Tuesday, September 20, 2005
While I've been plowing through the final book in this monster space opera (Peter F Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy) I realised what I needed was a book for the bus. These 1200+ page Hamilton books are really not suited to mobile reading, that's for sure, so I got another book from the library.
Ironically enough, the book I chose was a collection of short stories about libraries and librarians called In the Stacks. Most of the writers I'd never heard of, but there were some, like Italo Calvino, Ray Bradbury and John Cheever, but even with those writers, I'd never read anything by them.
Anyway, the best story in there was the John Cheever one, 'The Trouble of Marcie Flint'. It was about a married couple and it started off with the guy (Charles Flint) leaving his wife and kids and heading for Italy or some place. He was writing in his diary about how sick he was of that suburb where he lived, and how glad he was to be going to Torino. He had a suitcase full of peanut butter because he said the girls in Torino love peanut butter.
Then there's his wife (Marcie) back in that suburb and she is trying to go on with life, wondering if her husband is going to come back or not. Why did he take off anyway? Oh well. I guess we'll find out. So the wife is there and she goes along to a town council meeting where there is a discussion about whether to open a public library. Most of the people at the meeting don't want a public library because it will bring poor people into the town, this town which seems to be made up of snooty snobs, but at the meeting one guy (Markham) gets up in his tatty hat and old clothes and he tells everybody about when he was a kid and how great it was going to the local library. Then another guy (Barrett) gets up, he's a jock type, a real bully, and he says now I was a poor kid but I never went into a public library unless it was to get out of the rain or follow some pretty girl, but I did pretty good, I'm a big success, you don't need a public library to have success. Then Markham suggests that Barrett can't read anyway to which Barrett gets mad and jumps up and down. Then the meeting ends and Marcie meets up with Markham outside and apologises for Barrett's behaviour, she or her husband had that bastard over for dinner one night. They know him somehow anyway.
Then it's back to the husband Charles and he remembers back to an afternoon when he felt really happy, he was walking around the house and he could see Marcie in the bedroom asleep with the sheet dropped down exposing her breasts, that made him happy but he didn't go and wake her. He looked out the window and saw his two kids flying a wind-up plane, winding the rubber band and the plane was going up out of the late afternoon shadows into the sunlight, and that made him happy too. He went into the kitchen for a beer or something and saw all these ants, so he put some ant poison in a saucer and went out to the backyard.
Later, his kids got sick and started vomiting. They had eaten the ant poison thinking it was some kind of treat.
Then the story flashed back to Marcie and that Markham guy, and Markham was going to go to the local paper and ask the editor to print a letter in favour of opening a public library, but that Barrett guy interfered somehow and the editor said he wouldn't print it. Then Barrett that rotten bastard goes to visit Marcie and says I know that Markham guy is coming over but he is a total loser (he compares him to a *meatball* he knew in school - see *Popular* post below) so you better call him and tell him not to come. Marcie says I ain't gonna do that. Barrett says you better. Marcie says well I won't. Barrett gets heavy about it, a real jerk, then Marcie tells him to get the hell out of the house.
Marcies's husband Charles remembers about the kids eating the ant poison and he ran to the store where he got it, and asks the guy for the number of the supplier so he can call them and ask what to do with his poisoned kids. But the shopkeeper only says Mister you didn't buy that from me, and repeats it over and over.
Markham goes over to visit Marcie and tracks mud into the house, but Marcie doesn't mind.
Charles is on his way to Torino with the peanut butter when he suddenly wonders what the hell he is doing, it doesn't matter what crazy thing happened before, he can go back and see his kids and his wife. But what we wonder is, what happened to the kids? Did they survive or did that ant poison kill them? Has Charles gone mad?
Well, what a great story. This Cheever guy reminds me of Raymond Carver actually, these stories of regular suburban people, quite average seeming people, and normal suburban scenes and dramas yet blown up and magnified, made powerful and strange, in fact also reminds me of the way David Lynch can do that.
I recently heard the words *magical realism* and wondered what it meant, but I think stories like this must be like that, a regular everyday kind of realism but injected with certain mysterious elements to create a magical, almost otherworldly effect.
Anyway, when I FINALLY finish this horribly addictive great awful exciting boring ludicrously time-consuming epic *space opera*, I'll definitely be hunting down more of John Cheever's stuff.