Archive for the 'Fiction' Category

Harold’s Hawaii

HAROLD WAS FEELING LOST. He’d just gotten a call from his wife saying that she was going out. She didn’t say when – or if – she would be back, or quite where she was going. After that, the persistent muted ring of his office telephone puzzled him, and he could only stare at his receding hairline in the dark reflection of his dead monitor. The monitor had died three days ago, but he hadn’t told anyone in the tech department. He’d just let it be, and did paperwork to appear busy when people passed.

In fact, lately Harold hadn’t involved himself much with technology at all. Something about the idea of machinery and circuitboards had come to grate against his skin. Last Tuesday he opened his garage door, looked at the beige Camry sitting inside, and then just decided to walk the 12 miles to work. Since then he’d risen at four every morning and done the same, and was usually the first person in the office. For the first hour or so he would space out at the anonymous oily pools swimming in his coffee, and then start doodling in the margins of reports he was supposed to review.

Harold took a lime life-saver out of his pocket – the last in the roll – and popped it in his mouth. It was only 2 p.m., but it was time to leave. He contemplated what he could tell Mr. Cory that would sound credible. Maybe something about having a sudden onset of diabetes, or the need to pass a bladder stone.

He settled on the more believable option of a toothache.

“Oh, and Harold,” Mr. Cory called out after Harold had absently said he was going to the dentist, “Maybe stop by the barber too, eh?” Harold felt the shaggy locks that draped from the back and sides of his balding head. He only managed an “um” and a nod as a response.

When he got home, Harold pulled off his shoes (no socks) and pants and sat on the couch. He looked at a calendar hung over his wife’s desk, one of those with pictures of pure white sand and water the color of aquamarine. On the kitchen table was a cold, half-eaten order of chicken teriyaki and a yellow sticky-note with the word “Sorry” hastily scrawled across it.

Harold got in the shower, and turned the temperature to lukewarm. Then he plugged his ears and closed his eyes, and hearing the lulling drum of water droplets bouncing off his head, imagined that he was somewhere on an island in the middle of a monsoon.

Ashes (a poem)

He sat at his desk and deconstructed himself over drinks, laying out the chunks of consciousness for examination, for others to see. It was admittedly uncomfortable, but ultimately necessary to understand that he was not the blurry outline of a person that he thought he was. He hated things, and loved things, and stood for this and that – each mulled over, hand selected. Unwilling to blindly jump into the shadow of a cause. But he’d always felt undefined.

The pen he held was still an awkward scalpel; pools of blood and ink spilled over journals and newspapers as he struggled to get it right. When it all felt done he let his spine straighten against the back of the chair and lit a cigarette. Then put it out, lamenting getting old, his stupid health. He lit a word-strewn page with a match and just let it burn.

When the firefighters came they found nothing but muddy footprints on the carpet and a half-packed suitcase. Miles away, someone’s ashes were being sprinkled onto a rocky shore of the Atlantic.

October 5, 2007. Madison.

Franny & Zooey

I just finished this J.D. Salinger novel – the 2nd book of his I’ve read, and the 2nd on my list of summer reading. The book is a tried-and-true classic, so I while won’t pretend to be literary enough to break it down or write a review, I’ll certainly offer my thoughts.

First and foremost – I loved it, and for many of the same reasons I loved Catcher in the Rye: an astutely bitter protagonist(s), a portrayal of a person at odds with the world. Franny is a subtle story of coping with internal turmoil and developing personal religious understanding, both themes that struck a chord with me.

Beyond that, Salinger has a way of expressing the finer details of mood and human action that is spot-on; his dialogue is perfectly nuanced, and I felt as though I could’ve been sitting in the middle of the Manhattan apartment that is the setting for much of the novel.

Above all else, Franny and Zooey is witty, poetic and insightful, and so I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

The goddam sands run out on you every time you turn around. I know what I’m talking about. You’re lucky if you get time to sneeze in this goddam phenomenal world.”

Zooey

The New Life: Final Review

When I posted my partial review of Orhan Pamuk’s The New Life, I gave it a mediocre rating at best – the first 80 pages or so were difficult, dreamlike and vague. Pamuk pulled me through a tempest of his protagonist’s agonizing crisis of identity, entanglements with love, and on endless bus rides through the Turkish country side that were at once self-examining and self-destructive. Up until this point, the main character’s meditations and journeys seemed aimless and overwrought – but then details and meaning began to slowly weave their way into the plot, like paper fibers connecting fiction with reality.

The New Life‘s narrator is a young man of college age (his name a mystery until the very end), whose entire life is changed by simple act of reading a book – the world inside the book consumes the reality that our protagonist once knew, melting away his idenity and the direction of his life, leaving him frustrated and lost. Our man’s troubles are only compounded as he falls hopelessly in love with a girl who has also read the book, but who is already involved with someone else – the last shreds of a familiar world are torn away from Pamuk’s desolate hero when his love disappears, and he sets out into a bleary, strange world to find her.

But Pamuk’s character faces more than just his own existential suffering; as he travels to decaying towns he begins to see the slow invasion of Western goods, and perhaps Western thought. Pamuk shows the dark underside of globalisation, and the dilemma that manifests as its unstoppable force trickles into every last corner of the earth – is there a balance between fundamentalism and losing one’s cultural identity?

Pamuk’s novel, though it begins roughly, is a reckless, dangerous journey of introspection that is beautiful and sad. It paints a complex new perspective of youth in the Middle-East, and poses questions of our own personal meaning. Guaranteed to keep you up past midnight, reading in the dark.

A good book is something that reminds us of the whole world – Perhaps that’s how every book is, or what each and every book ought to be. – “Mehmet,” The New Life


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