Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reading to the Faded - Part 3

After The Iliad, Mrs. Tourneau delighted me by having no interest in hearing Beowulf. What she wanted instead was to dance — specifically, the tango. I told her there was nothing I’d have loved more than to oblige, but that an old football injury made dancing impossible for me. There was no reason she had to know that I hadn’t actually played football at all, and in fact injured my knee when a car struck me in the middle of Beacon’s Maine Street (between New Hampshir and Vrmont Streets) 26 months ago because a teenaged driver was paying more attention to sending a text message than to watching where the hell she was going. Mrs. Tourneau sighed and summoned her manservant Jenkins, who danced as though he’d been hit by a few cars in his own time, but who nonetheless sneered at me over Mrs. Tourneau’s lavishly freckled shoulder.

When she could tango no longer, she asked for something light and contemporary, and I began reading my own 2007 opus Third World USA, without specifying its authorship. I wasn’t 1000 words into it, though, before she exclaimed, “That’s perfectly dreadful,” and asked instead for something by somebody good contemporary novelists, like John Grisham. I can endure an insult as gracefully as the next fellow, but not one that lacerates me to the marrow, as this one did. Knowing full well that it might preclude her writing me into her will, I said I wished no longer to remain the employee of one capable of issuing such a request, and let fly one of the epigrams for which I am celebrated, at least in my own fantasies: There is no accounting for taste, or the complete lack thereof.

As I gathered my belongings — my lunchbox and cellphone and medications and condoms and the poison I’d intended to slip into Jenkins’ and Mrs. Jamison’s tea — Mrs. Tourneau began to cry, almost imperceptibly at first, and then so resonantly as to make the chandelier above us tinkle. She said she’d never been any good with men, and had only been fooling herself imagining that things might be different between the two of us. I felt a perfect heel, and admitted I had a reputation for hypersensitivity where my work was concerned. I have always heard even the gentlest criticism of my work as a ferocious personal attack. One might have said, “I think a few of the sentences in the second paragraph are a little bit unwieldy,” but what I’d have heard is, “I hate everything about you, and wish you’d die of some awful disease.”

She dried her tears and said, “You poor, fragile thing,” whereupon I burst into embarrassed tears of my own. She held me while I took my own turn sobbing. She stroked my head as though I were seven, as she claimed at various times to have stroked Norman Mailer’s, and later “Steve” King’s, and most recently Jonathan Franzen's. It troubled me that she would mention King in the same breath as real writers, but we made love nonetheless. I wondered afterward if our having done so guaranteed me a spot on the bestsellers list, or at least a competent agent for a change. She seemed to read my mind and said that I should stop fooling myself — that I should recognize the present blog entry, for instance, as pretty tiresome. I agreed, and conceded that a great many of its predecessors had been comparably lacking. But did it count for nothing that I was on schedule to meet my goal of having written six new little essays or hunks of fiction a week for the entirety of 2010?

Hardly had the words passed my lips than I shuddered for having uttered them. Had I, in my dotage, really become one who offered quantity as a substitute for quality? Was this what I’d become?

No comments:

Post a Comment