Saturday, April 21, 2012

Odds and Ends

I've finally had a chance to read the first couple chapters of Marly Youmans' Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. People will inevitably call it Faulknerian – it's Deep South, it's hot, it's told through the lens of a boy who's neurologically atypical. And it's got fruit and blood. But if you have any spiritual antennae at all, you'll quickly grasp that it's anti-Faulkner. There's fullness, not emptiness, in back of everything.

And the story is backwards, too. Christianity first made its way by claiming the crucifixion and resurrection as the answer to evil. But this novel turns that upside down: in this the novel the crucifixion (at least) is the evil that must be answered. Pip knows at once, in his chaotic, inarticulate way, that everyone is responsible for the death of his brother. The question is, how do you find your way, hobbled with knowing that? Christianity here is the question, not the answer.

Fun fact: only about 75% of people in my new zip code, 97220, speak English at home. Behind me, a conversation in a tonal language – Vietnamese, I think, though it might be Chinese: my ear for these languages is very poor. I find I'm still defensive and unhappy about having failed to learn Chinese. I'm a smart-ass and a showoff, academically: I don't take shit offa nobody and I don't give up on learning anything. Except Chinese. (And its distant cousin Tibetan.) I devoted years to those languages, and I remember absolutely nothing, not a single word, of either one.

High walls against the sky, dust blowing up into my face, the faint sour smell of lichen.

Jessie, sleepy, wearing a turquoise cardigan over a hot pink shirt, her hair swarming like an amiable Medusa's. She looks as though she just rolled out of bed, grabbed a coffee pot, and went straight into battle, taking orders and refilling cups. I'll take the time to wake up later, she seems to have said to herself. I find her adorable. I do worry that she doesn't get enough sleep. But I've never seen her irritated or fussed: whatever she bases her sense of herself on , it isn't the ups and downs of waiting tables.

I want about five more clients. I imagine writing fan letters to fifty Portlanders I admire, enclosing gift certificates. Super-targeted marketing. Would that net me my five? Or even one? I've been putting off advertising again, it's such a tiresome business, and I haven't needed to for a couple years. You get spoiled when that happens.


Zhoen said...

I shall take a look at that book.

Best thing about Boston, always people out on the streets, often not speaking English. I got to recognize Portuguese and Tagalog and Korean, as well as the more common languages. Maybe now is your chance to learn a few words in real life.

I hope you find your five good people to massage.

marly said...

Interesting, Dale. Very!

I read Faulkner a lot as a high schooler. Once took a class on Faulkner with Cleanth Brooks...

My father disliked Faulkner's books, thought he had gotten poverty and the deep South all wrong. And he was a sharecropper's boy, so he had a right to an opinion...

Dale said...

Really? I worked for Cleanth Brooks for a short time. He was a sweet man. Nearly blind: I was being eyes for him, basically -- reading things aloud to him.

I have a deep, visceral hatred of Faulkner, to tell you the truth. I recognize that he's one of the best American writers, but my great gesture of liberation, when I decided once & for all not to be a literary academic, was to put all my Faulkner novels in a bag and take them down to the bookshop and sell them. I was so much happier, not having them on my shelves.

So being the anti-Faulkner is a very good thing, in Dale Favier's book :-)

marly youmans said...


That is fascinating! I know exactly what you mean, and I do think that for a Southern kid who wanted to be a writer, Faulkner had to be mined and known and gone through. I had a compulsion to do it. But it's really easy to grasp many reasons why O'Connor thought he was the express train bearing down on other writers' little wagons.

And I really liked your comment about emptiness, and I think that gets at part of why my father hated the books. I definitely go to the dark places but am much more a poet of joy, and really value the achievement of high joyfulness in a book.

You do have the most interesting, free things to say about books. You're not fettered by your training and clearly broke free of it long ago.