by, in four words, shifting the time from which the narration comes. Rosa has a late night phone argument with her adopted brother:

Because Rosa Burger had once cried for joy she came out of the bathroom and stalked about the flat, turning on all the lights as she went, sobbing and clenching her jaw, ugly, soiled, stuffing her fist in her mouth. She slept until the middle of the next day: it was another perfect noon. This spell of weather continued for some short time yet. So for Rosa Burger England will always be like that; tiers of shade all down the sunny street…

“Some short time yet”—what a heart breaker. Because we know, from previous events, what the rest of the time will be.

"You cross the George Washington Bridge and dip down and around and slide into the gentle curve of the West Side Highway, and the lights and towers of Manhattan flash and glow before you, rising above the lush greenness of Riverside Park, and even the most embittered enemy of Robert Moses—or of that matter, of New York—will be touched: you know you have come home again, and the city is there for you"

- Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience Of Modernity. Berman died yesterday. I remember the shiver, first reading this, and reading his descriptions of the Bronx blasted apart by Moses’s Cross-Bronx Expressway construction a few pages above it. His sense of the “sanctity of ‘things as they are’” was bracingly freed of nostalgia by the rigor of his inquiry, yet did not shy from acknowledging the affinity driving it.
brightwalldarkroom:

ISSUE #2 OF BRIGHT WALL/DARK ROOM IS NOW AVAILABLE!
Featuring brand new essays from Amelia Gray, Matt Patches, Elizabeth Cantwell, Stephen Sparks, Sarah Malone, Letitia Trent, Sara Gray, and Andrew Root, as well as eight new and original illustrations by artist Brianna Ashby!








“Issue #2 is all about entering strange and unfamiliar worlds, a swan dive into the surreal. In the nine featured essays, you’ll visit many places: dilapidated hotel rooms, ancient Roman battlefields, a monastery built on top of an island in France, a dream-like version of New York City at night (shot on a giant soundstage in London), Sgt. Nicholas Brody’s refrigerator, The 2013 Cannes Film Festival, a trailer in an empty field surrounded by expensive and loud stereo equipment, an all-girls boarding school at the turn of the 20th century, and a portal that leads directly into John Malkovich’s brain… 
Get ready to get weird.” 








Click here to download and/or subscribe to BW/DR directly from your iPhone or iPad. You’ll be charged $1.99 per month through the iTunes store, and immediately receive access to this new issue, plus last month’s inaugural issue. 

I’m so pleased to be part of this, and grateful to Chad, Elizabeth, and Michelle for their insightful editing, here and through the years.

brightwalldarkroom:

ISSUE #2 OF BRIGHT WALL/DARK ROOM IS NOW AVAILABLE!

Featuring brand new essays from Amelia Gray, Matt Patches, Elizabeth Cantwell, Stephen Sparks, Sarah Malone, Letitia Trent, Sara Gray, and Andrew Root, as well as eight new and original illustrations by artist Brianna Ashby!

Issue #2 is all about entering strange and unfamiliar worlds, a swan dive into the surreal. In the nine featured essays, you’ll visit many places: dilapidated hotel rooms, ancient Roman battlefields, a monastery built on top of an island in France, a dream-like version of New York City at night (shot on a giant soundstage in London), Sgt. Nicholas Brody’s refrigerator, The 2013 Cannes Film Festival, a trailer in an empty field surrounded by expensive and loud stereo equipment, an all-girls boarding school at the turn of the 20th century, and a portal that leads directly into John Malkovich’s brain… 

Get ready to get weird.” 

Click here to download and/or subscribe to BW/DR directly from your iPhone or iPad. You’ll be charged $1.99 per month through the iTunes store, and immediately receive access to this new issue, plus last month’s inaugural issue. 

I’m so pleased to be part of this, and grateful to Chad, Elizabeth, and Michelle for their insightful editing, here and through the years.

"The average reader is pleased to observe anybody’s wooden leg being stolen."

- Flannery O’Connor, with what continues to strike me as an incredibly succinct and useful piece of plot advice. (via mttbll) The entire essay ("Writing Short Stories," collected in Mystery and Manners), is the most refreshing tonic.
The opening of Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, forthcoming fall 2013.
I’ve been intensely curious about Pynchon’s next novel since learning its setting—nervously, because it overlaps disconcertingly with my manuscript, and with intense curiosity: how will Pynchon, whose work is so artificed, and who uses the epic so artfully to bolster passages of unabashed sentiment, work closer to his present home?
I love the complexity of point of view in the first paragraph, how the reader’s knowledge is assumed, and how the shift from the narrator’s perspective more directly into Maxine’s happens through the expression of resentment of a unspoken sentiment by an absent speaker.
Zig’s “Doesn’t suck”—yeah, we’re ready for that (though, Zig?)
The blurry reflections from apartment windows—I’m so on board for that patience. That’s from someone who knows, loves their neighborhood, its brick and mortar and texture of light.
The cops dealing with bagel deficiencies—I hear a syntactic echo of Harold Brodkey:

The local macrobiotic restaurant was crowded with people dealing macrobiotically with the virility and exoticism factors

Most of all I’m struck by the quotidian-ness that it is so warned against by the cinematic, put-us-in-the-action, what’s-the-conflict school of How To Write (and of course the page has plenty of conflict, or things impending—the first paragraph’s resentment, and the reader’s knowledge of 2001 bearing down. But after a page, are we even to the end of the block?)
For me, it’s the pear trees. I’m sold because the days of white blossoms are so few, and a boy named Zig probably thinks he’s being pretty nine-year-old cool to grant that the moment doesn’t suck.
[via Biblioklept: Gothamist: Penguin [PDF]]

The opening of Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, forthcoming fall 2013.

I’ve been intensely curious about Pynchon’s next novel since learning its setting—nervously, because it overlaps disconcertingly with my manuscript, and with intense curiosity: how will Pynchon, whose work is so artificed, and who uses the epic so artfully to bolster passages of unabashed sentiment, work closer to his present home?

I love the complexity of point of view in the first paragraph, how the reader’s knowledge is assumed, and how the shift from the narrator’s perspective more directly into Maxine’s happens through the expression of resentment of a unspoken sentiment by an absent speaker.

Zig’s “Doesn’t suck”—yeah, we’re ready for that (though, Zig?)

The blurry reflections from apartment windows—I’m so on board for that patience. That’s from someone who knows, loves their neighborhood, its brick and mortar and texture of light.

The cops dealing with bagel deficiencies—I hear a syntactic echo of Harold Brodkey:

The local macrobiotic restaurant was crowded with people dealing macrobiotically with the virility and exoticism factors

Most of all I’m struck by the quotidian-ness that it is so warned against by the cinematic, put-us-in-the-action, what’s-the-conflict school of How To Write (and of course the page has plenty of conflict, or things impending—the first paragraph’s resentment, and the reader’s knowledge of 2001 bearing down. But after a page, are we even to the end of the block?)

For me, it’s the pear trees. I’m sold because the days of white blossoms are so few, and a boy named Zig probably thinks he’s being pretty nine-year-old cool to grant that the moment doesn’t suck.

[via Biblioklept: Gothamist: Penguin [PDF]]

"Context removed, everything becomes equally strange."

- I wrote about Renata Adler’s Speedboat and Pitch Dark in The Common

"The line that matters most to me might be, “Did I throw the most important thing perhaps, by accident, away?” And of course if I were writing non-fiction, the grammar would be, “Have I thrown …” I couldn’t correct it to that in the novel, though. The wrong voice."

- Renata Adler

In And To And From And After #AWP13

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Back Bay roofs from the Hynes Convention Center

I attended five panels. Two I left early. Two I would have gladly sat through for another hour, or reconvened. Two I overslept. In a panel titled “Argumentative Fiction,” Marlon James asked why Katie Roiphe discusses only the Davids and Jonathans, and not Junot Diaz, and why she does not compare Portnoy to Yunior. Two panels that I wanted to attend were Friday morning while we shoveled snow and snow fell so fast that in the ten minutes we took to change from our shoveling clothes a quarter inch had covered my car. On the Mass Pike braking was impossible, one lane entirely snowed over. We arrived, parked underground, found the narrowness of our spot and the florist’s truck next to it hilarious.

Read on →

It Must Have Been: Dear Life by Alice Munro

Dear Life by Alice MunroMy review of Dear Life is up at The Common:

The fourteen stories in Alice Munro’s latest collection, Dear Life, are terser than her stories of a decade ago. Her 2001 collection, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, nearly identical in length, contained only nine. Many of the new stories trace characteristically oblique paths. Munro draws opening scenes with particular details that seem intended to alert the reader to crucial moments and relationships, and then, instead of continuing those relationships chronologically, she sidesteps to previous events, or heads off in directions not initially suggested. Some stories traverse so many years that their openings, while always fitting, no longer seem the only possible entry points.

[…]

[W]here 2001’s “Family Furnishings” recounts decades of family history over more than thirty pages by way of correcting the narrator’s impression of a single image, Dear Life’s chronological corkscrewing happens at times not between episodes but from one sentence to the next. Particularly in the final four, more autobiographical stories, events seem to change as they’re narrated. Munro’s process of revisiting impressions and discovering overlooked drama has never been so clear.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty - Maya

brightwalldarkroom:

NIGHT VISION

by Sarah Malone

Zero Dark Thirty, the title, has the cadence and slightly unwieldy precision of military lingo: code, but only cryptic until you’re in the know. It’s meant to be readily recalled and quickly repeated and understood. The tweak from the military “oh” to “zero,” with its sharper sound and richer associations—Ground Zero, Zero Hour, Zero Day, countdown to liftoff or detonation—is characteristic of the film’s method and conundrum. It wants to be authoritative (at two hours and thirty-seven minutes, it had better be). It claims authority or merit beyond drama. “Based on firsthand accounts of actual events,” announces the onscreen text at the beginning, referring presumably to accounts the audience doesn’t have access to, possibly events the audience doesn’t even know of. But far from reportage, the film is an expressionistic odyssey, as focused on a single emotional register as Maya (Jessica Chastain), the CIA agent it portrays, is on Osama bin Laden.

I wrote about Zero Dark Thirty for BWDR. I can’t think of another film that’s left me with as clear and unshakeable a feeling, and as much difficulty trying to parse the reasons for it.