As much as I love to blog and tweet, I’ve been trying to step back, to read and smell the roses. That means renewing my acquaintance with and my love of the short story. I do enjoy novels, of course, but, as a writer, my first love was the short story. In all the forty plus years I’ve been writing, the very first novel I ever wrote was in 2007. It remains unpublished and in serious need of revision.
I feel a stronger affinity with the short story. I’m attracted to the economy of language in the short story. You have to say so much with so little. I was reminded of this recently when I was perusing an issue of the New Yorker (October 7, 2013) and came across a story by Paul Theroux, “I’m the Meat, You’re the Knife.” (Note about the link: You’ll need to be a subscriber to read the story online.)
It was the third sentence that drew me in: “Sometimes bad news takes the form of a greeting.” I already knew that Murray Cutler was sick and that this was somehow meaningful to the narrator. So I read on and, since this is a short story, through to the end. Along the way, I found myself underlining sentences. In pink ink no less. I haven’t underlined in a magazine or a book in years. I used to do it all the time, especially when I was a student. But when I started to recycle my books by trying to sell them, well, no one wants to buy a used book that’s pockmarked with marginal notes, yellow highlighter and exclamation marks. But it was fun to underline the sentences that made me pause and wonder. And really fun to do it with pink ink.
Here’s what I found to be pink ink-worthy:
“But a death is not something you mention in passing to someone you run into. And it was better to keep these two dramas separate. Individually, they were tragedies; lumped together, they were merely news.”
“He had been a practical man, who believed in the economy of the plain truth, who thought that fiction was folly and only jackasses and liars made up stories.”
“The nature and purpose of a ritual is to meet expectations; it is the unexpected that is upsetting.”
“He possessed a victim by caressing him openly, looking like a dear friend and benefactor, and that was the paradox, because the victim was too fearful to make a scene.”
“Murray Cutler had never looked more like meat.”
In this story, Theroux write of a whole life, a novel’s worth of a life.
In an interview with Deborah Treisman, Theroux said, “The impulse to write comes, I think, from a desire—perhaps a need—to give imaginative life to experience, to share it with the reader, not to cover up the truth but to deliver it obliquely.” The truth in this story is delivered obliquely, but it is there and it is chilling.