Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Some More Fun

I'm still reading through Antonya Nelson's collection, Some Fun. Five of the seven stories (there's also a novella) are available online, including "Rear View" (see "Extra Credit for Marmots"), and "Strike Anywhere," which appeared at, source of many fine interviews in addition to online fiction. Also, three of the stories in this collection have appeared in The New Yorker: "Dick," "Only a Thing," (not online) and "Eminent Domain."

I was reading "Eminent Domain" earlier today (which, I must say, is a weak title for this story), trying to figure out what makes it tick, and it took me a minute to recognize it for what it is: a love story. Or, perhaps more accurately, a relationship story. No big surprise there, because all of Nelson's stories (the ones I've read, anyway) are relationship stories of some sort.

But more so than her other short fiction, which tends to dwell on infidelity, "Eminent Domain" fits a traditional love story model:

  • Boy sees girl

  • Boy meets girl

  • Boy buys girl dinner

  • Boy dates girl repeatedly; their relationship progresses

  • Boy and girl sleep together

  • Boy and girl break up

  • Boy and girl reunite briefly and then break up for good, or they live happily ever after

  • Now don't tell me you don't have anything to write about. Don't talk to me about plot. You can write stories based on that plot for the rest of your life, with or without variations. Just try to bring a little freshness to the table, if you can.

    How does Nelson freshen the old tale up? Here's the "Boy sees girl" part (from the version in Some Fun, a little different from the online version):
    What caught Paolo’s attention was the smile, teeth extravagantly white and large, orthodontically flawless. Expensive maintenance in the mouth of a homeless woman. Around the smile was a pale, animated face, around that a corona of wild purple hair. The owner of this gleeful mouth was drunk, her flame of a head swaying on the thin stick of her body, lit at nine in the morning on the front stoop of a condemned Baptist church. Its facade alone remained. The vast skirt of the steps fronted the building the way the smile did the woman's face: behind was a pile of rubble, scatter of boards and bricks and glass, a frightening exploded emptiness.
    Not only does Nelson drop a corkscrewing twist on Boy Sees Girl, she also tackles one of the hoariest cliches in amateur fiction--the homeless character. Of course, this is no ordinary homeless woman, and that, of course, is the whole point.