Friday, July 17, 2009

Living Past Your Fictional Representation

One of my favorite short stories to assign is "Home" by Jayne Anne Phillips. According to my second-favorite story anthology, The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, "Home" was first published in Phillips's Black Tickets in 1979. The Vietnam War lurks in the background, and the tale features a mother knitting afghans in front of the TV while a rebellious, debatably liberated but sexually engaged daughter explores the scarred men in her life. Bob Dylan quoting the Old Testament--"[S]he who is not busy being born is busy dying"--very much sums up the cultural clash of generations living under the same roof. The first sentence is the mother's declaration, "I'm afraid Walter Cronkite has had it," and we soon learn that by it, she means cancer. Well, cancer victim or no, Cronkite lived and lived well past the period of this story; in fact, he was still alive 35 years or so later:

Cronkite's living 35 years past his literary dying reminds me of another protagonist living well past his own literary death; in this case, the book is Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and the person whom Hemingway based the old man upon lived and lived well past the publication of this novella, and of course, well past Hemingway's suicide. According to this article, Gregorio Fuentes was Hemingway's "fishing companion and confidant":

In some sense, no doubt, Hemingway's sense of his own great ending, was transferred into this man swimming against the strength of an ocean destined to devour us all.

A lesson here?

I'll bore you with the full lecture another time, but I'm thinking it involves the post-ironic disconnect between reality and reality, in other words, fiction and the lives that purport not to mimic it.

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