Feb. 13th, 2017

For those who think the world doesn't need another academic novel, Richard Russo certainly proves them wrong.
  • They divorced when I was in junior high school, and they agree on little except that I was an impossible child. The story they tell of young William Henry Devereaux, Jr., and his first dog is eerily similar in its facts, its conclusions, even the style of its telling, no matter which of them is telling it.
  • duration of visit a year or two at most, perhaps because it’s hard to remain distinguished among people who know you.
  • My father seldom listened to anything I said, but I began to see signs that the underpinnings of my mother’s personality were beginning to corrode in the salt water of my tidal persistence, and when I judged that she was nigh to complete collapse, I took every penny of the allowance money I’d been saving and spent it on a dazzling, bejeweled dog collar and leash set at the overpriced pet store around the corner.
  • I was in and out that door dozens of times a day, and my mother said it was like living in a shooting gallery. It made her wish the door wasn’t shooting blanks.
  • I’m not a guilt provoker by nature, but I can play that role. / In my view, I am not an ingrate, but I can play that role.
  • In the English department they are known as Fred and Ginger for the grace with which they move together, without a hint of passion, toward a single, shared destination.
  • I don’t see how you could not kid about love and still claim to have a sense of humor.
  • Anger is one of several emotions Teddy’s never sure he’s entitled to, and he wants to make certain it’s justified in this instance.
  • It’s his plan to do several furious laps around the house to dispel the humiliation. I know and understand my dog well. We share many deep feelings.
  • He’s like a tone-deaf man trying to sing, sliding between notes, tapping his foot arhythmically, hoping his exuberance will make up for not bothering to establish a key. It makes for painful listening, and I privately edit his account—restructuring the elements, making marginal notes, subordinating, joining, cleaving, reemphasizing.
  • Finny, who brought to meetings he chaired the emotional equilibrium of a cork in high seas,
  • only then did I realize that the barbed end of the spiral ring had hooked and punctured my right nostril, that I was gigged like a frog and leaning across the table toward Gracie like a bumbling suitor begging a kiss.
  • “This is crazy,” Orshee kept repeating, as if he were being forced to witness the sort of thing he would have preferred not to see happen, even to a white male.
  • Were it not for Occam’s Razor, which always demands simplicity, I’d be tempted to believe that human beings are more influenced by distant causes than immediate ones. This would be especially true of overeducated people, who are capable of thinking past the immediate, of becoming obsessed by the remote.
  • No doubt some marriage counselor would explain to us that our problem is a failure to communicate, but to my way of thinking we’ve worked long and hard to achieve this silence, Lily’s and mine, so fraught with mutual understanding.
  • Fine by me. It’s the attendant pretense that mangles me. We have to pretend they’re being smart when they’re being dumb. Such pretenses, I have tried to explain to Lily, fly in the face of Occam’s Razor, which demands that entities must not be multiplied beyond what is necessary. Lies and pretenses, I explain, always require more lies and pretenses.
  • “From me, of course,” my wife said, as if this were one of life’s mysteries that even I should be able to plumb on my own. “You gave them our house plans?” I said, life’s essential sense of mystery undiminished.
  • Have I brought this on myself, I wonder, that people who know me refuse to take me seriously, while to virtual strangers my ironic sallies are received with staunch, serious outrage?
  • Is it wrong of me to regret this nearly complete lack of irony in my offspring?
  • They seem to have rejected our wisdom as completely as our suggested reading lists, refusing to see the applicability of either The Scarlet Letter (Lily) or Bartleby (whose title character is, like me, a disciple of William of Occam) to their own lives.
  • Instead I choose to pretend that I am wounded by her touch, this woman whose touch has been so light and knowing through the years. And so she stands, looks down at me, disappointed, as if she knows full well the choice I’ve made and why I’ve made it. If she understands the why, she’s ahead of me.
  • And if I have come into conflict with Gracie, goaded her to violence against my person, then I owe her, not her husband, an apology. Yet here we stand, the two of us, sharing an invalid emotion.
  • Only Billy Quigley, who normally had no use for Finny, seemed glad to see him. He offered Finny a seat and a generous belt from his flask. “I’ve drunk with uglier broads than you,” he informed his colleague, adding, “Not much uglier though.”
  • There’s no reason a wife shouldn’t take her husband in stride, of course, yet it’s disappointing to be so taken, especially for a man like me, so intent on breaking people’s gait. “
  • And I admit that a moral man wouldn’t get sidetracked pondering irrelevant details, like whether the boy also noticed the old woman as he passed her floor, whether seeing her there so unexpectedly provided him a lucid moment before he set off that horn. Back when I was a writer, I might have been able to justify such musings, since odd details and unexpected points of view are the stuff of which vivid stories are made, but now such thoughts seem more like evidence of an unbalanced mind, a warped sensibility.
  • Next to his query concerning the rape scene, I write: “Always understate necrophilia.”
  • Meg’s beauty is almost breathtaking, and, in the manner of most truly beautiful women, she reminds you of no one but herself,
  • When easy things can’t get done, and there’s no good reason, it’s more than too bad. It makes everything seem deep down mean and petty.
  • For Mr. Purty, listening to my mother talk is not unlike watching a bear dance. It’s just the damndest thing.
  • both were impatient with athletic injuries, small or large, which they perceived as willful.
  • "I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but the truth is that there’s nothing more shallow than cleverness. You’ve become a clever man.”
  • But imagination without energy remains inert
  • In English departments the most serious competition is for the role of straight man.
  • This is where the most beguiling feature of our contests comes in. Tony has decided that it’s all right for him to play racquetball if he takes no more than one step in any direction from center court, which means it’s my job to hit the ball back to him within this radius. Otherwise he deems the ball unplayable and takes the point. I’m allowed to kill the ball directly in front of him if I’m able, but I can’t use angles. Since racquetball is a game of angles, my handicap is so huge that he has to give me points, usually six to eight a game, and even then I seldom win. When he gets too far ahead, he turns and glowers at me, his bushy eyebrows knitted, and tells me to bear down... I’ve grown used to losing on my best shots.
  • These are not men of great imagination, but one can hardly blame them for not being prepared for this particular contingency, the sight of a tweed-jacketed, tenured, middle-aged senior professor and department chair in a fake nose and glasses, brandishing a live, terrified goose.

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