Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

"In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and other stories" by Delmore Schwartz (Souvenir Press, 2003)

In the introduction James Atlas writes that Schwartz had a style that used "a sort of childlike verisimilitude, a deliberate naiveté; wry, satirical, subdued, his stories had a nostalgic flavor that made them seem like parables" (p.xviii). Well yes, there's a lot of "tell, not show". On the back cover it says that the title story was "the foundation for all post-World War Two American-Jewish fiction". First-generation parents who get rich by doing something like insurance tend to have layabout offspring, impressed by their own witticisms. There's a lot about how success can't be measured by money or publications, or even by the effort expended. The writing style takes some getting used to. It seems stodgy in places, and sometimes the author seems to intervene when "showing" fails

  • "The difficult virtue," said Rudyard, "is to disregard the possibility of making money, to live such a life that making money will have no influence upon one's mind, heart and imagination." As he spoke, he was hardly aware that he was thinking chiefly of himself.
    "You can't write plays for money, you just don't know how," said Laura, " so you don't have any temptation to resist: that's no virtue." (p.39)
  • "What do you think of Algernon Nathan?" asked Marcus.
    "You know well enough," Ferdinand replied. "He is a knave and a fool. He is a coxcomb and a jackass, and he always will be, if he lives to a hundred."
    It was clear then that Marcus was seeking to suppress his own desire to tell Ferdinand about Irene's intimacy with Algernon, for this knowledge was without meaning, if Ferdinand was not married to Irene.
    The circle was stunned by Ferdinand's declaration. It seemed to them an incomparable exhibition. (p.77-78)
  • A party at which too many of the guests are strangers is likely to fall flat, Arthur argued.
    "There is enough alienation in modern life," he said roundly, "without installing it in the living room."
    "Everyone is interesting," grant replied and it was true that he found everyone interesting.
    "Everyone is interesting to you," said Arthur harshly, "because you talk all the time-"
    "Spontaneity," said Grant, recognising with laughter this description of his character, "strangers bring spontaneiety to a part."
    The argument continued thus, full of abstractions, but motivated nonetheless by a conflict which was founded upon two different feeling about life. (p.96)
  • He had a true talent for fiction, but he was unaware or unsure of this fact, and this made him dishonest in a variety of ways. This dishonesty might not have mattered very much, had he remained able to be honest with himself and honest in the activity of authorship. But his sense of guily pressed him to the point where for relief it was necessary for him to deny to himself that anyone was honest and that honesty had any real existence. Consequently, his native gift for understanding other human beings was often annulled by his need to deny that other human beings were unlike himself; and thus he suspected everyone of everything because he suspected and convicted himself of many wrongs (p.102)
  • Although some had been oppressed by the rapture with which Oliver recited the passage, all were offended by his facile cynicism and attack on Proust (p.109)
  • Large florid clouds, scalloped or foamy at their edges, calmly sailed the sky and merely emphasized the sky's serene dominion, while the foliage about the campus fluttered mildly in the silken breeze.(p.115)
  • Being much younger than any of the other children, Samuel was also spoiled by his two sisters and his big brother Leonard. Thus one might say that if the fact of being the youngest child was the most important trait of his being, the fact that he had two older sisters and an older brother was also very important in him. (p.140)
  • she was not going to let the children be spoiled by an old maid aunt who was overdevoted. Rebecca often referred to herself as an old maid and for this reason Sarah, who did not know or wish to believe that other human beings were as proud as she, thought that it was all right to speak of Rebecca as an old maid.
    "Shame on you," said Ruth Hart, "to say such a thing, such an insulting thing! you pick out what your sister is most ashamed of in the whole world and you throw it in her face!"
    Sarah cited her sister's own references.
    "She says herself that she is an old maid." (p.156)

I like the title story (not the only story that features a cinema and offspring blaming parents in some way) and "The Track Meet" - another dream, but it's of sustained interest.

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