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Old 7th Apr 2011, 18:13   #1
Mookse
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Default Steven Millhauser

I'm currently reading Steven Millhauser's Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943 - 1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright, and, being again blown away by Millhauser's skill, decided to poke around on Palimpsest to see how he fairs here. I'm glad to see he's been mentioned (and with much enthusiasm from Bill), but it seems he's largely unread, which largely matches his situation with the wider reading public.

Before starting Edwin Mullhouse I had read only Martin Dressler and a scattering of his short stories, mostly by plugging around the archives of The New Yorker, which has published nine of his stories (two in the early 1980s and seven since he won the Pulitzer in 1997) (for a taste, here is "Getting Closer," published earlier this year, and "The Invasion from Outer Space," published in 2009.).

He never fails to amaze and invigorate me, and I really need to pull down and open up In the Penny Arcade and Dangerous Laughter, two of his collections of short stories that I've been neglecting on my shelf.

Millhauser infuses his fiction with a strangeness that is magical (think of those strange emotions we get as children at a carnival) and threatening (again, I guess, think of those strange emotions we get as children at a carnival). Yet he's able to take this strangeness and make it relevant. Martin Dressler, despite (or probably because of) the phantasmagoria, is a wonderful critique of the American Dream that is particularly relevant and insightful given the recent economic problems. If you have an aversion to the abstract, Millhauser also makes his characters real, their emotions touching. I'll soon post my review of Martin Dressler here, which I hope will flesh out my enthusiasm better, and, when I'm done, will also post my review of Edwin Mullhouse.

I note that Kevin has read and enjoyed Martin Dressler and that in his blog comments John Self said he'd look into it. Well, if you haven't yet, John, here's a reminder.
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Old 7th Apr 2011, 20:42   #2
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Default Re: Steven Millhauser

Here is the review of Martin Dressler that I posted on my blog a couple of years ago.

I first read this book about a decade ago, and I didn’t like it much. I thought it was boring. Well, if nothing else, let this post be about second chances and about how our situation in life may well be the real reason we fail to appreciate a book. I decided to give it a reread to review it in anticipation of the 2009 Pulitzer (Dangerous Laughter, Millhauser's most recent book of short stories, was selected by The New York Times as one of 2008′s five best books of fiction, so I thought he might have been contender in 2009). When I started it this time I was thinking, let’s just give it a few pages. I was immediately drawn into the world of Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer (1996). I’m sure one of the reasons I appreciate it more now is because I’m a much better reader now than I was then. I feel more of the subtlety. Also, my experience with people and with settings has increased my ability to connect with the book. The first time I read it all of the detail bringing New York City of 1880 to life failed to grab me; this time, now that I roam those same streets, it was striking!



Millhauser’s evocation of old New York was, well, as I said, striking. The past seemed so real it is haunting; or, rather, I felt as if I were there haunting the past. Here is an early description that was one of the main reasons I kept reading past the first few pages:
Martin’s mother almost never allowed him to cross Broadway, where great red or yellow omnibuses pulled by teams of two horses came clattering by; once she had seen a man hit by the wheel of an omnibus, and another time she had seen a horse lying in the middle of the street. She herself shopped at the less expensive stores on Sixth Avenue, where high in the air the Elevated tracks stretched away like a long roof with holes in it for the sun to come through. But the line of stores and hotels on their side of Broadway between the two big shady squares, Union and Madison, was almost as familiar to Martin as his own street. At Madison Square Park his mother liked to sit on a wooden bench under the trees and look up at the big seven-story hotels, before heading back to their rooms over the cigar store . . . .
I’d love to know if this passage is intriguing to people who have never been to New York City. Imagining that place bustling, under elevated tracks, 120 years ago and linking that to the bustle that is New York today filled me with curiosity about the city. In a way, this book is a preface to the twentieth century. Here we see the transition from small to large to gigantic. Buildings that couldn’t rise above ten stories can suddenly go up twice—no—three times as high. Fantastic engineering feats, like the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, inspire others to think big and execute their plans, all of this before severe zoning and environmental and safety restrictions.

This is the life of Martin Dressler, who started out helping in his father’s cigar store, a modest, conservative establishment. Martin’s first big dream is to create an interesting window display. Millhauser dives deeply into the soul of this dreamer, however, and we watch as his imagination, never satisfied, forces him to attempt larger and larger feats. From the cigar store, Martin finds his way into a job at a nearby hotel. There he works his way up, building capital, until he can open his own cigar booth (which sells cigarettes, something his father would never do) in the hotel lobby. He continues his jobs in the hotel too, absorbing the atmosphere, learning the system, allowing his imagination to run unrestrained.
No, what seized his innermost attention, what held him there day after day in noon revery, was the sense of a great, elaborate structure, a system of order, a well-planned machine that drew all these people to itself and carried them up and down in iron cages and arranged them in private rooms.
Soon his successful enterprise takes him higher and higher until he attempts to build a structure that houses the universe itself.
You are justified to think that as Martin’s dreams grow larger, the book itself would have a hard time sustaining this. However, the more complex and large Martin’s ideas get, the more complex the book’s structure gets—the better the book gets. Indeed, the book’s structure is a representation of what it describes. Millhauser anchors the fever-dream imaginings (all told with exceptional, exotic and attractive detail, like a sophisticated advertisement—another layer in this book) with intricate relationships, and he has the ability to navigate the complexities often felt but not understood.

Through his excellent and ambitious craftsmanship, Millhauser infuses this structure with life rare in fiction. He can be lofty, taking on America itself, or he can be delicate and intimate, like when a young girl gives a young Martin “a small heart-shaped gold locket, still warm from being clutched in a fist.” This is adroit writing; by avoiding the obvious “her fist” and opting for “a fist,” Millhauser actually makes us focus on the moment and the action itself. The book is filled with moments like this. They are powerful and, though never expressly referred to again, haunt the pages just as the past does.

And as the structure and dreams get more complex, so do the relationships. Which brings me to another thing Millhauser does exceptionally well: trusting the reader. The book is complex yet controlled to the minute detail. Through it all Millhauser feels no need to spell everything out to us; he trusts us to follow him, picking up the details. This is particularly important when delving into the many relationships in the book. When Martin is moderately successful, he takes up boarding at a hotel where the Vernons—a mother and her two daughters, both around his age—are also residing. Strangely, yet believably and not distastefully, Martin feels as if he is married to all three women. On the periphery is the hotel maid, Marie Haskova:
His little Sunday morning friendship with Marie Haskova, with its air of faint ambiguity, as if he were concealing from the Vernons a secret mistress, in one sense simplified his relation to them, for whatever he felt for the three Vernon women had nothing to do with secret liaisons. The Vernons, all three of them in a kind of lump, could be imagined only as a wife. And yet in another sense Marie Haskova confused his feelings for them, for it was as if the vague desire aroused by the Vernon women were seeking an outlet in young Marie Haskova. But there were deeper confusions, elusive connections that he could barely sense. There was something unspoken between him and Marie Haskova, something secretive and unacknowledged—but weren’t the secretive and the unacknowledged the very sign of his union with Caroline Vernon?
Caroline Vernon is destined to become Martin’s ghostly wife. Martin’s true friendship will develop with the other daughter, who will become his business confidant. These relationships portray interesting aspects of marriage and the rise of women, still only slightly, up the ladder of equality. They also exemplify another aspect of modern life: the transition of some intimate events (like dinner) into large social events, where everyone gathers around in a large room inside a large building inside a large city.

Structure and identity are important aspects to Millhauser’s novel; indeed, they are as intriguing to me as his reportage of old New York. Playfully, Millhauser utilizes themes that seem connected to intriguing theory, particularly Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. While told very realistically, the book is filled with quasi-existence and mock authenticity. Sometimes Martin only knows how he feels by looking in a mirror. Many objects are reproductions or representations of something else. He hires “live actors [to] impersonat[e] wax works.” Objects are given meaning through advertising and placement. Life is given meaning through objects. And yet, it’s not so simple.
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 0:48   #3
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Default Re: Steven Millhauser

Great review, Mookse! I've considered buying these books numerous times but always end up choosing something else at the last minute. However, the combination of bill's previous recommendations and your review might be enough to finally motivate me to pull the trigger. I'll be anxious to read your thoughts on Edwin Mullhouse as well.
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Old 8th Apr 2011, 1:50   #4
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Default Re: Steven Millhauser

I almost bought a collection of his short stories a couple of weeks ago. Almost, I say. The reason why I didn't was - well, the reasons why I didn't were a) need no new books; b) trying not to buy books; c) struggling for reading time; and d) struggle with short stories, most of the time.
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Old 9th Apr 2011, 3:57   #5
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I absolutely love Millhauser. Edwin Mullhouse is one of my favorite novels, and I think everyone should read him, but everyone around this joint ignores me any time I bring him up. Here's hoping you have better luck, Mookse! Bunch of ungrateful jerks!

I didn't mean that...
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Old 9th Apr 2011, 4:29   #6
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Default Re: Steven Millhauser

Quote:
Originally Posted by bill View Post
I absolutely love Millhauser. Edwin Mullhouse is one of my favorite novels, and I think everyone should read him, but everyone around this joint ignores me any time I bring him up. Here's hoping you have better luck, Mookse! Bunch of ungrateful jerks!

I didn't mean that...
Well, I even called out John Self above. Nothing but silence. Makes one think with anniversaries and birthdays he has better to do!

Paul, I hope to see a Millhauser book in Recent Purchases from you soon. Stewart, you're forgiven, though with a fifth reason you could really sell your argument.
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Old 15th Apr 2011, 19:41   #7
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I wanted to give an update here. I've been reading Edwin Mullhouse for nearly two weeks. It has taken me longer to read it than any other book in recent memory -- but this is not for bad reasons.

One thing, work has been nearly unbearably busy lately. I read on the train, but my office has a policy that late workers get a car home. I've had to take advantage of this too often since beginning Edwin Mullhouse, and there are no lights on in the car. Also, lunch time, when I like to get in a few pages, has been spent working as well.

But it's also taking me so long because the book is demanding it. It's quite honestly like I'm going through my childhood again. Each page is filled with distinct images -- a multitude of details -- that it's impossible to read quickly and I'm enjoying spending time on each word (so no skimming at all, even in the lists of cartoon titles).

It's a fascinating book. I can see some people being turned off by the detail, but Millhauser is building up a world as richly detailed as the one emblazoned in our minds as children. I still have a little less than a third of the book left, and I'm happy to say it might take me another several days to read that last 100 pages. I can't see that happening, though; the book's been building up to the Late Period in Edwin's life, and I may skip sleep tonight to find out how the so-far-not-a-genius becomes the literary genius that earned the devoted attention of the obvious genius Jeffrey Cartwright.
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Old 25th May 2011, 19:45   #8
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One of my favorite books, Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer (my review here), was reported by Abebooks as one of the top ten forgotten Pulitzer Prize winning novels. Most of the books on the list were published between fifty and sixty years ago, but Martin Dressler was published only in 1997. Perhaps this is not a surprise to Millhauser who once told an interviewer, “I don’t anticipate the Pulitzer will change my life at all. I dare it to change my life!” Yet for decades Millhauser has been producing solid work, particularly in the short story form. I’ve been putting it off for a long time, certain that I would love the book, but I’ve finally read Millhauser’s also-neglected classic Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright (1972).



Let me start out by saying that this is quite the strange book — in a beautiful way — this biography by the young Jeffrey Cartwright about his young friend who died the moment he turned 11. It begins with a brief introductory note by someone named Walter Logan Wright, who first met Jeffrey Cartwright in the sixth grade. Apparently Jeffrey, at that time, was nothing special and had almost slipped from Wright’s memory when, ten years after their brief acquaintance, he came across this book. Wright’s introduction serves to blur the spotlight a bit. The biography, after all, is about Edwin Mullhouse, a young literary genius (according to Jeffrey) who wrote in the short time before his death, Cartoons. Yet Wright is more interested in the author of the biography, who, still young, has disappeared.
Meanwhile the search for Jeffrey Cartwright continues. I, for one, hope they never find him. Edwin’s novel, some will recall, was discovered in 1969 by the daughter of Professor Charles William Thorndike of Harvard: in a children’s library, of all places! . . . Professor Thorndike has called it “a work of undoubted genius,” and he is not a man given to hyperbole. I myself have sternly resisted the temptation to read Cartoons, knowing full well that the real book, however much a work of genius, can no more match the shape of my expectations that the real Jeffrey could, should he ever materialize. I shall probably succumb, one sad day. Meanwhile Edwin’s genius lives undimmed for me in the shining pages that follow. One can only regret that his work has proved less popular than his life.
There is a common complaint about this book: the prose is unbelievable; no child could ever write how Jeffrey Cartwright writes. As an example of this, here is how Jeffrey Cartwright describes Edwin’s Cartoons when he discusses it late in the biography (novel):
If, then, our first reaction upon plunging into Cartoons is that we have entered an unreal world, blissful or boring (as the case may be), gradually we come to feel that we are experiencing nothing less than the real world itself, a world that has been lost to us through habit and inattention, and that we are hereby being taught to repossess.
It’s true: that is not prose typical to a pre-adolescent. Perhaps it is not even possible for a pre-adolescent. That sentence becomes, then, a kind of gloss on Edwin Mullhouse the novel. Somehow Millhauser has managed to create an unbelievable character in Jeffrey Cartwright, who is unbelievably perceptive and sophisticated. Jeffrey Cartwright has managed to write a biography that, due to his age and experience, is unreal but, somehow because of this, feels very much like the real world, the real mind, however typically inarticulate, of these young struggling boys. It’s incredible.

Edwin Mullhouse is divided into three parts: “The Early Years: Aug. 1, 1943 – Aug. 1, 1949″; “The Middle Years: Aug. 2, 1949 – Aug. 1, 1952″; and ”The Late Years: Aug. 2, 1952 – Aug. 1, 1954.” We learn at the beginning, “Edwin Abraham Mullhouse, whose tragic death at 1:06 a.m. on August 1, 1954, deprived America of her most gifted writer, was born at 1:06 a.m. on August 1, 1943, in the shady town of Newfield, Connecticut.” Jeffrey Cartwright is Edwin’s neighbor, only six months (and three days) older. Yet Jeffrey’s memories of Edwin go all the way back to his birth (another bit of the unbelievable). Since Edwin’s birth, they were almost always together, and it seems Jeffrey treated Edwin as a subject even back then, analyzing his verbal development (“Adult speech, Edwin used to say, is ridiculously exclusive.”).

The Early Years is full of interesting looks at Edwin’s personality and perceptions. He doesn’t, in my opinion, sound that interesting on the outside. I doubt he’d be much fun, in other words. Yet Jeffrey Cartwright brings Edwin’s inner self to the surface with insights like this: “It is as if he assumed an earnestness in everyone in the world except himself — as assumption that revealed at once a deep self-disparagement and a subtle contempt for the imagination of his fellowman.” This is all part of Jeffrey’s goal, “for it is the purpose of this history to trace not the mere outlines of a life but the inner plan, not the external markings but the secret soul.” With that comes some of the secret tragedy of youth, which is nearly incommunicable to adults. Edwin’s mother, in particular, frets constantly because she simply cannot understand her son; here is one of her more innocent misunderstandings: “For the rest of her son’s brief life she would be plagued by his love of silence, never understanding that it was intimately related to his love of sound.”

As the book develops, the difference between Edwin and Jeffrey becomes more and more apparent. Here is an exquisitely written account of a “genius” who doesn’t seem like a genius much of the time. Rather, Jeffrey comes off as the genius. Jeffrey addresses this:
I wonder if I have sufficiently emphasized a major theme of this biography. I refer to Edwin’s naturalness, his distinct lack of what is usually called genius. He did not begin to speak at two months, or read at two years, or write brilliant stories at the age of three — or four, or five, or six, for the very good reason that he could not write anything but his name until the first grade. Nor was he lovably slow or backward in any way, with his talent standing against his stupidity like an emblematic lightning flash against a black thunderhead. No, he was only a normal healthy intelligent American child of the middle of the twentieth century, fascinated by toys and snow. Oh, he had what may have been an unusually strong attraction for books and words — an attraction amplified, perhaps, by the literary bias of this biography — but my own attraction was equally strong.
Of course, Edwin eventually writes Cartoons (and Jeffrey gives a nice summary), but for the most part he is a typical child, perhaps a bit more withdrawn. But one this that is special about Edwin is his youth, something Millhauser honors frequently in other works.
The important thing to remember is that everyone resembles Edwin; his gift was simply the stubbornness of his fancy, his unwillingness to give anything up. In the Late Years, when most of his contemporaries were already being watered down by a dreary round of dull responsibilities and duller pleasures, he alone refused to be diluted, he alone continued to play. Of course therewas the little matter of genius. But that is the point precisely. For what is genius, I ask you, but the capacity to be obsessed? Every normal child has that capacity; we have all been geniuses, you and I; but sooner or later it is beaten out of us, the glory fades, and by the age of seven most of us are nothing but wretched little adults.
But for Millhauser youth is rarely carefree. There’s haunting unrequited love worthy of Edgar Allen Poe when Edwin yearns for, and accepts the punishment from, Rose Dorn. Further, this book is full of death. We know from the title that Edwin will die, but he is not the only child who will die. Jeffrey himself has a darkness. Jealous of Edwin’s relationship with Rose Dorn (after all, it is distracting Edwin from his work), Jeffrey uses his more natural social skills to make sure that the other girls in the class will love him and not Edwin; and if he says he loves them all, how can Edwin show any interest.

And these girls are rather haunting themselves. One, named (coincidentally) Rose Black, is reclusive. Jeffrey writes her a poem:
Roses are red
Violets are blue.
I love a rose.
Do you know who?
Rose has an excellent (and passively pedantic) response:
This rose is black
And full of gloom.
Yet I too love.
Do you know whom?
Remember these are all young children, between eight and ten years old. It’s sometimes as if we’ve entered into an Edward Gorey book (which I’m all too happy to do). There’s a carnivalesque horror at times, and that aspect further underscores the burning mind of youth when a cartoon reality is perhaps closer to the truth than what we consider to be real.

The book constantly teases us about its darkest subject: the death of Edwin, the timing of which is too perfect to be coincidental. Well, I can say that the book becomes more and more horrifying as it goes on, and it’s a wonder any of us, as magical as it was, survived childhood.
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Old 24th Sep 2011, 2:29   #9
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Default Re: Steven Millhauser

Not too long ago a "New and Selected" collection of Millhauser's short stories was published.


We-Others by Mookse and Gripes, on Flickr

It has the following from old collections:



From In the Penny Arcade
  • A Protest Against the Sun
  • August Eschenburg
  • Snowmen
From The Barnum Museum
  • The Barnum Museum
  • The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad
  • Eisenheim the Illusionist
From The Knive Thrower
  • The Knife Thrower
  • A Visit
  • Flying Carpets
  • Clair de Lune
From Dangerous Laughter
  • Cat 'n' Mouse
  • The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman
  • History of a Disturbance
  • The Wizard of West Orange
Here is the list of new stories:
  • The Slap
  • Tales of Darkness and the Unknown, Vol. XIV: The White Glove
  • Getting Closer
  • The Invasion from Outer Space
  • The Next Thing
  • We Others
In the first post above I have links to brief discussions of "Getting Closer" and "The Invasion from Outer Space" on my blog. I loved each story, particularly "Getting Closer." I have read the other new stories in this collection and highly recommend it.

I know many of you have never read Millhauser, so, if you fear one of his novels, get this collection. I will then recommend filling it out by getting his other collections, including the ones with selections here, but that's a bit down the road.

Here's a sense from three of my favorites:

"The Slap"

Quote:
Walter Lasher. One September evening when Walter Lasher returned from the city after a hard day's work and was walking to his car in the station parking lot, a man stepped out from between two cars, walked up to him, and slapped him hard in the face. Lasher was so startled that he did not move. The man turned and walked briskly away.
Lasher is only one of the victims. For some time, this perfect Connecticut town -- "Our town" -- is terrorized by a serial slapper. No one knows who it is, and no one knows why. Millhauser digs under the surface of small town contentment -- or, perhaps that's not really why people are getting slapped.

"Getting Closer"

In “Getting Closer” we closely follow the thoughts and perceptions of a young boy who is excited because the day he waits for each year – the day when his family goes to the river — has finally arrived, almost. Here is Millhauser’s opening sentence.

Quote:
He’s nine going on ten, skinny-tall, shoulder blades pushing out like things inside a paper bag, new blue bathing suit too tight here, too loose there, but what’s all that got to do with anything?


At the end of the story, we may come to think that those details matter quite a bit, not because they are important to the plot (they aren’t) but because those details are a part of this moment and this moment a part of this young boy’s life.

This is the beginning of a very simple story. The first few columns are a lush description of everything around them. The boy notices and relishes everything, and we are taken into his mind:

Quote:
In the picnic basket he can see two packages of hot dogs, jars of relish and mustard, some bun ends showing, a box of Oreo cookies, a bag of marshmallows which are marshmellows so why the “a,” paper plates sticking up sideways, a brown folded-over paper bag of maybe cherries.


Still, though the day has arrived, the boy doesn’t think the day at the river really begins until he steps into the river. His older sister has already jumped in and is calling to him, but he’s not sure he wants to enter. Unlike the typical story, this is not leading to a drowning. The boy is simply struck by the realization that when he steps into the river, the moment will begin, and then it will be over: “He’s shaken deep down, as though he’ll lose somehting if the day begins.” I remember when as a child I first realized that if Christmas actually arrived that would mean it was close to being over. Consequently, I soon wished that the moments before would never end, even if that meant Christmas never came. As an adult, the peace of a vacation has often been endangered by the realization that, once began, it would soon be over. And each New Year is filled with hope, but subverted by the realization that with the passing of a year a bit of life is gone: my child will never be this age again — it’s over, the nine-year-old is gone forever.

However, in “Getting Closer,” Millhauser inflicts this child with all of this plus the terrible intimations of mortality. This child has “seen something he isn’t supposed to see, only grownups are allowed to see it.” This is, then, the day this young boy – who is nine going on ten, whose shoulder blades are pushing out like things inide a paper bag, and whose new blue bathing suit is too tight her and too loose there — realizes he and everyone he loves is going to die:

Quote:
If he goes into the river he’ll lose the excitement, the feeling that everything that matters because he’s getting closer and closer to the moment he’s been waiting for. When you have that feeling, everything’s full of life, every leaf, every pebble. But when you begin you’re using things up. The day starts slipping away behind you. He wants to stay on this side of things, to hold it right here. A nervousness comes over him, a chilliness in the sun. In a moment the day will begin to end. Things will rush away behind him. The day he’s been waiting for is practically over. He sees it now, he sees it: ending is everywhere. It’s right there in the beginning. They don’t tell you about it. It’s hidden away in things. Under the shining skin of the world, everything’s dead and gone.


The ending, after that very peaceful beginning, is a rush of emotion. It’s a brilliant move by The New Yorker to place this story in the issue that would straddle the death of one year and the birth of another. The story’s concept itself may not be original, but in Millhauser’s hands the detail, the pacing, the structure make for a very strong short story well worth the time it takes to read and reread.

"Tales of Darkness and the Unknown, Vol. XIV: The White Glove"

This is one of the best short stories I've read all year. It is Edgar Allen Poe, born a century later. Will, the narrator, is in his senior year of high school, and his best friend is Emily Hohn: "It happened quickly: one day she was that quiet girl in English class, the next we were friends." They just fit together, and there is no romance (though there is obsession); for the most part, it's a peaceful friendship for both, which is welcome because Will says, "I'd spent the last year so desperately in love with another girl, so whipped-up and feverish, that even my happiness had felt like unhappiness."

The story begins in a the early autumn and Millhauser takes us through the smells and sounds until the next June. In the interim, Will's relationship with Emily is threatened by a white glove she suddenly and inexplicably starts wearing.

Quote:
But there was something else about the glove that troubled me, beyond the sharp fact of its presence. Ever since I'd become friends with Emily, I had felt an easy flow between us, an openness, a transparency. This restful merging, this serene interwovennesss, was something I had never known before, something that reminded me of her porch in sunlight, or the night of the snow shining under the streetlights. The glove was harming that flow. It was, by its very nature, an act of concealment. Emily herself, by eluding the question of her hand, by refusing to reveal whatever it was she was hiding under the white cloth, was forcing me to think about her in a secretive way. It occurred to me that the glove was changing her -- turning her into a body, with privacies and evasions.
My, but that's a fantastic paragraph! Will's obsession grows and warps, and Emily and her family offer no information. And shoot, I cannot stop before sharing another fantastic paragraph:

Quote:
"Look at that," I said, and lightly touched her forearm where the dim light lay across it. She looked down at her arm, where my two fingers rested. I moved my fingers slowly down her forearm until the side of a finger touched the edge of the glove. Slowly I lifted one finger and stroked the white cloth. It was softer that I had imagined. "What are you doing," Emily whispered. "Nothing," I said. I began stroking the part of the glove that lay over her wrist. Emily's right hand descended only my fingers. She lifted my hand and placed it on her collarbone. With the fingers of her right hand she unbuttoned the top button of her shirt. Then she undid the button below. I felt the sudden edge of her white bra and the skin below her collarbone; my thumb touched the small connecting strap that joined the parts of the bra. I understood, with absolute clarity, that she was offering me her breasts in place of her hand. An immense pity came over me, for Emily Hohn, for the two of us sitting there like sad children, for hte dark room and the spring rain, before anger seized me.
Millhauser is simply amazing. His stories are haunted by our own lost youth and a sense of things missing.
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Old 24th Sep 2011, 12:25   #10
Ang
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Default Re: Steven Millhauser

Off to seek out some Millhauser. You've convinced me, Mookse.
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