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A few of my favourites — this list really could go on — include the "tangerine tusks" of a car's headlights "plunged into the watery grey of the asphalt" A Busy Man ; "chandeliers like iron spiders" Details of a Sunset ; the "merry pistol crack" of a trodden-on floorboard on a frozen morning Christmas ; a raspberry bush's "whiff of black damp" Natasha ; a woman's palate and uvula resembling "the tail end of a boiled chicken" The Leonardo ; an "organ pipe-like system of huge icicles" Mademoiselle O ; and glasses growing "like mushrooms in the shade of chairs" at a party.

The latter is taken from The Vane Sisters, one of the last stories Nabokov wrote before switching his production entirely to novels and poetry. It is one of his best. Like his earlier stories The Return of Chorb and Ultima Thule, it considers the possible interplay between the afterlife and the corporeal world, playfully spelling out its position with an acrostic in its closing paragraph.

Signs and Symbols is similarly metaphysical, albeit much more sombre. It represents the pinnacle of Nabokov's work in the short form, and is for me one of the great short stories of the last century. An elderly Jewish couple visit their son in a mental hospital, only to be turned away because he has made another suicide attempt. He suffers from referential mania, a condition whereby the sufferer "imagines that everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence Clouds in the staring sky transmit to one another, by means of slow signs, incredibly detailed information regarding him.

His inmost thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees. In the course of the story's six pages every detail is miserable, and each paragraph is crowded with portents: a basket of jams, a stopped train, a dying bird, a crying girl, a forgotten key, dropped playing cards. The woman thinks of the hardships she and her husband have battled. Looking through a photograph album generates further desolate reflections: "Aunt Rosa, a fussy, angular, wild-eyed old lady, who had lived in a tremulous world of bad news, bankruptcies, train accidents, cancerous growths — until the Germans put her to death, together with all the people she had worried about.

A brief survey of the short story: Elizabeth Taylor

Finally, the parents have a midnight supper and resolve to bring their son home. They are interrupted by two phone calls: wrong numbers. The story ends with the phone ringing for a third time, leaving it up to the reader whether this is the call that announces the son's inevitable death.

The story brilliantly challenges the presentation of "reality" in fiction, and draws a parallel between the insane condition of the son and the conception of the short story as a rigidly calibrated machine in which nothing is without purpose or meaning. Little wonder that Nabokov was happier amid what he saw as the larger, freer expanses of the novel. Next time: Eudora Welty.


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Every time anybody asks me for anything, I ramble on about The Golden Notebook. This is surely an even more effective route to being labeled a crank than harping on the hydrogeology of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Perhaps soon the requests will stop forever. I admit, this is whining on a high level. They need me! Let freelancers make rent filling the insatiable maw of periodical journalism; for my thoughts on Lessing, give me the freedom of an obscure literary website. I need an outlet. I am truly not looking for work.

Posthumous Stories by David Rose – review | Books | The Guardian

Its effect on me was unprecedented and tangible. Two hundred pages in , I shook off the last remnants of androgyny and openly affirmed my womanhood for the first time. The tangible part was the purchase of a shawl—one of those wide ones you can drape over your arms and hug yourself with, like a delicate throw blanket—the polar opposite of tailored clothing, which was always my more feminine alternative when circumstances forbade baggy pants and fleece. I was born too early to find spandex an adequate substitute.

Before I left home I put on a gauzy dress. On my way through Alexanderplatz, I stopped at a department store to buy the matching shawl. I can see my friends drawing back in an ironic pantomime of awe and skepticism, wanting to see the hat and tell me whether it really goes with the shawl. It goes. Know this, doubters: Lessing made one of the basic functions of feminine existence—accessorizing like a middle-class babe who is never expected to do a lick of real work in her life—seem no longer stupid, pointless, weak, doomed, childlike, inartistic, a ritual overture to the duties of a party guest, nor even a burden imposed from beyond on naturally female nudity.

A National Journal of Literature & Discussion

It suddenly appeared a privilege, rather than a form of half-shameful submission. I felt relaxed and cheerful in my becoming new outfit. I had a lovely day. It was a nice party, with a great concert by Tom, and I went home happy. But I wore it in public only as a gesture of deference toward my hosts or my audience—never as a way of being myself. For reasons I struggle to comprehend, The Golden Notebook made me feel that a woman can be as valuable as a man, as limitless in her potential, with the same right to drape her body in a lot of extra fabric.

He should see the jeans they have now. Should I take advantage of it to figure this out? This experience was unique. I found myself, at long last, willed to conform with internalized societal expectations, because society had finally given me a reason. It had given me many fine works of art, from George Eliot to Claude Levi-Strauss and Sigalit Landau an artist whose stuff always sticks in my mind , and amazing people to know and love, but not a role model. No woman writer to look up to from where I stand, knowing what I know.

The Prime Directive never say anything negative about a living writer permits me to say nothing negative about living writers, but the long-dead Woolf focused on the wrong things and loved tradition blindly.

In Lessing I found no softened feminine world to nestle into, no glaring feminine omissions to overlook. She wins. She makes every other novelist I know seem shallow. The best nonfiction postdates the best novels; the novel form now practiced worldwide had its heyday in the 19th century; science and knowledge, in the 20th—starting right about when literary modernism took up foregrounding sound and fragmentation as though words were paint.

What a waste. A first-rate intellect should not deploy it, on humanitarian grounds. Her central characters know which systems of thought formed them; they read post-Marxists, post-Freudians, and the newspapers; they rebel against their own values, they embark on self-analysis when their lives stall from maturity into crisis—an event she seems to regard as desirable rather than normal or typical, an unavoidable consequence of thinking while sentient.

Should the ideology of exploitation and greed collapse, leaving individual humans more free, there will still be crimes left to punish, but its evil—the way it necessitates crime—will be gone. So go ahead, hate fascist thugs with all your heart. They can change! The Golden Notebook was published just before I was born into the postwar era, which I vaguely remember. Androgyny was everywhere in popular culture, from yin-yang and Jung to Prince, Annie Lennox, and six-foot supermodels. Academics talked about Madonna all the damn time. It was unbelievable.

The gender landscape has changed beyond recognition since then.

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Gender now is a sliding scale, making it a bit hard to conceptualize the dominance of men and the subordination of women as they are defined out of existence. A theory like that will punish you for your choices. When I left college in with a B. Lessing grew up in Rhodesia, and like me, she drifted into left-wing partisan politics, voting communist as I did when I lived in Israel in the s not because she hoped to be ruled by a working-class dictatorship, but for lack of an egalitarian alternative. She called herself a socialist, not a feminist; feminism in the postwar era was too often feminist nationalism, a Women First!

She loves them. In related news, the US is a dystopian hell.

Many work contemptibly, steering sentimental nodules of canned subjectivity into the cheesiest myths imaginable. Where we do intend readers to exercise critical faculties, those should be directed at something other than the work. They want a trance state, and we want to give it to them.

But in that transaction, something vital is lost. His is not an exhaustive analysis of life, just a political one, and it seems accurate mostly because face it you know nothing about Iceland in Even before reading Lessing, I felt a certain antagonism toward the pure-storytelling model of fiction. Earlier critically-minded authors less talented than Lessing e. Then again, why not? Nothing is harder to look away from than a car crash, and nothing is easier to write.

As Philip Rieff taught me in the one college course where I learned anything, film and TV except for Benji the Hunted and the nature documentaries on Bayern 3 are one big car crash. They foster an aesthetics that has nothing to do with beauty or pleasure. Why should I invest in thoughtful descriptive prose for an audience of accident-addicted TV fanatics accustomed to judge character by casting and plot by hourly recaps? Mislaid my book is chockablock with explanations and descriptions, and The Wallcreeper is one long apology. There are no explanations in Nicotine.

Some public libraries have banned it. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.