Friday, July 13, 2012

Another Life

Photo: Carol Shadford

At the very beginning of  “Another Life,” the Paul La Farge short story that appeared in a the July 2nd New Yorker, the author places Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, into his protagonist’s hand. “Nature commands every animal and the beast obeys,” the protagonist (identified only as “the husband”) quotes Rousseau as saying. “Man feels the same impulsion, but knows that he is free to acquiesce or resist.” The husband takes the Rousseau with him down to the bar of the hotel where he and his wife are staying and the volume functions as an ironic leitmotif as La Farge’s character proceeds to cheat on his wife with the comely and literary young bartender. Indeed neither the husband nor his wife, who shows up only to run off with a character described first only as a “sleazebag” (and is then given the name, Jim LaMont), turns out to be free. What we have is an irrational universe of the kind that Nietzsche might have described in Beyond Good And Evil or The Birth of Tragedy. La Farge’s tone is taciturn, resigned, even stoic. His protagonist is revealed to be a writer who is not reading the Rousseau because he wants to but because he has to teach it.  “I’m being compelled to read about freedom!” he muses. He describes himself to the bartender as someone who “writes short stories about the confusion of life and the unknowability of the heart.” When the bartender invokes Chekhov, the protagonist brings up Nabokov “with his unreliable narrators.” After the sex, the husband blacks out on a bench in a nearby square and the young lady who also eventually and significantly is given a name (as if her character unlike that of the husband is still in the process of formation) returns to her room and “starts working on a story.” Rather than Nabokov, La Farge himself is reminiscent of Chekhov. His current offering bears comparison to a sad, sweet Chekhov classic about another evanescent relationship, “The Lady with the Dog.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.