Monday, April 03, 2006

What Was That Again?

Some writers seem to be able to make a career out of telling the same story over and over. This week's New Yorker fiction is "In the Reign of Harad IV", by Steven Millhauser. Fans of Millhauser will enjoy this story, in the way that I enjoy Seinfeld reruns.

Millhauser earned a measure of fame for winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer. Here's part of what Wikipedia says about it:
A focus of the novel is Martin's imagination for grand, sweeping business ideas and his instinctive sense for orchestrating large systems. Through all this Martin has the persistent feeling that there must be something bigger waiting around the next corner. One of the novel's themes is the emptiness that may lie behind the ideal of the American Dream.


In this more current offering, the protagonist is a court miniaturist. He has an imagination for tiny, infinitesimal ideas and systems. He is refurnishing a miniature version of the royal castle, much to the delight of the King, yet he has the persistent feeling that there must be something smaller waiting around the next corner. He continues to create smaller miniatures, ones that may only be seen with a magnifying glass. Then, still unsatisfied, he creates an entire miniature kingdom that is wholly invisible, even with the glass. His assistants ask for a look, which he allows them; they praise his work effusively, although he knows that they can't see it. He doesn't care that they can't see the Emperor's new clothes (oh, wait, Millhauser didn't write that one), and bends back to his task.

One of the story's themes is the emptiness that may lie behind the ideal of the American dream. Yeah, we get it.