Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Speak, Little Failure: Nabokov in Gary Shteyngart's Memoir

Nabokov makes a number of appearances in Gary Shteyngart's Little Failure, a funny, deft, super awesome memoir:

I twirled the pages of the monumental Architecture of the Tsars, examining all those familiar childhood landmarks, feeling the vulgar nostalgia, the poshlost' Nabokov so despised. Here was the General Staff Arch with its twisted perspectives giving out onto the creamery of Palace Square, the creamery of the Winter Palace as seen fro the glorious spike of the Admiralty as seen from the creamery of the Winter Palace, the Winter Palace and the Admiralty as seen from atop a beer truck, and so on in an endless tourist whirlwind. (7)

In 1999 I am employed as a grant writer for a Lower East Side charity, and the woman I'm sleeping with has a boyfriend who isn't sleeping with her. I've returned to St. Petersburg to be carried away by a Nabokovian torrent of memory for a country that no longer exists, desperate to find out if the metro still has the comforting smells of rubber, electricity, and unwashed humanity that I remember sop well. (15)

As I am being tossed up and down by the many weak Oberlin arms, am I thinking of the book I have just read -- Nabokov's Speak, Memory -- in which Vladimir Vladimirovich's nobleman father is being ceremonially tossed in the air by the peasants of his country estate after he has adjudicated one of their peasant disputes? (261)

And I am standing there holding my hand as a bearded, academic-looking man walks a set of Welsh corgis down State Street, a mirror of some earlier time and place -- summer break, North Carolina -- that should have pleased the early Nabokov so. (302)

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

SIGHTING: Sharma on Nabokov on Chekhov

My great breakthrough came about three years ago. I was reading Chekhov to see how he controls present tense and to see if I could copy some of his solutions. Chekhov relies especially heavily on certain aspects of our senses. For example, he uses sound, smell, and feel much more than he uses visual details. Nabokov said that there is an even, gray tone to Chekhov, and this arises from his restricted reliance on the eye. Events appear to be occurring in darkness.
From Akhil Sharma's A Novel Like a Rocket in The New Yorker.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Chekhov's Mongoose

So the photo is Chekhov and a mongoose plus a friend plus another mongoose
Chekhov's mongoose does not appear in the index to the Penguin edition of Chekhov: A Life in Letters, so here are all mongoose-related excerpts collected in one place in case anyone is Googling Chekhov and/or mongoose. (Also: there is not nearly enough mongoose in this Atlantic article misleadingly titled Chekhov's Mongoose. You will get way more mongoose below.) You're welcome!

Ah, my angel, if you only knew what sweet animals I've brought back from India with me! Two mongooses, about the size of a  young cat, most cheerful and lively beasts. Their qualities are: courage, curiosity and affection for human beings. They will take on a rattlesnake and always win, they are not afraid of anyone or anything; as for their curiosity, if there are any parcels or bundles in the room they will not leave a single one untied; whenever they meet a new person the first thing they do is wriggle into his pockets to have a look and see what's there. If you leave them alone in a room they start to cry. You really will have to come down from Petersburg to see them. (256)

The mongoose has been ill and nearly died, but he's well again now and back to making mischief. (264)

I send you my best regards, all of you, even the mongoose, who doesn't deserve them. (266)

How is Signore Mongoose? Every day I dread learning of his demise. (271)

What have you decided about the dacha? Is the mongoose still alive? Etc., etc., etc. (273)

I trust you have already obtained the mongoose's harness? Was the little horror at the Natural Scientists' meeting? (278)

Golden mother-of-pearl and filigree-threaded Lika! It is three days now since the mongoose ran away and now he will never come back to us. The mongoose is no more. That's the first thing. (282)

There is nothing to eat, the flies have taken over, there is an appalling miasma emanating from the WC, the mongoose has smashed a jar of preserves, and so on, and so forth. (283)

Come back soon, we're missing you terribly. We have just caught a frog and given it to the mongoose. He ate it. (284)

Last year I brought back with me from the island of Ceylon a male mongoose (defined in Brehm as mungo). The animal is in good health and condition. As I am about to leave Moscow for some considerable time and cannot take him with me, I humbly request the Management [of the Moscow Zoo] to accept the animal from me, and to send for him today or tomorrow. The best method of transporting him would be in a small basket with a lid and a blanket. He is quite tame. I have been feeding him on meat, fish, and eggs. I have the honour to be respectfully yours,
A. Chekhov (294)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Debtor" in Ecotone's Migration Issue

Ecotone has just published my short story "Debtor" as part of their Migration issue. (My piece prominently features a stolen raccoon puppet.) There is goodness galore in there: Molly Antopol, Jim Shepard, Angela Carter, Luis Alberto Urrea, a gorgeous Magritte-ish cover. Everyone please buy 500 copies!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sighting: Pnin in Best American Stories 2013

Elizabeth Tallent on her story "Wilderness," and on professor types in fiction (as seen in the back matter of 2013's Best American Short Stories): "Maybe it mattered less, but there was also the grain-of-sand/oyster vexation of fictional professors' almost always being assholes, with Pnin as the fantastically lovable exception to the rule. In fiction, professor is predatory, student is prey. This ironclad dyad goes to bed without caring much about the intricacy, anxiety, and comedy of teaching. So there's room" (337).

The same anthology also features Lorrie Moore's "Referential," a tribute/take-off of Nabokov's "Signs and Symbols."