Some one-sided correspondence: excerpts from a reading journal, 2008
I wanted to let you know that your Zoë Hendricks from ‘You’re Ugly, Too’ is my number one role model in life. She’s completely hilarious and wonderful, one of the best people I’ve ever read. I want to be exactly like her; except maybe without the edge of brutality, and without the cancer or whatever it was.
I thought that story was amazing, I loved the humour in it – it made me laugh over and over again; but it’s so sad as well – almost depressing – and it makes the pressure and process of ‘courtship’ or whatever you want to call it seem almost grotesque. While I have a great time reading your stories, afterwards I’m often left with quite a deep sense of discomfort, like I’m feeling slightly raw, which I guess can only mean you’re hitting the mark for me.
I’m playing close attention to the way you write dialogue – it’s just so funny – and I’ve noticed that you often have a sister (like Evan) or a good friend (like the guy in ‘Willing’ who’s always quoting from his imaginary novel) for your protagonist to bounce lines off – someone who’s close, who understands their idiosyncrasies and gets the humor and is willing to play along. I think this is a clever technique and have decided to steal it, if you don’t mind.
Another thing I’ve noticed is the way you can make a character seem to turn. I can’t think of a better way of saying it. What I mean is how a character seems to have changed by the end of the story – not through having a revelation or a moment of clarity leading to their ‘turning point’, because everybody does that with their characters – but gradually, and seemingly more in terms of our perception than anything else. It’s as though you’re given a view of a character at the beginning of a story, and then throughout the story the camera slowly, unnoticeably rotates until at the end you realise you’re looking at them from a different side.
It’s like the Stasi guy from that German film, The Lives of Others. That was such a great performance; he should have won an Oscar. At the beginning of the film you look at him and think: Oh, I know his type, he’s doing this for these reasons; and then by the end you have a completely different view of him and all his motivations. Anyway I think you did that really beautifully in ‘Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People’ – not with Abby but with her mother. That story almost made me cry, there was something so sweet about it, underneath all of Abby’s cynicism and impatience.
Dear Mr. Barthelme,
I love you. I would almost cheat on John Cheever with you. Your stories seem so simple and clear and would be fun to read just because they’re completely hilarious; but then every one of your sentences, like every single one, has more than one meaning. How do you do it? How do you balance so much meaning on top a line of words? It’s like writing in a secret code that looks (relatively) normal on the surface.
I was reading ‘A City of Churches’ and chuckling to myself. I was in the library and people were giving me strange looks but I didn’t care. I was enjoying the warped toy-land city that you drew and the increasing discomfort you create through Mr. Phillips’ description of life in ‘Prestor’; how all the churches, which at first just seemed funny and unreal, become representative of a sinister conformity with their ‘gaping mouths’. I was afraid of real estate agents already – I once heard a loud, enthusiastic, too-assertive voice coming from a cubicle in a department-store bathroom and then realized it was a woman from Harcourts trying to close a sale while she was on the loo – but your Mr. Phillips is even freakier than that! But what I loved most was Cecilia’s confidence that she can upset the hegemony of the town and threaten Mr. Phillips simply by dreaming ‘things you won’t like.’ I was like: I wish I lived in a world like that. Then I realized that I kind of do.
Anyway, please write back and tell me your secret. I don’t have much money but I’ll give you what I have.
Dear Mr. Cheever,
Why aren’t you returning my letters, phone calls, emails or text messages? I waited outside your house in my car for 12 hours yesterday and you didn’t even come out.
I’m sure that by now you realize that we are meant to be together. I’m aware that you died in 1982 and I’m not a necrophiliac, honest. I just feel that our relationship transcends the physical plane and belongs somewhere more immortal.
I read that you called your son Frederico because he was born in Italy and since they don’t have a K in their alphabet you weren’t able to call him Frederick. I just want you to know that I would never dream of giving birth to our children in a place that doesn’t have a K. I would only ever do it in a country where they use the letter liberally and with zest, such as Poland.
I can’t wait for you to get back to me so we can begin, together, a beautiful, vividly colored, semi-mythical suburban life – the kind that is based on Lillet Blanc and hypocrisy (the best kind).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maria Belich was a member of the 2008 MA programme at the IIML.