Friday, March 8, 2013

I felt a terrible renunciation coming on, of all seriousness

   This sets an insupportable example for the young,
   I realise, second only to yielding to the tempta-
   tion to confide it. But we'd been going through a
   little impromptu power outage in our neighborhood,
   a classic if tiresome Virginian response to snow-
   fall of the gentlest distribution; and there one
   was, alone under the covers with a trusty torch.
   What to do, what to do; yes, and with so little
   practice of having to improvise the onset of drow-
   siness without adding to one's irritation. The e-
   ternal hole card at bedtime - reading - would have
   to be played just right, or news of the Battle of
   Kursk (in Antony Beevor's fine telling) or Alan
   Bennett's inconclusive interview between Auden and
   a rent boy in Oxford, could, well could ratchet up
   the sense of a day's not ending just perfectly, es-
   pecially as one is being napped in freezing ambient

I suppose it is as obvious to everybody else, as it eventually became to me, that it's to the sardonic that we turn, in such circumstances, even at some risk of a literary experience. Who else do we know, who could make such a happy omelet of privation, as Dorothy Parker? Yes, but everybody else remembers, better than I, how she turned Benchley's seat of theatre criticism into such an unhinged riot of contrarianism, when he took leave at The New Yorker in the early '30s, to dabble in Hollywood (everybody else loved him with milk, in his bar room greeting of Joel McCrea in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent).

I very much hope that everybody else would be prepared to say, that this page has 'roused no suspicion of taking a position on whom one should read in bed, even in a power outage. John Lanchester, for example, is blessedly sardonic, and even edifying on how to murder a talentless cook in the subway. There are, that is, horses for courses: natural pairings which occur circumstantially, and under certain conditions, per-form at their very best. Ms Parker and everybody else are a match of enslavement at the best of times - everybody else and I couldn't think, of better guest room reading - but if one is ever feeling the pinch of a pitched tank battle or a dys-functional tryst, it helps to believe it might not be happen-ing, if (that is) it is.


Antony Beevor
The Second World War
  Chapter 31:  The Battle of Kursk
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012©

Alan Bennett
The Habit of Art
Faber & Faber, 2009©

Dorothy Parker
Kindly Accept Substitutes et seq.
The New Yorker, 21 February 1931
The Portable Dorothy Parker
Marion Meade, editor
Penguin Classics, 1976©

John Lanchester
The Debt to Pleasure
Picador, Henry Holt, 2001©

No comments:

Post a Comment