Monday, July 23, 2012

It is impossible not to love Timofey Pnin

--and it was then that Dr Trebler stopped and the hallway telephone took over.

Technically speaking, the narrator's art of integrating telephone conversations still lags far behind that of rendering dialogues conducted from room to room, or from window to window across some narrow blue alley in an ancient town with water so precious, and the misery of donkeys, and rugs for sale, and minarets, and foreigners and melons, and the vibrant morning echoes. When Joan, in her brisk long-limbed way, got to the compelling instrument before it gave up, and said hullo (eyebrows up, eyes roaming), a hollow quiet greeted her; all she could hear was the informal sound of a steady breathing; presently the breather's voice said, with a cozy foreign accent: "One moment, excuse me"--this was quite casual, and he continued to breathe and perhaps hem and hum or even sigh a little to the accompaniment of a crepitation that evoked the turning over of small pages.

"Hullo!" she repeated.

"You are," suggested the voice warily, "Mrs Fire?"

"No," said Joan, and hung up.

The ancient town, the donkeys, the vibrant morning echoes: what have they to do with this scene, a discussion of an upcoming faculty party interrupted by a phone call from a potential lodger? Nothing. And yet there they are, as the narrator (a physician) must inform the reader of his weaknesses in the art of narration. I keep forgetting what fun Nabokov is. I am reading his 1953 novel Pnin.

Also: Mighty Reader has read the first draft of Go Home, Miss America and declares it my finest first draft yet (I paraphrase). She asked if I had any major revisions in mind for the novel and I confess that I don't. I may do something more with the Catherine Lark storyline in the middle somewhere, but I don't have any specifics, just an intuition about that section. What I do plan for that MS is to ignore it for a while, maybe a couple of months. Right now I'm doing some last-minute cleanup on The Astrologer before it goes off to the publisher (soon oh soon). I'm also starting revisions on Cocke & Bull with an eye to widening the fictional world a bit; I've been doing some excellent source reading lately and I'll be expanding and rewriting scenes and adding a few new scenes as well. The main storyline will not change, though I've got new prose for the final paragraph that I'm well pleased with.

I also seem to be accumulating materials for the next novel (the Haydn book). That one, my dears, will require a lot of research because the thematic ideas I wish to work with are complex and wide-ranging. Which is author-speak for "the actual plot is pretty slim." But it'll be fun, I tell you.


  1. That's a delightful little passage that makes me jealous of his creativity. And you go, Mr. B!

  2. Pnin is a Great Comic Novel. GCNs are usually tragic stories about clowns in love. Pnin is a tragic story about a clown in love. I hope I remember this when I write the Haydn book, which is to be a GCN, with poor Haydn as the clown. Though Haydn is a secondary character, so what the hell will I be writing? I guess I'll find out.

    What's Scott eating? Fresh apricots.

  3. I'm going to think more about my definition of GCN, too. Is Wise Blood a tragic romance with a clown protagonist? Yes, I think it is. So is Ulysses. "Comedy" novels, which set up and tell jokes, are a different thing (an inferior breed of literature, if you ask me). Hmm. Hmm.

  4. When I was a kid we had an apricot tree in the back yard. I would climb it and make little dents in the sap that would ooze out. And my aunt would make homemade fruit roll ups out of them that were dried in the sun, and I would feel them off the hot trays and stick them on my face like a mask. I'm realizing I didn't actually eat many of the apricots.

  5. I need to explore the comic novel. They are very far out of my reach at the moment.

  6. Oh, such a waste of apricots. Our apricot tree, which does not bear edible fruit, is too old and fragile to climb. Our old and fragile cherry tree lost about half of its volume last week because one of the three main branches wasn't strong enough to support the weight of its own limbs. Poor tree.

    I don't read many comic novels, because most of them don't turn out to be funny. Pnin has a character named Dr Rosetta Stone. There are other joke names I haven't figured out yet. Why is Pnin's favorite restaurant called The Egg and We? Is it a reference to Liza's son and all them men she tries to rope into being the boy's surrogate fathers? I don't know. A lot of the names are jokes, or at least sound like jokes in a Russified sort of Dickensian way.