2013-04-11

Pathetic Fallacy

So, I found myself with my second young man in pain in a week. This time, he was a bit older and wearier, though. What I was reading was Joshua Fields Millburn´s "Days After the Crash". It´s a novella, which is, I suppose, a long short story. Or a short novel.

This is very well written, I must say. Millburn really makes an effort. It´s well structured, too. We begin on a roof in Brooklyn, where singer-songwriter Jody Grafton has taken his guitar and a cup of coffee, sits in the rain (I suppose he is sitting under something), composing a song for his dead mother. And as he chisels out his lyrics, we get a flashback of the - well, the Crash, I suppose.

What Millburn is not trying to do, is tell you what it´s like to have a bad relationship with your faulty mother, or what it´s like to nurse that same mother as she is dying of cancer. No, what he is trying to do, and doing fairly well, I think, is to create a depiction of what it feels like. And how you go in and come out of that kind of situation. And he uses the setting, the descriptions of the surroundings in which Grafton moves, to describe what is going on in Grafton´s psyche. He is projecting Grafton´s soul onto his environment.

Let me give you some examples:
"He drove south, confined only by the empty cornfields shivering around him, a landscape depleted of its warmth months earlier, naked and exposed to Mother Nature and her cruel intentions. An unemployed scarecrow stood perched in one of the barren fields, waiting to do what he was meant to do with his life."
"As he entered the apartment, its old wood floors creaked under the weight of shared discontent."
As he waits for his mother to wake up from her drunken sleep, to give him the news he suspects will be bad, he falls asleep and dreams of a car crash:
"The sound of the cataclysm didn´t possess any of the shrieks of metal-on-metal tearing he had expected, just the symphonic sounds of broken glass, the windows shattering around him in beautiful dissonance, disobeying the physical laws of the car crash, shattering before impact, breaking in preparation for the collision, not waiting for the accident but bracing for it."

Shattering before impact. Breaking in preparation. I like that. Still, it doesn´t make me feel much. Perhaps because it´s all there on the page. Millburn presents me with Grafton´s pain, dissected and processed, mounted and displayed. Not explained, though. That would have been bad. This is not bad. But he is very heavy-handed with the pathos and does border on pathetic clich├ęs, and in the end, he falls over quite a bit:
"The days after the crash were the hardest. The troubled man sat by himself on a creaking, off-kilter barstool and ordered another round, lit another cigarette, and searched for meaning amongst the wreckage, hunting for some nameless thing under the smoky gray tavern lights, losing count of his whiskey-and-waters, inspecting the bottom of each glass. He couldn´t find meaning there, so he kept on searching."
This is man-pain at it´s most coquettish. In this last part, Grafton has lost his name and is just the troubled man, as in every-man or any-man. This makes me giggle just a bit.

I think Millburn has potential to become a really great writer when he matures. I´d like to see what he can do with a wider perspective, and some restraint.

1 comment:

  1. ah, restraint! many a book would be improved by restraint

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