DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Christine Schutt A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer (2005)

 

‘If you’re going to name a book after units of time, you’d better have something to say on the subject, and in “A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer,” Christine Schutt certainly does. Whether or not readers will find her voice comforting is another matter.

‘Although the title of her new collection of stories contains the word “summer,” this isn’t a beach book. There’s not much romance here; instead, there are plenty of love’s rank leftovers, moldy resentments turning to slush in the heart’s refrigerator. There aren’t any spies either; in fact, some of the characters could have used the services of a good private detective before their relationships began to turn brown and curly around the edges. And while there’s a desert island, the story that’s set on it ends with a stranded mom making sexual overtures to her own son in explicit language.

‘Then again, the mother’s profanity seems to be less an indication of an itchy libido and more a sign of sheer chew-your-own-liver desperation, a quality she shares with half a dozen other characters who are young enough to know they want more out of life and old enough to have figured out they’re not going to get it.

Consider, for example, the woman who has one son in rehab and another who seems to be headed there. She remembers when they were small and she “had lifted the wisps of hair from off their baby scalps, marked as the moon, with their stitched plates of bone yet visible” — though as she thinks of her boys’ tiny heads, she also remembers “how often she had thought to break them.”

‘And there’s the woman who’s rich and has a beautiful house and is married to a “flawless man.” Yet crazy thoughts still flash across her mind like lightning in a monster movie. (The story’s final line asks, “Shouldn’t she be afraid?”)

‘And then there’s the woman who stays with a sadist mainly because he promises trust funds for her daughters. “I stuck it out carelessly,” she says to herself, “and heard time clang past.”

‘At least time makes a noise in that story. Often here it’s silent and unchanging, especially when Schutt focuses on her younger characters. “I’m bored or I’m lonely,” one college kid says. “I’m something. I don’t know which.” In Schutt’s stories, the young lead lives that are dishwater dull, and since they see no end to them, that just makes those lives even duller. The young seem old here; their awful sex is more a result of nerves than longing, and too much of it just leads to a “mucousy consequence.” There are only a few really old characters, one of whom actually seems almost happy, perhaps because her goal is “to live each day as well as we can,” like her hero, Thoreau.

‘If you’re going to have one character complain to another that Virginia Woolf’s novels are “all chorus and no plot,” you’d better supply lots of plot yourself, and Schutt does. But most of the action takes place between her characters’ ears — or at least between the ears of those old enough to have some kind of inner reality. Mentally and physically, Schutt’s young people lead humdrum existences, but if her slightly older characters don’t have much going on in the real world, at least their thoughts sizzle and pop. And the really old? Well, that one old lady is trying.

‘But if Schutt’s right, long before time wrinkles your skin and turns your hair white, it’ll drive you crazy.’ — David Kirby, NYT

 

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Further

Christine Schutt Site
stories to take you out of your comfort zone
Podcast: Christine Schutt on Bookworm
Oh, the Obvious
Christine Schutt @ goodreads
The Book That Made Me A Reader: Christine Schutt
TINGE Magazine | An Interview with Christine Schutt
Christine Schutt: Learning What You Do Well
Pure writer, pure prose, pure pleasure
the garden of earthly delights: christine schutt’s pure hollywood
‘The Blood Jet’, by Christine Schutt
Curled Up With a Good Book–An interview with Christine Schutt
“YOU SAW THE WORST”
Christine Schutt Remembers Writing Her First Stories
Christine Schutt on the importance of word choice and the element of surprise
‘The Dot Sisters’, by Christine Schutt
Buy ‘A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer’

 

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2 readings & 1 lecture

 

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Interview

 

DEB OLIN UNFERTH: It’s impossible for me to ignore the sound of your sentences. Sometimes I feel as if the entire thrust of the story is based on an exploration of a set of phonemes, or as if you allow sound to determine the direction of the sentence and the story, the content even. Is that true? How do you do that? Why do you do that?

CHRISTINE SCHUTT: I was taught to read poetry this way in high school: to consider the sounds the poet was making and how those sounds could inform us of what the poem was about. “Snake,” a D. H. Lawrence poem, was the lesson at the time, and it made a big impression on me. Sound has its own weather, and I respond to it. One night I saw these preposterously large cherry blossoms outside our bedroom window. This happens every spring, of course, the blossoms, but on this night they seemed lit up from below and floating, an absurd efflorescence, and the sentence in response to what I saw and felt about the spring show came out like this: “The preposterous blossoms, candy pink and stupidly profuse, were in the night light strangely come as from another planet.” So many p’s—the stupidness of it all. That sentence has a mood; it was my mood at the time. Absurd efflorescence makes a different sound, has a different mood, different weather; in a story such a phrase would direct me. I am generally uncertain of purpose and have few opinions, no ideas. But sound.

I read poetry this way: I hear meaning long before I decode it. As a writer, I find that sound can give me meaning, narrative direction. Produce a sentence with any sound and respond to it.

DOU: Do you think your interest in narrative is primarily sound and secondarily story? What I mean is, do you feel more like you have a noise to make than a story to tell? And was it always that way for you or did your idea of narrative shift at some point? (It must have been long ago, if it did, since your first book shows a lot of interest in sound.) I guess I’m asking how you became the writer you are.

CS: I like story; I want story. I have characters but they are dimly perceived and what they will do is a mystery to me. I once wrote a version of a John Cheever story in which an attractive young couple who would seem to possess all are yet unhappily married, and then a greater sorrow befalls them while on vacation. This story, “The Hedges,” is the only story I have ever written with a plot and the luxury of knowing the plot beforehand; all the others have come forward on sounds and sensations, memories and exaggerations.

DOU: Cheever’s stories have a sort of old-fashioned wordiness. Backgrounds are explained. Backdrops are drawn. It is so unlike the spare style of so many of our contemporaries. His work is very sad and feels, to me, urgent, even. I feel like he was writing to save his life. Many of your stories feel that way too. Was that what it was like when you wrote your first book of stories, Nightwork? I remember you told me once that during that time you felt that if you could write one sentence a day you would stay alive. What was that about? Why would writing a sentence save you? Did it feel the same way to write your later books or did the experience change? Do you believe fiction can save or change lives? And I love the way you said, “I hear meaning long before I decode it.” What on earth does that mean? I know what you are saying, I think. But how does a sound contain meaning? What does meaning mean in this case?

CS: “An awe came on the trinket.” What does that mean? When you first encounter Dickinson you have to decode a lot, but a way to enjoy her in the beginning is to enjoy the sounds she makes and often from these you can extract meaning. I trust in the ear to detect feeling before struggling over why the voice sounds so. I should also add that I am charmed by symmetrical sentences and catalog sentences and sentences with bunched-up groups of adjectives that sound great and look great on the page: “lurid, rapid, garish, grouped.” Robert Lowell is famous for gathering adjectives that are visually pleasing as well as full of sound and apt. His late wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, was also deft when it came to adjectives. She wrote prose, of course, but Hardwick’s sentences are as worked as a poet’s. I happen to be teaching her very great novel, Sleepless Nights, and so have it here before me. Hardwick has a gift for catalog sentences: “Old English wallpaper, carpets, Venetian mirrors, decorated vases, marble mantelpieces, buzzers under the rug around the dining-room table, needlepoint seats: Alex was making an inventory of Sarah’s Philadelphia house before her mother died.” Simply to write this sentence—forget the labor of over a hundred pages of them—must have been a strain, but finishing only one such sentence was surely bracing.

I’m trying to clarify whatever it was I said to you about the lifesaving properties of a sentence a day. Certainly the idea of its sufficiency has consoled. There is a Ray Carver story, “Why Don’t You Dance,” that explains how I felt when I was writing Nightwork. You know the story: a man has arranged all of the furniture from inside his house on the front lawn; everything on the lawn looks just as it did inside—bed, bedside tables. “His side, her side.” A boy and a girl come along and think it’s a yard sale. The crucial sentences are toward the end when the man, having sold the young couple some of the furniture, dances in his driveway with the girl. “They thought they’d seen everything over here,” he says, and she answers, “but they haven’t seen this.” Then, in the story’s only tender moment, the girl whispers, “You must be desperate or something.” Well, I felt that man’s kind of desperation when I was writing Nightwork. I was beyond caring what other people thought of me. The first story in the book, about a daughter’s failed seduction of her father, was one I had tried to write since graduate school. Now, when it seemed I was ready to put everything out on the lawn, when I had hit on how to, I was beset by difficult, crowded days; often there was only time to write one sentence. Most of Nightwork was written, as have been so many books, when everyone else was asleep. When was Hardwick writing Sleepless Nights, I wonder?

DOU: I find I can’t help but ask you to talk a little bit about working with Gordon Lish. Could you describe one class you had with him, one specific event—or two or three—that you feel might illuminate what it was like to work with him for those of us who never had the chance to?

CS: Those classes! They fell apart when Gordon’s wife died in the early ’90s and he left Knopf and lost funding for The Quarterly, but for two years the classes were held in my apartment. My apartment is very small, less than a thousand square feet, and yet we packed in upward of twenty-six adults when classes started in the fall of 1988. People sat on the floor or out of sight in the hallway or in the kitchen; some sat at Gordon’s feet; some were brave enough to sit near on the sofa although how could anyone approach him without fear of catching fire—he was a performer, a high priest, a sermonizer. Quoting James Joyce—“I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes”—he implored us to carry our stories aloft, to expect the marketplace’s jeers, and to write heedless of the marketplace, to resist its corrupting calculations and safeguard our work. It was all very high-minded and grand, and I found it inspiring. Once a week I heard new fiction or advances on new fiction from such writers as Katherine Arnoldi, Noy Holland, Sheila Kohler, Sam Michel, Yannick Murphy, Dawn Raffel, Victoria Redel, Pam Ryder, Lily Tuck, Rick Whitaker, and Diane Williams. Amy Hempel, Ben Marcus, Mark Richard, and Kate Walbert made appearances from time to time. Dana Spiotta worked at The Quarterly. Gary Lutz was talked about, and so were Will Eno and Timothy Liu. Quite simply a lot of what Gordon said about writing made immediate and complete sense to me, and my own interest in poetry, in sound, my arduous effort to compose so much as a sentence, meant I shared his aesthetic: a delight in language and an ambition to make something uncanny.

I value no one’s opinion more than Gordon’s when it comes to assessment of fiction and while in his class I took notes I have profited from reading again. I try to live by many of his phrases: Stay open for business. Be Emersonian: say what no one else has the courage to say and you will be embraced. Reveal what you would keep secret. You will stay awake when writing such a story; you will also write very, very carefully with so much at stake. Each sentence is extruded from the previous sentence; look behind you when writing, not ahead. Your obligation is to know your objects and to steadily, inexorably darken and deepen them. To be in Gordon’s company when he was talking about fiction was to be in full-out writer mode. Let the performance be insane!

DOU: Can you explain what you mean by “look behind you when writing, not ahead”?

CS: He meant this quite literally as a means of composition. Query the preceding sentence for what might most profitably be used in composing the next sentence. He contended that with this method no writer could ever again be legitimately blocked. The sentence that follows is always in response to the sentence that came before.

DOU: Does writing still have the initial urgency that it had when you were writing your first book? If yes, how do you think you manage to maintain that urgency? If not, what has replaced it to drive you to write—since you are more prolific now than at any other time in your life (or so it seems to me)?

CS: The constant has not been a sense of urgency, but the terrors felt with every composition: no you cannot; no you will not; no you should not. To be balked at every turn in the effort with never and no makes for slow composition, and it dismays me not to have more gift stories, more sentences that rise up alchemical and deserved. Composing for me is largely a dispiriting venture, and the urgency and flushed condition ascribed to the experience may be something I’ve imagined after the fact of publication, a fictive sentiment necessary to sustain myself as a writer.

 

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Book

Christine Schutt A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer
Northwestern University Press

‘The title of Christine Schutt’s second collection strikes the theme of swiftly passing time that runs through each of the stories. In “The Life of the Palm and the Breast” a woman watches her half-grown children running through the house and wonders: Whose boys are these? Whose life is this? The title story tells of a grandfather who has lived long enough to see his daughter’s struggles echoed in his granddaughter and how her unhappiness leads him to unexpectedly feel the weight of his years. In “Darkest of All” a mother’s relationship with her sons is wreaked by a repeated cycle of drugs and abusive relationships, the years pass and the pain-and its chosen remedy-remains the same. The narrator in “Winterreise” evokes Thoreau and strives to be heroic in the face of her longtime friend’s imminent death, a harsh reminder of the time that is allotted to each of us.

‘Schutt’s indomitable, original talent is once again on full display in each of these deeply informed, intensely realized stories. Many of the narratives take place in a space as small as a house, where the doors are many and what is hidden behind these thin domestic barriers tends towards violence, abusive sex, and mental anguish. Schutt opens these doors in sudden, bold moments that also reveal how the characters are often hopeful, even optimistic. With a style that is at once sensual and spare, dreamlike and deliberate, she exposes the terrible intimacy of the rooms and corridors of our innermost lives.’ — Northwestern University Press

 

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Excerpt

from DARKEST OF ALL

The years, she saw, fell heavily as books: the missing husband pinging a racket against the chuff of his hand, her charmed sister at the rental’s beach, the raging Jean herself. In a coil of towel, the little boy named Jack was powdered free of sand. She tended to him then-absent, curious, easeful-and he calmed under the warmth of her hand. Now Jack’s body was his own and not a thing she felt branched of, her hands growing out of; mother and son, they had even smelled the same once, when Jack’s teeth were growing in. Now she did not get close enough-did not want to get close enough-to smell him. Jack’s skin was given over to the wild fluctuations of his age, which meant it was one day clear and smooth, and the next erupted, and still later newly healed and probably sore. Now the boy smoked.

It was what he asked for first with the smoke of something smoked down clouding around his head: “Did you remember cigarettes?” Yes, yes, her soft assent. “But what I need,” Jack said, “are socks.” Snack foods, paper, stamps: the listlessly articulated list from every visit grew as the corridors grew, or so it seemed to Jean as she walked through the swabbed facility with its smell of Lysol and fish!

“Stamps,” Jack said, “are what I really need. I want to write to friends.”

Jack said, “I wrote myself here,” and he showed Jean what he did every night on the edge of the table, which was a deeply scarred table, full of dates and initials, profanations, codes, and there on the edge, his knife-worked JACK. Jack said, “I want people to know I’ve been here and that I was okay. I had friends. Fuck,” he said, “I’ve made a lot of friends,” and so he had. An odd assortment said hello or made motions to speak to Jack each time they bumped past.

Jean said to Jack, “So what do you do with your friends?”

“They’re not all friends,” he said. “Some of them”-and he pointed to a boy with an old black face and voluptuously muscled body-“that guy,” Jack said, “already has a kid. He’s been in jail. And the fat girl bit a girl for trying to comb her hair. I don’t talk to that crazy. Nobody does. There were stitches. That’s how bad it was.”

How bad it was Jean told her sister. Jean called the place the facility, eschewing its bucolic name and using Jack’s slang when she was angry. Then she called the facility a dry-out place, a place for rehab on the cheap. A motel it had been or a conference center, the facility had past lives in the same way as did its staff. First name only, confessing only their abuse, the pallid staff wore cushioned shoes and shuffled small steps. Their talk, too, was small and coughed out with erasures from whatever they saw looking back-not that, not that-but ahead, the home contract, the dickered pact, the rules to school the house against the wily abuser. “Addiction,” the staff said, “we’ve been there-and been there. Relapse is common with friends still using.” The staff twitched matches, frantically serene.

Jean told her sister, “These are the guys helping Jack with his homework. These are the people meant to be his friends.”

But Jean’s sister, being her sister, and wiser, Jean’s sister said, “This is where Jack should be.”

The hours at the facility were blocked and named: group, individual, free. “I’m climbing steps,” Jack said, smiling. “I’m making progress here, Mother. You’d be proud!”

Jack. She was used to the shard of his name since he shortened it. His hair color, too, had changed, was leaden and beaten by the last school’s cap, the same he wore through the meeting.

“Jack!” she said.

“What?” he asked.

Mother, son, counselor, here they were again, the weekend group in consultation: family was the name on the schedule.

Who was getting better? she wondered. Who was sick?

Jean asked her wiser sister, “Am I?”

“Are you?” she asked back.

* * *

Yes, it was all too common a story-Jean knew, she admitted as much-a woman on her own and what she had to do because of the children. Because of them she had to ask the missing husband for what he did not have that yet was needed.

“Look at what I’ve had to do for money,” Jean said, home again, on the couch with the quiet son, Ned. The men she had let wander into the apartment. Think of them! And she did-and didn’t he? “Don’t you think of them sometimes?”

Ned said, “I was very young, Mother.”

It was Jack, years older, who had said he remembered a man who shook her upside down for quarters.

“Oh,” Jean moaned as Ned was getting to and scratching some unreachable places. “Oh, I hope you don’t remember,” she said. Then, “Yes! That feels good!” she said, and said again, “That feels good!” and Jean let her towel drop in a way that made her wonder since there wasn’t a man to put lotion on her back should she ask her son to do it.

Jean, at the facility, said to the counselor, “Ask Jack what he did with my bank card. I bet he didn’t tell you.” Freely spending with the purpose to be caught, it seemed, Jack had bought what in the moment moved him, leaving waxy, bunched receipts between the sheets for her to find of what he had signed for with abandon, largely. Felonious boy, that Jack! Skulking the facility, as she had seen him, butting what he passed-doors, walls, wheeled racks hung with visiting coats-Jack scared Jean a little, and she came home tired.

And Ned was tired! Tired from scratching. Tired from the yawn of Saturday, from homework, from art class, from girls. From streets and apartments, cigarettes, beers-from more girls. On almost any Sunday, late in the morning and cragged in a gray sheet, the boy slept in his room, which was also gray. Thin light, lingering smoke. Something there was about Ned gray, too: the pale skin of his outstretched leg, blue-black hair in a cuff at his ankle. Only his foot, the heel of it, was full of color-not old pavement to be razored -Ned’s foot was young. It invited petting, touching to say, Wake up. “Wake up,” she said, looking at the covered boy because she did not want to see what was on the bedside table, although Jean saw it clearly: the cigarettes first, the ashy spill around the glasses, orange juice pips on the rim of the old-fashioned. Haywire spirals yanked out of notebooks, Post-its curling on the tops of papers: See me! one of them said. Jean was looking at the screen-dead computer. The drawers, too, she saw but did not open. She knew enough about Ned. She knew he drank and smoked, carried condoms, broken jewelry. She knew he liked to kiss; he liked the girls. Girls, girls, girls, girls. Their voices ribboned out from faces closely pressed against the cradle of the phone-babies still, most often shy. “Is Ned there?” they asked.

“I’m sorry,” Jean said-and said-“he’s still asleep.”

Lifted in the wind, the blinds banged their music on the sill; it was a sound of diminutive breakage-of saucers, of cups-in a rhythm like the rising and falling of a chest, like breathing, a boy’s, his. Tiptoed and unsteady, she silenced the phone next to his bed. She put the ringer on off-and why not? The callers for Ned would call back, so let him sleep, she thought, another hour. Let him grow in his twisted sheets! Bent, crooked, an impression of bones he was, a tent of bones, a sudden arm slung above his head and the black tuft of hair there as startling as his sex.

Think of something else, think of the Sunday papers. Consider this fall’s color on girls stood back-to-back, with their skinny arms crossed, as girls crossed them, coyly. The girls who visited Ned stood at the door coyly, toed in and stooped with baby backpacks on their backs, asking from behind ragged bangs, “Is Ned home?”

“Yes,” she had to say, “but still asleep.”

And Jack? Jack was now so tipped against the sun-the bright shard of his name again-that just to speak of Jack hurt Jean’s eyes; and she did not want to think about the place where she had been or what Jack was doing there or what he would be doing there at night in the facility.

“Not knowing where he sleeps is fine by me,” Jean admitted, but only to Ned. To Ned she complained. Now when she sat on the couch, still red from washing off the facility, she said, “Jack makes me believe he has paid for whatever it is we are doing to him. Does that make sense?” She said, “Please, my back.”

Ned said, “You never made Jack do this.”

Sometimes Ned used a comb on her back. He made tracks and designs with the comb. He wrote his name and asked, “So what did I write then?”

She sat on the couch, tickled by the comb tracking through the lotion, and she said to Ned, “I can’t help myself sometimes. When I am in family I say terrible things….” And she told the boy what things she had said about a man who was yet the father-and she knew that, yet she would speak. She wanted to tell Ned everything. Now, every weekend, it seemed, she came home parched and queasy, calling out to Ned, “Are you here? Anybody home? Yes? No? Who else?”

Once a girl with rainbow hair lay unbuttoned on Ned’s bed. The girl was quick to sit up, and she smiled at Jean, but the distraction of the girl’s hair, knotted and skyward from however the girl had been with him, was such that all Jean saw was the girl’s hair and those parts erect from tugging. Just look at the girl’s stubby nipples! So this was Ned’s idea of pretty, Jean thought, and wondered, Was the girl disappointed in her? Was she drab to the girl? For that was how she felt.

“Is this your mother?” from the girl in a girl’s voice, just a whisper.

“Yes.”

This was the mother breaking open gelcaps and licking up sleep or the opposite of sleep, extreme wakefulness, speed. This was the mother using scissors between her legs, staying ready, staying hairless, should someone want to lick her.

Something Jean could never bring up at the family consultation in the facility was what she was doing at home because she was hardly ever sober herself, but she was prudent in her daily use of substances. She measured, she counted, she observed fastidious rituals. She soaped and creamed and powdered when the high was at her throat. At night she drank-then only ales, wines, rarely hard liquor. But she drank to ease the restlessness from the petty drugs she took, gouging tinbacks with a pencil to release sealed tablets, over-the-counter nondrowsy-four, six, eight pills a pop-uninspired habit, nothing serious, but growing, at the worst growing, at the worst becoming what her father’s habit was: Vicodin, Prozac, Valium, Glucotrol, Synthroid, Mevacor, plain old aspirin. Jean’s father had offered, saying, “I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s good.” No, no, no, Jean had resisted. She wanted most of her habit nonprescription and cheap.

No one noticed what she did.

This was especially true at the facility, where Jean had expected to be found out as if passing by a screen and seen clear through; but she slipped past and into the facility with her son and her son’s counselor, and she was fearless again. Everyone was looking at Jack, asking him, “So what do you do around users?”

Jack said, “I don’t.”

Everyone agreed his was a good answer, clever.

Avoid some mothers, Jean thought, avoid me; the thought of being worse than the mother she remembered as having was hurtful, but not so hurtful as to keep her from using more expensive substances. The guilt didn’t keep her from calling Suzette and speaking in their code, “I need some panty hose,” and welcoming the girl at any time of the night-even introducing Suzette to Ned. “We work together,” she had said. A traveling house of a girl come to them at any hour, a bulk, a shape zippered or buckled, pilot glasses, sneakers, Peruvian hat, Suzette didn’t much surprise Ned. He was used to interruption, to the phone at odd hours and hand-delivered gifts, the rustle of things dried, split pods, seeds flying. The flare-up affairs with names Jean might use for weeks-Nora, Mark, David, Marlene-Ned was familiar with this much of the life his mother had in another part of the city.

The city, if only that were to blame, but there was her own father, the one who managed to be sick in the country. Jean’s father couldn’t remember Jean’s address or the names of the boys, saying, “Your oldest will be sixteen before I see him,” when Jack was almost eighteen yet already sick the way he was. And Jean was sick, too-and maybe Ned. The baby creases of his neck often smelled of smoke, greasy exudations from the bonfired night, tin bright, pin size, salty.

“Oh, God,” Jean said, and Jean’s careful sister asked-and asked often-if Jean was taking anything she shouldn’t.

Jean said, “Nothing. Why should I?”

Once Jean let Ned visit Jack, and she was happy to have Ned’s company, and Jack was made happy, too, just to see his brother. They shivered to be near before they touched and were teasing again, boys again, brothers. The brothers walked together and apart from Jean, waving at their mother with their smoking hands because they could, being here, at the facility. Look at the troughs of sand used for ashtrays! They were mad smokers here at the facility, but what else was there to do, Jack asked, except to smoke and answer questions and earn steps? Every week he reached a new level; now there was talk about a contract.

“The home contract is something we agree on,” Jack said, “if I’m to come back to the city and live with you.”

He showed Jean a draft. To the question about curfew, he had written, None.

Jack said, “Shit, Mother, I snuck out all the time.”

“So where were you going?” Jean asked; but when he made to speak, she said, “Don’t tell me.”

She didn’t want to read Jack’s home contract either and not, as it happened, when Ned was along and all of them sitting at the gashed table with Jack pointing. “See? My name’s all over this fucking place.”

“Jack, please!” Jean said.

“I’ve lived without a curfew,” Jack said, and every weekend said, “I’ve changed. I’m on the third step. I want my medal.”

At the scarred table with her sons, Jean cried. “There is so much to be sorry about,” she said, but her sons were embarrassed, it seemed to her, and sad and scornful of her rustling for a hankie. “Anyone?” she asked. “I’m sorry.” She bent her head, snuffling, using a cloth when she found one. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll be all right.”

The story Jean most often told Ned was about Jack and what Jack did. She told Ned of the friends his brother had made at the facility, even the fat girl now, the one who had bitten a girl for approaching with a comb, even she was his friend. Jack said he was popular, the most popular kid. Jean said, “I think he thinks he is running for class president.” Jean said, “Where does he think he is?”

In family, Jack said he wanted to live in L.A. He said he was old enough, he had worked last summer, he had had the responsibility of a job.

“Putting up boxes!” Jean said.

Jack said to the counselor, “Do you understand now? Do you see what I’ve been saying? Look at her!”

Jean, in passing Ned’s room, said, “I don’t want to talk about your brother.”

Ned said, “Mother!” Sometimes he said, “It’s not your fault,” and he offered, “I’ll rub your back if you’ll rub mine.” Sometimes he said, “Why do you listen to Jack?”

Ned said, “I don’t know. I don’t know the answers to all your questions.”

Ned said, “Why should I?” when the question of curfews came up. “Jack didn’t.”

Sometimes Ned got angry and his hand, long still against her back, withdrew, and he went to his room and turned up his music. The telephone rang; he slammed the door or he talked to Jean in the way his brother did, absently: the flat-voiced “Yes,” the “What?” that was nasty. The nimble imitative skill Ned showed was common. Jack did it and others of his friends and Ned’s friends, she had heard them speaking to their parents in their parents’ voices. They groaned new words that meant dumb and ugly. She said, “Talk to me in your own voice, Ned, talk to me so I can understand.”

Sometimes Ned did speak earnestly, and when he spoke to her in this voice, she wanted to take him by surprise, to touch him, to kiss his mouth as it moved-and would go on moving, saying, “Mother! Don’t!”

Sometimes Ned said, “Will you not, please,” but she went on. She wormed her fingers between his toes; she tickled him or worked Q-tips, painfully, around the curled folds of his ears. “Damn it, Mother, that hurts!” Yet he was the one who asked her to do it. “Cut my nails,” Ned said, and she cut too close.

She said and she said and she heard herself saying-whining, really-“Please, you are the only one who knows how to scratch.”

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Jamie, Ho! The meeting was actually good, thanks for asking. The co-producer is smart, direct, seems to get it, asks and answers relevant and intelligent questions, and is basically everything our regular producer isn’t, so, assuming the arrangement works out, it’ll be a boon. Super interesting/intriguing about the web series script. Ten 5 minute episodes. I like the sound of that. I keep getting a sonnet sequence comparison in my head. Awesome. I’m off to London tomorrow, back to Paris on Sunday. A packed quickie. Today? I have to polish up the thing I’m reading on Saturday, and do trip prep stuff, and catch up on emails hopefully, and … that’ll be it, I’m guessing. Daft Punk Orchestra: Excuse my out-of-it-ness, but they’re an orchestra now or perform with an orchestra or just shifted their name or … ? Huh. May your Thursday pin the tail on the donkey. Verse-chorus-verse love, Dennis. ** _Black_Acrylic, The Dundee V&A looks swank or suave or that sort of thing. In a good way. Wow. When does it open? Are you going to sip its free champagne? ** Steve Erickson, The vast majority of French films are, or look to be, pretty crappola. Rom-coms are still big business here. And straight ahead comedies. The French masses think French comedy is very funny unlike the rest of the world. ** Misanthrope, Oh, no big on the Whitney thing. I was pretty much the only reader who didn’t just shout David’s more political passages. I think it’s streamable if you’re really curious. Oh, what?! Four times the work for no more moolah? That seems quite shitty. You’re a good sport. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi, Corey. New? It’s chilly and raining wonderfully. Mostly getting ready for the trip to London. Trying to write a bit. Pretty in-between here at the moment. My lag gradually fades away in the way lag does. I’m all right. You? What constitutes newness in your head/hood? ** H, Hi! Ditto on the niceness of seeing you, and thank you very kindly about the film. Thank you for the luck too. Fingers crossed, lip bitten. Good luck with your work. ** Nik, Hi, N. Thanks about the screening. Yeah, I’ll alert you when the film is next viewable over there. Baudelaire and Chekhov are an odd couple. Nice. Cool, cool that the word bliss springs to your fingertips when the topic of your school is raised. Sounds great indeed, man. Plus being cast in the play. What’s your role? Word doc or TextEdit or pasted in an email’s body are all good. Ideally, send the images also as attachments. But we’ll sort it out one way or another. There’s always a way. My week has been jet-laggy and vague-ish, but good. Stuff gradually getting done. Looking forward to screening the film tomorrow night. Etc. And how has your weekend begun? ** Okay. I don’t think I’ve ever spotlit Christine Schutt’s work on the blog before, so I’m rectifying that. See you tomorrow.

3 Comments

  1. Speaking of French cinema, I just learned that Pascal Greggory will be appearing at Anthology Film Archives Nov. 4th-5th, around a week-long screening of F. J. Ossang’s latest film. I would love to interview him around that time, especially about his work with Rohmer and Patrice Chereau (and his relationship with the latter.)

    I feel like I’m dumping links to my own work here this week, but more keeps getting published. Here’s my review of the film ASSASSINATION NATION: https://www.gaycitynews.nyc/stories/2018/19/assassination-film-2018-09-13-gcn.html?utm_source=20180913&utm_medium=email&utm_content=New+Queer+Music+Its+Primary+Day+in+New+York&utm_campaign=newsletter, and my interview with RaMell Ross: http://www.studiodaily.com/2018/09/ramell-ross-hale-county-morning-evening/.

    I have a question regarding music licensing for films, since you and Zac used 3 songs in PERMANENT GREEN LIGHT, that I will E-mail you about privately.

  2. Good day, Dennis!
    That excerpt up above is way enticing, as are all the descriptions of Christine Schutt’s writings. Is all her stuff worth reading? I ask as I saw a cheap copy of a book by her called Prosperous Friends and I’m broke but want to read her. Ta for the intro.
    How are you?
    The new co-producer sounds way promising. Very good to hear.
    Best wishes for the London trip. I think Kate, who you met, is maybe going to go to the Artaud thing.
    I’m pretty excited about the webseries too and I like your mind wandering to sonnet structure comparisons. We filmed some very rough things in France and took some pics and I think we might make something interesting at the very least.
    I’m assuming Daft Punk Orchestra is not really much to do with actual Daft Punk and is just a large band/orchestra playing Daft Punk songs. The ‘orchestra’ format seems to be a modern day money maker like the tribute bands of yore.
    Hope your Friday, Saturday and Sunday are all blasts and the streets of London prove to be paved with actual and easily extracted gold.
    Bonnest of voyages!
    Internal K-Dart love,
    Jamie

  3. Hi Dennis, not sure I commented again this morning. Sorry if I left something unfinished. I don’t see any comments here now. I was wondering if you knew Un Lac was loosely based on Tarjei Vesaas’s Fuglane (The Birds). I just learned it today. I’m reading the book now, and it’s quite beautiful. Did you recommend Vesaas’s work here before? I forget. Today’s post is very good too. I should read it soon. Have a nice trip to London.

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